January 14, 2009


This was from "A Faith and Culture Devotinal" which I've mentioned on here before. It's such a great point that many people haven't seemed to grasp, particularly within Christianity, that I wanted to post it in the Dojo:

The Irony of Intolerance
by Greg Koukl

In today's world, one word is invoked as the No. 1 rule of civil behavior and conversation: "tolerance." And while most people think they understand what it means, a recent discussion I had with high school students exposed some fuzzy thinking on the subject.
I begand the discussion by writing two sentences on the board. The first, "All views are equally valid," expressed a popular understanding of tolerance. All heads nodded in agreement. Nothing controversial here.
Then I wrote the second senteice: "Jesus is the Messiah and [Non-Messianic] Jews are wrong for rejecting him." "You can't say that," a student challenged, clearly annoyed. "That's intolerant," she said, noting that the second statement violated the first. What she didn't see was that the first statement violated itself.
I pointed to the first statement and asked, "Is this a vew, the idea that all views ahve equal merit?" The students all agreeed. Then I poitned to the second statement--the "intolerant" one--and asked thesame question: "Is this a view?" Slowly my point began to dawn on them.
If all views are equally valid, then the view that Christians are right about Jesus and [Non-Messianic] Jews are wrong is just as valid as the idea that Jews are right and Christians are wrong. But this is hopelessly contradictory. They can't both be true.
"Would you like to know how to escape this trap?" I asked. They nodded. "Reject the popular misunderstanding of tolerance and return to the classical view." I turned to the board and wrote two principles I learned from Peter Kreeft of Boston College:

Be egalitarian regarding persons.
Be elitist regarding ideas.
"Treat people as equally valuable, but treat ideas as if some are better thanothers," I said, "because they are. Some ideas are true, some are false. Some are brilliant, others are dangerous. And some are just plain silly." To say so does not violate any meaningful standard of tolerance.
Real tolerance, I explained, is about how we treat people, not ideas. Classic tolerance requires that every person be free to express his ideas without fear of abuse or reprisal, not that all views have equal validity, merit, or truth.
By contrast, the popular definition of tolerance turns the classical formula on its head:
Be egalitarian regarding ideas.
Be elitist regarding persons.
If you reject another's ideas you're automatically accused of disrespecting the person (as the student did with me). On this view, no idea can be opposed--even if done graciously--without inviting the charge of incivility. The offender can then be personally maligned, publically marginalized, and verbally abused as bigoted, disrespectful, ignorant and--ironically--intolerant.
This view of tolerance has gone topsy-turvy: Tolerate most beliefs, bot don't tolerate (show respect for) those who take exception with those beliefs, especially politically correct ones. Contrary opinions are labeled as "imposing your view on others" and quickly silenced. "Tolerance" becomes intolerance.
Whenever you are chared with intolerance, always ask for a definition. If tolerance means neutrality, then no one is ever tolerant becasue no one is ever neutral about his own opinions. This kind of tolerance is a myth.
Jesus had no need for this kind of manipulation and no interest in it. He took the confrontations as they came and engaged them with intelligence, confidence, and grace. He answered his critics with truth, not with empty charges of intolerance. and he was willing to pay the price for his convictions inwhat was then a truly intolerant world.
Jesus understands real intolerance better than any of us, not as its perpetrator but as its prey. In the end, though, he was victor, not victim, defeating all intolerance by an act of sacrificial love."


JMorris said...

Excellent blog. I always knew that in my head but never had the words. Thanks to Peter Kreeft for two clearly stated points!

Bill Caulfield said...

That exposition was great. Helped me make a valuable distinction.

JMS said...

Yeah, Koukl's a great thinker. I used to have an excellent book by him called "Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-air". I loaned it to a friend of mine who was a relativist in college and never got it back.

Hopefully it stuck with him! :)

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