Friday, January 16, 2009

Being Tolerant in an Intolerant World

One of the highest virtues that our society upholds these days is that of "tolerance." How many define this word is that everyone's viewpoint is equally valid and there really is no right or wrong. What works for you works for you and what works for me works for me, right? We are told that all of our convictions are on equal moral footing, even if they are in direct contradiction of one another.

But...there is a caveat for those that hold this perspective. If they deem your opinion to be "intolerant" then they can dismiss your convictions as irrelevant. Because of the exclusive claims that the Christian faith makes, there are many people that pride themselves on their tolerance that see no problem with not being respectful of the views of Christians.

Writer Doug TenNapel shares about an experience when a Hollywood exec told him to drop Christian references from a script he had written:
"The exec informed me that religious imagery didn’t sell to American audiences, that it was intolerant and it definitely didn’t export. This was before ‘The Passion of the Christ’ so I can forgive his ignorance of the world’s most popular religion, but it was the word intolerant that struck me. How was the inclusion of religion not tolerant while the removal of it was? This is my baptism into the myopic view of religion by most of my friends in Hollywood. For being multicultural, the lack of humility regarding a religion they didn’t know or understand is…is…well, these days it’s typical. Since that time when terms like tolerance or intolerance came up, I got all cringey. They don’t know what these words mean and have a funny way of showing it if they do. 
Given I’ve had to sit through the standard mandatory Sensitivity Training at every major studio, I’d like to return the favor by offering Tolerance Training. Only my seminar isn’t hosted by a condescending feminist lawyer from the Big Apple, so the threat level in the room has already gone down to yellow, maybe even blue. It’s not hateful or intolerant to vote that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. Tolerant isn’t a position, it’s how you treat people who hold positions you hate. It also isn’t tolerant to believe that all ideas have equal merit. This is an irrational position I’m embarrassed to even bring up. 
But there are those who have claimed that if I judge a position as bad that I’m being intolerant. Can we agree that eating cute kittens alive for the fun of it doesn’t have as much merit as cuddling them? But to say that all ideas have equal merit is self-refuting because I could propose this idea “all ideas have unequal merit” and you couldn’t judge the statement as false if the first idea were true. I hope some of you disagree with this post. Because this will be a perfect opportunity to practice true tolerance. The act of treating a political opponent with dignity and value used to be considered a high art form in debate. 
You can tell a lot about a person who treats someone with dignity and value whom they deeply disagree with. We can’t practice tolerance with people we agree with so you get no credit exercising your mustard-seed amount of tolerance on your own camp. In fact, the more we disagree with each other the more tolerance must be exercised."
I like his perspective that tolerance has much more to do with how we treat people than our stance on a particular issue. If we'd stop and think for a second, we would realize the absurdity of the notion that all beliefs hold the same merit! I've spoken with a lot of college students over the years about this subject and many say that they do not believe in absolute truth. In other words, they claim it is impossible to say whether some things are always right or always wrong.

But I don't think we have to agree on everything to treat each other civily and decently. In fact, it impossible for me as a Christian to agree with non-Christians on matters of eternity because of the truth claims of my faith. As well, others that are not Christians cannot agree with me for the very same reason. There can't be multiple ways to God AND be only one way to God at the same time. From another angle, if I'm expected to be tolerant of those that feel like abortion is morally acceptable are those same individuals tolerant of my belief that it is not?

One of the holes that resides in the tolerance movement deals with truth claims. Here's an example... In the stellar movie Star Wars, Epidsode III: Revenge of the Sith there's an interesting scene when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are fighting on the planet of Mustafar shortly before Anakin makes his transformation into Darth Vader. After Anakin shares how he envisions the power that the dark side will bring him, he says, "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy." To which Obi-Wan responds, "Only a Sith [the bad guys] deals in absolutes." Of course, to make a claim that only Sith deal in absolutes is a truth claim in and of itself. Obi-Wan, a Jedi, just made an absolute declaration. I guess that makes him a Sith...

It is possible to agree with one another and not be disagreeable. In fact, as TenNapel said, it is healthy for us to engage in respectful dialogue with those we disagree with. The point is not whether we agree with one another on everything but how we treat each other that demonstrates our level of tolerance.

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