The Hard Truth about Tolerance

“Tolerance is an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil…a forbearance that restrains us from showing anger or inflicting punishment. Tolerance applies only to persons…Never to truth. Tolerance applies to the erring, intolerance to the error.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Tolerance. We hear this word being thrown around a lot these days, probably even more than in Archbishop Sheen’s time. (PS, if you’re not familiar with this wonderful late American Archbishop, study up. He’s pretty fantastic. The first soon-to-be-saint who had a TV show…as far as I know.)

Many of the people who use this word are asking us to basically accept all (or almost all) points of view–on a particular topic, or worldview in generally–not only as “permissible,” but oftentimes as “right.”

“This is true for me, and that’s true for you.”

I’m sorry, but when did TRUTH become subjective? Well, when we started being afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. There is a difference between being compassionate and respectful in your disagreement with someone, and being downright rude about it. I am in no way condoning hateful or harmful speech against anyone. That’s not cool, never has been, and never will be. But we’ve gone to such an extreme in trying to please everyone and not offend anyone that we are now too afraid to right many wrongs.

We’d rather sit back and be politically correct than be proclaimers of Truth. To see what may seem like small injustices, and do nothing about it. We want to be liked. We don’t care about being right or helping others toward Truth.

“The truth hurts.” YEP, it does. And as a society, we are afraid of things that hurt. We very naturally like to be comfortable, and oftentimes the Truth is not something that makes us comfortable. Therefore, we gloss it over, make it vague and unassuming. We make it weak, all in an effort to be “tolerant.”

Somewhere where this comes up often is discussions on religion. Tolerance in terms of religion and worldviews today often means to accept all as equally true, right, and good. It is very unpopular to say anything to the contrary.

But hey, lets be real here for a second.

If we are going to be at all fair to these religions or worldviews we’re talking about, we have to truly look at what they are saying. All religions have, and at their core ARE, truth claims. That’s the whole POINT of religion, I would argue–to say “THIS is how the world  is.” If that isn’t a truth claim, then I don’t know what is.

Not only are they all made up of truth claims, but religions presents opposing truth claims. “There are many gods.” “There’s one God.” “Jesus is the one God.” “There is no God but Allah.” Talk about different points of view.

Must we be tolerant of this? Must we accept all as true, good, and right?

We must first and foremost always be respectful of all those we meet, whether or not we agree with them. We must acknowledge that we are all human beings worthy of respect. We must find our similarities and rejoice in them. Then we can identify our differences and have real, and hopefully productive, discussions on them.

As Archbishop Sheen says, we must never be tolerant of the error, but always of the person making it. We must make a distinction.

We must not react with fear or violence toward differing views, but we do not have to be tolerant of them either. We have the right to disagree and to maintain our point of view. We have the responsibility to tell the Truth and explain it, giving others the opportunity to accept or reject it.

Both within and outside of the realm of religion, we cannot turn a blind eye to evil and its perpetuation in our world and call it “tolerance.” If we do, civilization as we know it will be ripped to shreds by the resulting moral relativity. That is the only ending that tolerance, as we understand it today, will bring.


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