STUDY EIGHT: CONTEMPORARY TOLERANCE
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015
A. BACKGROUND AND DEFINITIONS
We have seen that secular humanism, evolution and philosophical materialism deny any concept of God as an absolute reality, and that relativism believes that all god concepts and moral codes are merely individual or cultural constructs that have no objective basis in actual fact.
If these ideologies are true, and contemporary society generally assumes that they are, then no religious belief system has any valid basis to claim that it alone is right, that it alone is the one truth that is true for all people. Sadly, within Christian churches also there is a surprising level of acceptance of this conclusion, and a failure to look behind the conclusion to the belief systems that produced it.
In addition to this ideological background contemporary society is also characterised by the demographic facts of multiculturalism and the accompanying pluralism. Our national population is increasingly comprised of people from many different cultural backgrounds. Ron Rhodes, in The Culting of America, includes the following quotes in a section titled ‘The explosive growth of religious pluralism’:
‘More than ever ours is a pluralistic society in which Christianity is no longer a consensus but just another option in a whole cafeteria of religious choices.’ [Kenneth Bos: Cults, World Religions and You]
‘the concept of “Christendom” has given way to “the Pluralist Society.” … We can no longer imagine that we live in a Christian country in which the Christian faith is the only real option.’ [Christianity Today]
‘the sheer bulk of belief-options serves to erode the credibility of any one option’ [Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age.]
Although writing of America, Rhodes' comments are also relevant to Australia. He concludes: ‘Christianity, then, is viewed by many Americans as simply one of many acceptable options.’ [p71]
This leads on to the question of ‘tolerance’, and here we need to distinguish between traditional tolerance and the ‘new' or contemporary 'tolerance’.
A.1 Traditional tolerance:
Traditional tolerance is the form of tolerance that existed before the above loss of absolutes occurred.
Tolerance: ‘Willingness to be tolerant and patient toward people whose opinions or ways differ from one’s own.’
’Tolerant: ‘willing to let other people do as they think best; willing to endure beliefs and actions of which one does not approve’ [World Book Dictionary]
‘Tolerance means to respect a person’s right to hold views contrary to one’s own. I am tolerant if I continue to respect you as a person, and respect your right to propagate views which I think are false and harmful. Tolerance, thus, is towards a person and his rights, not necessarily for his beliefs or behaviour.’ [Mangalwadi, Letters to a Postmosern Hindu, p38]
This traditional ‘tolerance’, which is what most of the older generation thinks of when the words ‘tolerance’ and ‘tolerant’ are used, is directed towards people and not towards belief systems. Although, sadly, it has not always been practised by Christians, it is totally compatible with, and an expression of, the Christian mandate. Vishal Mangalwadi writes:
‘The Christian case for tolerance is rooted in the Christian commitment to a respect for (a) the dignity of all men – since we are all made in God’s image; (b) each one’s freedom of conscience – since ultimately every human being is personally accountable to God; and (c) humility as a moral imperative – since we are finite creatures.’ [ibid p31]
Although the Bible clearly depicts an intolerance for other beliefs and other gods, and for sinful actions, it also commands an attitude of love, patience and forbearance towards people.
In what ways do these Scriptures exemplify or command tolerance of people?
1Corinthians 13:1-8a [KJV preferred]
A.2 The ‘new' or contemporary 'tolerance’:
The new tolerance has arisen as a direct result of the loss of absolutes:
‘The definition of the new … tolerance is that every individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyle, and perception of truth claims are equal … There is no hierarchy of truth. Your beliefs and my beliefs are equal, and all truth is relative.’ [McDowell and Hostetler, citing TA Helmbock, in The New Tolerance, p19].
B. UNDERSTANDING THIS NEW, CONTEMPORARY TOLERANCE
Vishal Mangalwadi wrote in Letters to a Postmodern Hindu:
‘Our difficulty today is that postmodernism is forcing us to choose between tolerance and truth. It insists that no one knows, and no one can know, the true, objective truth. Therefore, it says that we ought to be tolerant because all truths are relative; that is, ultimately false.’ [p31]
Here we see what the isms we have studied have produced: because there is no ‘God’ [secular humanism, evolution, philosophical materialism] there are no absolutes [relativism] and therefore no truth that is actually true. All ‘truth concepts’ are simply human ideas – there simply is no objective truth there to know and therefore no objective and absolute moral standards which people should keep.
In this context, if this is the way people see reality, then for one person or belief system to insist that its perception of ‘truth’ and ‘morals’ is objective, absolute and the one true truth and moral standard, is highly presumptuous and highly intolerant and bigoted.
Having discarded the idea that the Bible is the inerrant revelatory Word of a personal supernatural God who actually exists there is nothing left by which to measure truth and morals Man is left as the sole arbiter of his own truth and his own morals. Any one man’s choice is as good and as valid as the next man’s. They are all just human ideas.
McDowell and Hostetler point out the concepts of the new tolerance:
‘truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths’ [citing Grenz]
‘Since there are multiple descriptions of reality, no one view can be true in an ultimate sense … Since truth is described by language, and all language is created by humans, all truth is created by humans.’ [citing Closson]
‘If all truth is created by humans, and all humans are “created equal” … then what is the logical next step? It is this: All “truth” is equal’.
