Zero Tolerance

Posted: October 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

There’s a lot of talk lately about how Christians are completely intolerant. It seems we’re a bunch of homophobic, narrow-minded chauvinists. At the top of the list along with hypocritical, it appears we’re incredibly intolerant. Good! I’m so glad we’re still hanging on to at least some shred of intolerance. Well, at least by the contemporary meaning of tolerance these days.

You see, tolerance used to mean that you could passionately disagree with somebody and completely hate their ideas, but with every ounce of your being you would defend their right to speak their beliefs. That’s essentially the idea behind our First Amendment. But somewhere along the road, we’ve turned tolerance into a really wimpy idea. Nowadays, tolerance is thought of as the accepting of all ideas as equally valid. It’s part of the pluralistic way of thinking we’ve inherited from post-modernism, which says there aren’t any right and wrong absolutes. And since these absolutes have been removed from the playing field, you’re extremely arrogant if you think your ideas are fundamentally right and another person’s are fundamentally bogus. You’re intolerant if you think that homosexuality is anything but an alternative lifestyle and have enough conviction to state that belief. You’re intolerant if you think a mother shouldn’t be able to have an abortion. And you’re really intolerant if you think you have to place your faith in Jesus Christ to be saved.

But this is absurd! How is it ok to compartmentalize tolerance into material and ideological? In the same nation that we herald tolerance of ideas, we esteem our zero tolerance standards in schools for drugs, guns, and deviant behavior. I think the reason for this compartmentalization is that we see ideas as essentially harmless. But they’re not. Beliefs motivate action.

You’ve probably seen the show “intervention.” After a person has suffered from some harmful lifestyle (usually drugs or alcohol), family and friends of that person will hold an intervention to help that person rid themselves of what’s affecting them. Aren’t they being intolerant? How can they say they are right and the person snorting heroin is wrong for doing it? Isn’t it oppressive and arrogant to infringe upon that person’s freedom of choice?

Yes, that’s a ridiculous idea, and yet we apply that approach to tolerance of ideas. The fact is, some beliefs are stupid or wrong, and we are obligated to fight for truth for the well-being of the upholder of bad ideas. And we expect others to challenge our stupid beliefs. If a person believes it’s acceptable to walk around New York City butt-naked, you better believe his belief is going to be confronted, and for good reason.

There’s a sad story in 1 Corinthians 5 of a man in the Corinthian church who was incestuous (actually had his own mother). Paul has to call out the Corinthians because in the name of tolerance they let the man go unchallenged. Listen to what he says: “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.” Whoa, Paul’s not being tolerant and he’s passing judgment. I’m pretty sure he broke two cherished rules in the American Christianity rulebook!

So we need to redefine our definition of tolerance. It’s impossible to work with this idea that everybody needs to be accepting of everybody else’s ideas, because that’s garbage. Only a stupid person is accepting of everyone’s ideas about everything. That’s an awfully intolerant thing to say, isn’t it?

Of course, we should disagree compassionately, usually gently (although there are times for passionate contending), and in love for those with whom we are disagreeing. Our purpose shouldn’t be to show that we are right, but to show others the truth, because there is such a thing as truth and there is freedom in it. But the point is, we need to realize it’s ok, and in fact necessary, to disagree!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s