Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Myth of Tolerance

Gregory Koukl

This article first appeared in the Practical Apologetics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 24, number 4 (2002). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to:

One word can stop you in your tracks when you seek to “give an account for the hope that is in you” as an ambassador for Christ. That word is “tolerance.”

This idea is especially popular with postmodernists — that breed of radical skeptics whose ideas command unwarranted respect in the university today. Their rallying cry, “There is no truth,” is often followed by an appeal for tolerance.

The tolerant person allegedly occupies neutral ground, a place of complete impartiality where each individual is permitted to decide for him or herself. No judgments allowed. No “forcing” personal views. That all views are equally valid is one of the most entrenched assumptions of a society committed to relativism; but it’s a myth!

For all their confident bluster, the relativists’ appeal actually asserts two principles or “truths,” one rational and one moral. The first is the rational “truth” that there is no truth. The second is the moral “truth” that one ought to tolerate the viewpoints of others. Their stand, contradictory on at least two counts, serves as a warning that the modern notion of tolerance is seriously misguided.

The Tolerance Trick. As it turns out, by the modern definition of tolerance no one is tolerant, or ever can be. It’s what my friend Francis Beckwith calls the “passive-aggressive tolerance trick.” Returning to the classic understanding of tolerance is the only way to restore any useful meaning to the word. Allow me to give you a real-life example.