This word refers a current and prevalent code of society; namely, that while one may hold any personal beliefs they wish, one should “tolerate” the beliefs of everyone else at the same time. “Tolerate” is also commonly translated as “not impose”. A clearer definition would be to “be okay with”.
So I’m walking down the footpath. I believe that while I’m walking down the footpath, it’s a good thing to not walk into everyone else, pushing them as I go. This particularly applies to disabled, the elderly and children. Of course, someone may disagree. Someone may believe that it’s okay to shove me as they walk past. Should I tolerate that? That person may believe it’s okay to knock over a child on their tricycle. Should I tolerate that? Should the parent of that child tolerate that?
There are more gruesome and obvious examples than this, of course; rape, murder and theft to begin with. The thing is, there is such a thing as right and wrong. The very concept of tolerance as a foundation for society fails before it begins.
Alright, someone will counter, well how about: one should tolerate everyone else’s view, in the context of mutual consensus on some key issues that impact a society. In this way, it becomes okay to tolerate some things, but not others. Opinions vs actions, some will say. This is better. But it’s not enough.
It becomes more subtle, following this line of reasoning. If I say I’m not going to tolerate physical assault as an expression of racial hatred, will I tolerate verbal abuse as an expression of the same? Will I tolerate an offhand comment? A glare? Assuming I could see it, could I tolerate the hatred in another person, before it finds obvious expression? We have to understand that actions don’t happen in isolation, they start from the state of our hearts. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:46)
What Jesus calls us to is higher than tolerance. What Jesus calls us to is holiness. If we look at another person lustfully, we’ve already committed adultery in our hearts. Don’t just give what you have to, give cheerfully; above and beyond. Etc. Tolerance doesn’t work; it’s an attempt of our culture to make more politically correct lines than we’ve had in the past, for the sake of avoiding some of the consequences of those lines, of what we now call “intolerance”. It’s arbitrary and man-made, and it’s a product of our time.
Jesus also calls us to love. Love is not “intolerance”, although it may look the same in some cases. Love is also so much more than tolerance. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. At the same time, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Now, can we construct a society on this love? No, not at the moment, because not every person has this revelation of Jesus and His kingdom. We have to make rules as a society to function healthily. But those of us who do have this revelation can be living this way, choosing love over tolerance and letting that begin to shape our society instead.
What I dislike about the concept of tolerance is that it denies the existence of truth. It carries the overtone of “If you have an opinion that in some way means someone else has to be wrong, you shouldn’t speak it.” While I completely understand the desire to get rid of judgement (the wrong kind) and putting others down, tolerance doesn’t solve the problem. Tolerance does not free us, it restricts us.
Tolerance leads to abounding of injustice, it leads to lack of change, and ultimately it leads to apathy.
I don’t want to be tolerant.