"You're So Intolerant!"
Any High School classroom, Anytown, USA. At the front of the class, the teacher writes on the board – All views are equally valid; no view is better than another. The class full of students all nod their head in agreement.
Then the teacher writes a second sentence – Jesus is the Messiah; Jews who reject Him are wrong for doing so. All of the sudden, the tone in the room changes from one of approval to disapproval. The students reject that statement and say that it is “disrespectful”, and anyone who would say that is “intolerant”.
The teacher asks the class, “If I was to make that statement, how would you respond?” A student raises her hand to reply, “That’s wrong of you; you shouldn’t say that. How would you like it if someone said that you’re wrong?” To which the teacher replied, “You mean like you’re doing to me right now?”
The teacher then points to the first statement – All views are equally valid; no view is better than another – and says to the student, “You agreed with that one. Now my question to you is – isn’t this second statement a view?” She had to agree that it was. The point was well taken. If all views are equally valid, then the view that Jews are wrong for rejecting Jesus is just as true as the view that Jews are right for rejecting Jesus. However, this is utterly contradictory.
The fact is not all views and opinions are equally valid. There are such notions as truth and error. Statements can be right or wrong. Just because someone holds a view (and they really believe it with all of their heart), doesn’t mean that it is a correct one, and to tell someone that they’re wrong, is a cardinal sin in our culture today. Someone will cry out, “You’re so intolerant!”
Let’s Define Some Terms
What does it mean to be tolerant? That’s no easy question to answer, because over the years the definition has undergone a complete makeover.
According to the dictionary tolerance is defined this way:
Tolerate – to recognize and respect (others beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them – to bear, or put up with someone or something not especially liked.
This is the traditional definition of tolerance that finds its source in the teachings of Bible. However, today in the court of public opinion, that’s not what the word means at all. If you ask just about anyone today what does it mean to tolerate, their definition would go something like this: To tolerate means that everyone is equally right.
In other words, anyone who has any opinion or view (no matter what it is), that view is true and worth just as much respect as any other person’s view. Even then, this definition doesn’t go far enough in today’s culture. According to many today it is not even good enough to simply recognize and respect others beliefs, practices, etc. without sharing them, you must fully embrace them – otherwise you are branded as “intolerant”.
There has been a shift in recent years in regards to the definition of the word tolerance.
The irony is that according to the classical definition of tolerance, you can't tolerate someone unless you disagree with him first. We don't "tolerate" people who share our views. There's nothing to "put up with”. Think about this, you must first think someone is wrong in order to exercise tolerance, yet doing so will bring an accusation of intolerance. It's a "Catch-22." According to this new definition – tolerance isn’t even possible.
Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason says, "Most of what passes for tolerance today is nothing more than intellectual cowardice, a fear of intelligent engagement. Those who brandish the word "intolerant" are unwilling to be challenged by other views, to grapple with contrary opinions, or even to consider them. It's easier to hurl an insult - "you intolerant bigot" than to confront the idea and either refute it or be changed by it.
Contemporary tolerance is self-contradictory. The "you think you're right and others are wrong" version is offered as a corrective to our views. However, a corrective is only given when one thinks their view is right and another view is wrong. In the very act of correcting Christians, they do what they say we shouldn't do."
Notice, under the current definition, you are not allowed to have your opinion, and at the same time, believe that another person’s opinion (even an opposing one) is wrong. No, in order to be “tolerant” you must actually embrace, accept, endorse, and even celebrate all views. While that may sound really open minded, in reality it is utter foolishness, because it's hopelessly contradictory (like I demonstrated in the opening illustration).
This view is thought of as being “open minded”. However, it is so open minded that it might just cause all of your common sense to fall out of your brain and spill out onto the floor. As soon as you abandon a belief in absolute truth, and buy into the notion that all truth is relative, you completely lose your ability to distinguish right from wrong. Not only is this view foolish, it is extremely dangerous. Some beliefs carry with them disastrous consequences.
If I believed that I should start drinking gasoline and take up flaming sword swallowing, I hope you wouldn’t “tolerate” that belief. (That is, if you care about me even just a little!) That belief would be very detrimental to the health of my physical being. How much more the beliefs that threaten the soul that will live on well after our physical life is over?
So How Did We Get Here?
Please join me on a very brief historical journey of philosophical thought.
As far back as we can go up until about 275 years ago, there was what is known as the Pre-modern era. The Pre-modern era was marked with the following types of thinking:
· Truth is knowable; it is objective, and ultimate.
· The same standard of truth applied to every person in every place, at all time.
· The authority of all truth claims came from God, who is the foundation for all truth.
Then came the Modern Era. This was the prevailing view of philosophical thought until roughly 30 years ago. This view consisted of:
· Truth is objective, and universal – meaning that it's true for everybody.
· This was followed by a down-playing of the supernatural, skepticism had now crept in.
· Spirituality was regarded as superstitious and outdated.
· Ultimate truth can only be gained by scientific means, not divine revelation.
· Authority came from science and human reason, rather than from God.
And what ensued was an attack on biblical Christianity (truth that was divinely revealed, over and against truth that was scientifically discovered.)
This is where we are now. We live in a Post-modern world. Many people today would state the following:
· Ultimate truth is unknowable.
· There is no authoritative revelation.
