The intolerance of ‘tolerance’

tsslogo.jpgIn light of our discussion on religious tolerance and policy shifts limiting evangelism efforts on college campuses (Georgetown specifically) I am reminded of a point made by Don Carson, a man himself passionately committed to and engaged in campus evangelism. I transcribed this quote several years ago but since lost the text. So this morning I trekked back into the audio archives, located the quote and clicked out a transcript. It was a great honor to attend this message personally on October 6, 2002 at Omaha Bible Church. For simple folk like myself, I think the point is better stated here than anywhere in Carson’s books.

“Twenty five years ago ‘tolerance’ was understood to be a virtue that operated something like this: If I hold strong views on any particular subject I am nevertheless judged to be ‘tolerant’ if I think that your views are bad, immoral, improper, even disgusting, wicked or stupid, but still insist you have the right to defend them. In other words, a ‘tolerant’ person puts up with somebody else’s views and insists they have the right to hold them even while – in the vigorous arena of debate – we might disagree fundamentally on who is right or who is wrong. Such a person is a ‘tolerant’ person.

But nowadays, that is not what ‘tolerance’ means. Now ‘tolerance’ means that you don’t hold that anybody is right or wrong. Everybody is equally right or wrong. Nobody is more right than another person. If you don’t hold that then you are ‘intolerant.’ Now that is a huge shift … Under this new definition of ‘tolerance’ I don’t even know what ‘tolerance’ means because in the old view of ‘tolerance’ you had to disagree with someone before you could actually tolerate them. How do you say ‘Oh, yes, you are entirely right – I tolerate you?’ … This new ‘tolerance’ actually becomes extremely intolerant of anybody who does not buy into this view of ‘tolerance’ because if you actually come right out and say that some view is wrong or silly or foolish or indefensible or even questionable, then you are judged to be ‘intolerant.’ Thus, in the name of this newfangled tolerance it turns out, at profoundly deep levels, to be the most intolerant thing of all!”

D.A. Carson, Evangelism in the 21st Century (session 2), address delivered at Omaha Bible Church on Oct. 6, 2002. Carson will be back at OBC in 2008 (DV).

4 thoughts on “The intolerance of ‘tolerance’

  1. Hey! You took my idea! :( …. :) Hahaha! I was thinking about tolerance/intolerance yesterday and was planning on talking about it today over at my blog. I can still do it, though, because I was thinking about it in a different light.

    Thanks for the post. It speaks mountains.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that every false system of belief ultimately breaks down on the epistemological level? God left no possibility of a self-coherent system that excluded His absolute Lordship. Therefore we must deny His truth (Romans 1).

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