Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Intolerance of Tolerance

For the holiday weekend, my best friend and I drove 400 miles to visit a friend. It’s been a few years since we’ve all been together and we had a wonderful time. We walked along the beach, shopped, and had a great time catching up. I’d never been in that part of the country before, so it was an adventure for me. What I learned there is that people, no matter where they live, are essentially the same. They work and play just like me. They have the same challenges and the same comforts. With the exception of a very strong accent, the people I met would blend right in around my hometown.

Sure, I could make a list of the many ways in which they are different, and then I could explain why those differences created a huge gulf between us. I could make the argument that based on those differences, we could never truly relate in friendship. I could reasonably argue that those differences not only inhibit our peaceful coexistence, but that they are the righteous basis on which I oppose those differences and the people who perpetuate them. You see where this is going. So it seems, doesn’t it, that the key to relating with others must be tolerance if we are to avoid in the future tragedies such as World War II and 9-11?

Or is tolerance just another road paved with good intentions? So often in today’s society, we hear about the Tolerance Movement. We are encouraged to be tolerant, sometimes beyond reason, of each other’s differences. I suspect the proponents of the movement are hoping to circumvent the hate and violence that so often is born out of intolerant attitudes. But what happens when the human conscious guides this noble pursuit? You end up with a world where everything, no matter how morally inconceivable, is permissible.

It seems that expressing your own belief that someone else’s beliefs and actions are wrong is the only thing today’s society will not permit. In our zeal for complete tolerance, we will strive at all costs to not offend anyone with our own beliefs. We are encouraged to keep our beliefs to ourselves so that we can show tolerance to others. In fact, I know a woman whose employer has instituted a no-offense policy. No matter what it is, if you say something there that someone else finds offensive, you are warned. Say something again remotely similar and you could lose your job. The tolerance movement blown out of proportion can become the pinnacle of intolerance.

So what is the answer? I suppose that the only way to find the straight path through tolerance and intolerance is to look to Jesus and the example he gave in his own life on this earth. He was tolerant where God would have him be and intolerant where he needed to be to bring people into a closer relationship with God. He was able to accept each person’s uniqueness without tolerating his or her sinfulness. In our attempts to emulate Jesus, we would do well to remember that Jesus ruffled a few feathers along the way. On a daily basis, people berated him for being intolerant of those society tolerated and of being excessively lenient on those for whom society had no tolerance. He was a social outcast. Following Jesus’ example is hard. But then, who among us has a better way?
About the Photos
Building - New York, New York (May 2009)
Beach - Long Island, New York (May 2009)

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