· Subjective personal feelings and individual experiences win the day.
· God can be whatever you perceive him (or her, or it) to be.
· Truth can be whatever you perceive it to be.
· It is akin to the Book of Judges where every man does what is right in his own eyes.
· Being “religious” is out, being “spiritual" is in.
Ultimately, this view is radically opposed to the biblical, historic Christian worldview. In summary, there are four essentials of the Christian worldview that post-modernists today simply cannot stomach. They are:
Objectivity - Post-modernists believe all truth is subjective and relative. Therefore, there’s no such thing as absolute truth.
Clarity - Post-modernists believe meaning is determined by the reader/hearer, rather than the author. It's a completely self-absorbed perspective which renders the author's intent completely irrelevant.
Authority - Post-modernists insist there are no foundations for knowledge. They believe all opinions are equally valid.
Certainty - Post-modernists believe you can't know anything with certainty and will consider one arrogant if he/she claims to know anything for sure.
All this boils down to one thing... In our Post-modern culture today, if you tell someone that their belief is wrong (no matter how nicely you deliver that message) you will be stamped with the label “intolerant”.
Three Baseball Umpires
Os Guiness, in his book, Time for Truth, illustrates the current state of our culture with the story of three baseball umpires.
The first umpire says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call them the way they are.”
“No!” exclaims the second umpire. “That’s arrogant. There are balls and there are strikes and I call them the way I see it.”
“That’s no better,” says the third. “There’s balls and there’s strikes and they ain’t nothing till I call them.”
The first umpire represents the Pre-modern view. This is the traditional view of truth – objective; independent of the mind of the knower, and it is there to be discovered.
The second umpire represents the Modern era. He speaks for moderate relativism – truth ‘as each person sees it’ according to his or her perspective and interpretation.
And the third umpire expresses the Postmodern position which states that ‘truth’ is not there to be discovered, it is for each of us to create and define for ourselves.
In the context of evangelism, can you see the problem that is before us?
Christians are those who follow the One who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12
On top of that, Jesus gave us the charge, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:15-16
A common response to the gospel may be, “You have your truth and I have mine. And even though they are in complete opposition, they’re both true. Therefore, respect my view (read: agree with me that it’s just as true as yours) and don’t be so intolerant.” This is the world we live in.
· To say there’s heaven and hell, and nothing in between, is now called arrogant.
· To say there’s right and wrong, and that God will one day judge each of us is now narrow-minded.
· And to say there’s only one way for a sinner to be saved is now called intolerant.
People will argue, "You're trying to get me to change my beliefs." To which I would say, “YES!” Adding, “Yes I am, but I don’t hate you...I have absolutely zero animosity toward you. I most certainly will not cut your head off for what you believe. On the contrary, I actually love you; therefore I want to tell you where your view departs from the Scriptures. I understand you will interpret that as me telling you that you’re wrong, and I’m ok with that. I know that makes me sound like a horrible person, but I’m wrong all the time, so to me it’s not that big of a deal. I like how one preacher put it, ‘The one who loves you the most, will tell you the most truth.’ So, can you and I continue our conversation without you flagging me for intolerance?”
The reality is Christianity is an evangelistic religion. Jesus left us with the Great Commission. We are called to tell other people the truth, (not because we hate them or we want to show how right we are), but because we care for them. We’re concerned. This is the biblical position.
True Christian love fits right into the traditional definition of tolerance. We don’t love and respect all perspectives, but we love and respect all people.
Look at Ephesians 4:2 for a guiding principle.
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
As Christians we are called to put up with, or tolerate a lot of things. And we are to do that with all humility, gentleness and patience. Ultimately, we are called to do good to all people – even people who do things we don’t necessarily like or agree with.
As Josh McDowell put it in his book, The New Tolerance, “To love others as Christ loved us means to recognize their infinite and intrinsic value as human beings altogether apart from their beliefs, behavior, lifestyle, or truth claims.” To say it another way, biblical tolerance values, respects, and accepts the individual, but it does NOT necessarily approve of or participate in his or her beliefs or behavior.
How I react toward people is what defines me as tolerant,
not how I react toward ideas.
So with this understanding, how do we interact with others who have fully embraced the contemporary view of tolerance? How can we navigate through discussions in today’s world?
The fact is we need to be able to talk. We need to be able to dialogue, to share worldviews. Knowing full well that these views will undoubtedly collide with one another and feathers will get ruffled, because we’re not all going to agree. We need to acknowledge this going in.
My question is: Can I disagree with you without you calling me a hater or an intolerant bigot?
When someone does level that charge against us, “You’re so intolerant!” Ask him what he means by that. Get him to flesh that word out. “What do you mean by the word intolerant?”
If he claims that you’re intolerant because you think you’re right, ask if he thinks he’s right. The fact is, everyone thinks their own views are correct; that’s why they believe them. (Who would knowingly believe something that they know isn’t true?)
If he says his views are true for him, ask why it appears as though he’s trying to push his correct, “tolerant” view on you. “Why is it when I think I’m right, I’m intolerant or arrogant, but when you think you’re right, you’re just right? Can you help me understand that? Because it seems as though you are you demanding that I disobey what my Savior has told me to do. Are you trying to get me to change my beliefs? I think you need to be more tolerant.”