In light of the recent, cold blooded murder of 12 people at France’s Charlie Hebdo I can’t stop thinking about a word that has always caused me a problem. The word is “Tolerate” in any of its variations. It is one of the banner words wildly waved around today. People proudly proclaim how tolerant they are and that it’s intolerance that is the cause for so many of the problems facing us today. Well, I have a different take on it. I believe far too many people claim to be tolerant while in fact they are either closeted closed-minded individuals or shallow mob followers.
The word bothers me because it’s one of those words that actually has two diametrically opposed meanings. The older meaning of tolerate is “the capacity to endure something, especially pain or hardship.” People often use the word when they are telling us that they “put up with something.” With this meaning, toleration has its limits. An individual can usually tolerate something for just so long before they take action to end that which they are suffering. The other definition is the one most popular today: “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs, and practices that differ from one’s own.”
I ask you to focus on the words “permissive attitude” because that’s where I have a big problem. Is it always good to have a permissive attitude? Aren’t there limits to what should be permitted? I think there are. Consider the popular concept found in schools, organizations, companies, etc. “Zero Tolerance” meaning that certain things will NOT BE TOLERATED.
While I don’t think we should ever “tolerate” racism, bigotry, sexism, violence…the very fact that we as a society have a list of things that should be tolerated and things that shouldn’t be tolerated, makes me believe that toleration is really in the eye of the beholder. I can’t say that I have a total permissive attitude toward all opinions, beliefs and practices that differ from my own. And if you are honest, you’d have to admit that you too don’t have a “total” permissive attitude.
I get a big kick out of religious leaders who publicly declare that they are open about other religious beliefs. BS. That’s virtually impossible because many of the beliefs of one religion contradict or don’t support the beliefs of other religions. Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus. Non-Christians don’t. Fundamental Christians don’t, from what I know, believe that non-believers are going to be saved. How can someone with that belief system be tolerant of someone who has a different viewpoint? They might give lip service to non-believers, but I don’t think they are keeping the spirit of permissiveness alive.
Take a walk back in time and consider the Maryland Toleration Act (1649), also known as the Act Concerning Religion. It was a law mandating religious tolerance for Trinitarian Christians.
“The Calvert family, who founded Maryland partly as a refuge for English Catholics, sought enactment of the law to protect Catholic settlers and those of other religions that did not conform to the dominant Anglicanism of Britain and her colonies. The Act allowed freedom of worship for all Trinitarian Christians in Maryland, but sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus.”
Sentenced to death! Wow! That’s real tolerance. A little bit more on the nitty gritty of the Maryland Toleration Act” …no person or persons…professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be anyways troubled, Molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof within this Province. Settlers who blasphemed by denying either the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus Christ could be punished by execution or the seizure of their lands. That meant that Jews, Unitarians, and other dissenters from Trinitarian Christianity were practicing their religions at risk to their lives. Any person who insulted the Virgin Mary, the apostles, or the evangelists could be whipped, jailed, or fined. Otherwise, Trinitarian Christians’ right to worship was protected.”
You might argue that’s ancient history, and you might have a point, however, what one man tolerates another man abhors.
Today, liberal thinking rules. And while I am a firm believer in being open-minded, especially about things that might be out of my comfort zone, I have no problem in questioning some of the things we tolerate just because it’s the thing to do.
I believe there is a better word for what toleration is supposed to mean. And I’ll introduce that word in the next post on the YBR.