Tolerance is No Longer a Virtue

plane crash tolerance

When we discuss the most controversial moral issues of the day, the conversation usually ends up at the word: “tolerance.”

We are told one side is being tolerant, while the other is intolerant. In our culture, tolerance is treated as an understood and accepted moral good to which everyone should strive.

But just how tolerant of other perspectives is the modern tolerance movement? New research and continued anecdotal evidence argues all that remains of tolerance is an empty shell.

At a time when some conservatives are moving away from a “culture war” posture, many modern progressives have embraced the concept (if not the language). They no longer want tolerance and acceptance. They want surrender and submission.

It’s not about tolerance. This is a conflict between two competing moral frameworks.

Latest from Pew Research

Pew Research, in investigating people’s attitudes toward hot button social issues, found the absence of any real tolerance and empathy for the position of others.

Pew wanted to find out how people balanced religious liberty on one hand and nondiscrimination on the other. Those two concepts come in conflict in issues like employers providing birth control, wedding related businesses serving same-sex couples, and which bathroom transgender individuals should use.

They found wide agreement for forcing businesses to provide birth control despite religious objections, but more mixed responses for the other two issues.

But the most telling numbers came when they presented respondents with the arguments for each side and then asked if they could sympathize with those positions. Only a small number said they even had some sympathy for the other side—around 20 percent for each issue.

Pew Research tolerance

That tells us something, but not everything. It gets more interesting when you look at who is least likely to say they have any sympathy for those who disagree with them.

On the issue of requiring businesses to provide birth control, only 20% of those who agree businesses should be required to provide it say they can even sympathize some with the other side.

By contrast, 27% of those who say businesses should be able to refuse coverage due to the religious reasons say they can sympathize with both sides. The supposed intolerant side is more tolerant than the side of “tolerance.”

Among those groups least likely to sympathize with the other position: 18-49 year olds, those who attend religious services less than weekly, Jewish, religiously unaffiliated, and Democrats.

Those who were most likely to express empathy for both sides were white evangelicals, black Protestants, those who attend church services at least weekly, those 50 and older, and Republicans.

Those who are often regarded as the least understanding show the most sympathy for the perspective of the other side.

You see similar numbers, though not quite as clear, on the issue of providing services for a same-sex wedding.

More than 2 in 10 (21%) of those who say businesses should be able to refuse service due to their religious beliefs sympathize with both sides. Only 16% of those who believe businesses should be required to serve same-sex couples see both sides.

The only issue where what could be called the traditional viewpoint is less understanding of the other side is the transgender bathroom issue. That may be because it is still so relatively new and unknown for most Americans.

Currently, according to Pew, 87% of people say they know someone who is gay or lesbian, but only 30% say they know a transgendered person.

With the economic and cultural pressure being placed on a place like North Carolina by the NBA, NCAA, ACC, and others, however, I expect these numbers to shift in the future, as transgender becomes more accepted in broader culture.

The tolerance strategy

While actual tolerance is no longer practiced, faux-tolerance remains an effective strategy for pursuing social change both in culture and in the church.

Those wanting broader acceptance of homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion or any number of the progressive issues surrounding sexual freedom, begin by saying they merely want to have a conversation. They simply want a seat at the table.

But as more and more pull up a chair, they turn the tables on the traditionalists who still think they are all merely having a conversation. Eventually, those within post-Christian liberalism begin to ask, “Who let all these bigots sit with us?” All in the name of “tolerance.”

As I’ve said before, most people don’t actually mind the idea of gatekeepers; they just don’t like it when the gatekeepers are someone else. Often times, as soon as those without power achieve power, their first step is punishing and excluding those previously in positions of authority.

That’s not an argument for keeping the status quo power structure in every instance. But it is worth noting that virtually no one is immune from the corrupting influence of power—especially those who claim they want power for themselves to help others. As C.S. Lewis said:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Take for instance, the discussion surrounding the HB2 bathroom bill in Charlotte. In short order, progressives have led three major sports institutions, one founded in the very heart of North Carolina, to leave the state and place immense pressure on the governor and state legislature to change the law.

But that is not enough for some. Even seeing the law changed would not be enough. Immediately after capturing a victory that would have been unforeseen even five years ago, they want the NCAA to go further. The HB2 move is “meaningless” unless the NCAA kicks out BYU and any other “anti-gay member,” by which they mean any faith-based institution.

But that’s just one writer on the internet. It’s not like that’s happening in the government or anything. Except, look in Massachusetts, where the state’s official commission against discrimination said: “Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public.”

In other words, pastors and church leaders will have to use the pronouns of a person’s choosing in the church building itself or risk being punished for discrimination. If comments deemed critical of a transgender individual are even allowed, churches can be seen as allowing a “hostile environment.”

This is not a wedding photographer being required to provide services for a same-sex marriage ceremony. This is pastors not being able to speak according to the dictates of their faith convictions within the walls of their church building.

Remember how none of this was going to impact the way people lived their lives? Why do you care if a gay couple gets married or a transgender person uses a different bathroom, it’s not going to affect you or your church? Except now it may if I live in Massachusetts.

But that’s only in Massachusetts, right? Surely those outside the “liberal northeast” would be safe.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued their own report on religious liberty and nondiscrimination. The commission’s chair wrote:

“The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy, or any form of intolerance.”

Some of the leading civil rights lawyers in the United States have decided that religious liberty deserves scorn and scare quotes when it comes in conflict with “any form of intolerance.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will no longer tolerate intolerance. To say it another way, as they champion tolerance, they display utter intolerance for anyone who disagrees with them.

Tolerance is dead. The more the word is used today, the more dirt is thrown on top of the grave.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.