About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
Truth Trumps Tolerance
Our western world's doctrine of tolerance promotes the acceptance of all moral, cultural, and religious expressions without reservation. How should Christians respond to this form of tolerance?
I believe the present western world's push towards tolerance is rooted in postmodern thinking. Postmodernism, at least in part, differs from modernism in its approach to life and thinking issues through. Generally speaking, those in the fast fading modern era thoroughly think issues through in a systematic and analytical fashion because they believe there are absolute truths to be understood. Postmodernists reject a thorough, systematic, and analytical approach to thinking issues through because they do not believe there is any absolute fixed truth to bother understanding in such detail.
Like any era in history a culture's view of life transitions over time. Much of the western world over the last 50 plus years has transitioned from the modern era to the postmodern era. This is why the belief in no absolutes dominates western thought today. Truth is relative for postmodernists. It varies from person to person, place to place, culture to culture, and time to time. What is truth for one may not be truth for another. I noticed this trend creeping into Evangelical circles in the late 1960's when some people suggested that what is sin for you might not be sin for me.
With this world view in mind, it is logical that postmodern relativism forms the foundation for today's doctrine of tolerance. If truth varies from person to person, and if an individual's version of truth is right for him, it makes sense to tolerate each other's version of truth. That is to say, if we are all right in our own eyes let's embrace and live happily ever after. That certainly sounds like the kind thing to do.
All of the above being said, I believe there is a more basic reason for our new doctrine of tolerance as seen in Biblical terms. The Bible portrays humans as being selfishly sinful, and that I believe is the source for today's doctrine of tolerance. Our selfishness is expressed in this popular postmodern sentiment. "Don't judge me and I won't judge you." In other words, postmodern tolerance is more about protecting one's self from criticism than it is about embracing those of a different persuasion.
Today's tolerance addresses moral, religious, and cultural concerns. Other areas of western culture escape the influence of tolerance. This is due in part because the west has been constructed upon a Darwinian style ideal of the survival of the fittest. For example, political parties promote their platforms by debating, criticizing, and vigorously fighting their way to political prominence. Free enterprise prides itself in a competitive corporate marketplace where only the strong survive. Our legal system thrives on its adversarial approach to law and justice. Lawyers fight to win, not to tie. None of the above demonstrates tolerance as defined by postmodernism.
Those who promote tolerance today benefit from our free marketplace of ideas. Despite the tolerance they preach they have fought their way, both in a court of law and outside of a court of law, to cultural supremacy. Tolerance has won the battle in our education system. It has been legislated into being the accepted norm in our classrooms. The fact is that in the process of implementing tolerance many religious and cultural expressions have not been tolerated. The doctrine of tolerance is thus hypocritical. I call it "selective tolerance", as in, "I'll tolerate you if you tolerate me."
You might ask, "Doesn't the Bible teach tolerance?" "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth ..." (1 Corinthians 13:4 - 6 NIV). Note that "love rejoices with the truth." Unlike today's doctrine of tolerance that claims not to be inhibited by any so-called expression of truth, Biblical tolerance exists within the boundary of the truth. We see an example of this in Galatians 2:14 where Paul openly rebuked Peter for not "acting in line with the truth of the gospel." Paul put truth above the feelings of Peter. For Paul, truth trumped tolerance.
How should Christians respond to our western world doctrine of tolerance? We stand for, and proclaim without any hesitancy, Biblical truth as we understand it. We do so in the most loving way possible as Ephesians 4:15 states. For the Christian, truth trumps tolerance.