Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tolerating the Intolerant

"Tolerance" is the most over-used virtue today, and according to this excellent article from This Rock, the term has strayed far from its original usage:

The contemporary understanding of tolerance is that it means suspending moral judgment. This is a dead end, because it is impossible to suspend moral judgment. After all, even the idea that we ought to be tolerant reflects a moral judgment. A person who denies that preferring tolerance is a moral judgment is left without a coherent explanation for why he tolerates some things (say, abortion) but does not tolerate others (say, rape).

The classical view of tolerance, on the other hand, doesn’t mean suspending moral judgment. It actually requires moral judgment.

Here is the classical view in a nutshell: To tolerate something is to put up with it even though we believe it to be bad or false. But the virtue of tolerance doesn’t mean tolerating everything bad or false in every way; it means knowing which bad and false things to put up with, in what ways, to what degrees, and on which occasions. The paradox of tolerance is that when we rightly tolerate something bad or false, we do so not because we don’t love truth and goodness enough to defend them but because we love them too much to defend them in the wrong way.
I might have gone further and said that tolerance, as expressed today, is no virtue at all. Or, as the great G.K. Chesterton put it, "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions."

At any rate, this article gives me courage to fight on against what I know to be immoral.


4HisChurch said...

These days "tolerance" often means everything except Christianity.