‘Tolerance … the doctrine in vogue, is that all opinions are equal. Each one has its point, and all should be respected or praised. That is to say, there is no rational way to discern between them. [citing Savater]
‘The definition of the new … tolerance is that every individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyle, and perception of truth claims are equal. … There is no hierarchy of truth. Your beliefs and my beliefs are equal, and all truth is relative.’ [citing Helmbock]
‘In contrast to traditional tolerance, which asserts that everyone has an equal right to believe or say what he thinks is right, the new tolerance – the way our children are being taught to believe – says that what every individual believes or says is equally right, equally valid. So not only does everyone have an equal right to his beliefs, but all beliefs are equal. all values are equal. all lifestyles are equal. All truth claims are equal.’
‘Since the new tolerance teaches that all beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth claims are equal, it is not enough for you (or your children) to “live and let live.” it is not enough for you to assert another person’s right to believe or say what he thinks is right. It is not enough to allow another person to disagree with what you believe or do.
‘In order to be truly tolerant (according to the new tolerance), you must agree that another person’s position is just as valid as your own. In order to be truly tolerant (they say), you must give your approval, your endorsement, your sincere support to their beliefs and behaviours.’
‘… the agenda of the new tolerance: not simple acceptance of persons who are different or who believe or behave differently, but approval of and participation in their attitudes and activities.’ [from The New Tolerance, pp18-27]
Discuss the implications of this new, contemporary tolerance for the following:
 Writing a letter to the Editor of a newspaper expressing criticism of the homosexual lifestyle.
 A Christian refusing to let her child be present in a class during a lesson on witchcraft.
 Sharing the Gospel with someone.
 A Christian school consistently promoting Christian beliefs and refusing to promote any other belief system
 Calling someone’s behaviour sinful
The implications of this new tolerance are incredible and terrifying. McDowell and Hostetler include a quote from The Washington Times:
‘In 30 years of teaching, Prof. Robert Simon has never met a student who denied that the Holocaust happened. What he sees increasingly, though, is worse: students who acknowledge the fact of the Holocaust but can’t bring themselves to say that killing millions of people is wrong.
Simon … says that 10 to 20 percent of his students are reluctant to make moral judgments – in some cases, even about the Holocaust. While these students may deplore what the Nazis did, their disapproval is expressed as a matter of taste or personal preference, not moral judgment. “Of course I dislike the Nazis,” one student told him, “but who is to say they are morally wrong?”’ [ibid p25]
On the basis of the new contemporary tolerance, expressions of value judgments about any belief system or any behaviour, is outlawed. It is seen to be discriminatory. It has become both a social and (in some cases) a legal offence.
C. THE EXCLUSIVENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE
There are three major world religions whose belief systems make it impossible to practice this ‘new tolerance’ because each of their belief systems centre around the concept that there is only one God. These three religions are: Judaism, historic Christianity and Islam. The very message these three religions are committed to is a message of one God, who alone is God – a message that renders all other religious options false.
Because of this claim to uniqueness and exclusiveness, and because historic Christianity is, or has been, the dominant religion in western countries, and has for centuries publicly proclaimed an obviously exclusive and absolute message, it is historic Christianity that is most keenly feeling the pressure of the cultural push towards the ‘new tolerance’ in western countries.
As we will see in the second half of this course the historic Christian message has been diluted and corrupted from within the church in many ways. For those who have embraced some of these dilutions and corruptions the ‘new tolerance’ is not a fundamental problem because the diluted version of Christianity, robbed of uniqueness and absolutes, allows them some scope to affirm the validity of a range of belief systems.
It is a problem, however, for conservative evangelical Christianity which maintains belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant Word of the God who alone is God. Christianity as a whole has been increasingly marginalized and minoritized in the western world; but conservative evangelical Christianity, with its affirmation and proclamation of the absolute and exclusive claims of Christ, is, in the eyes of the relativistic majority, perceived to be guilty of the one ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ that is recognized – that of ‘intolerance’.
The very message we proclaim – that there is only one God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is the one way to know and to be accepted by this one God – stands as a judgment against all other belief systems. The very essence of the traditional Christian message demands exclusivity and this intolerance towards other belief systems.
How do these Scriptures express exclusiveness and/or absoluteness?
In what way do they conflict with the demand for ‘tolerance’ in the ‘new’ sense of the word?
Isaiah 45:18, 22-24
D. FURTHER COMMENTS ON CONTEMPORARY TOLERANCE
D.1 When relativism assumes itself to be ‘absolute’
It is interesting that relativism, which is one of the parents of the new contemporary tolerance, assumes absoluteness for itself. It assumes that it alone, in its proposition that there is no absolute truth and no absolute morals, is true. ‘It demands to be the paradigm through which all views are known … (it) claims for itself immunity from the force of its own critique.’ [Dick Keyes, cited in Mangalwadi, p55,56]
D. 2 When the ‘new tolerance’ becomes intolerant
Similarly, the ‘new tolerance’, which states that all beliefs and behaviours are equally valid, cannot and will not tolerate the belief that all beliefs and behaviours are not valid. Thus McDowell and Hostetler comment:
‘In a postmodern society – a society that regards all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid, - there can be only one universal virtue: tolerance. And, if tolerance is the cardinal virtue, the sole absolute, then there can be only one evil: intolerance.’
‘It is the mission of public schools not to tolerate intolerances’ [citing Hill]
‘Our idea is that to be a virtuous citizen is to be one who tolerates everything except intolerance’ [citing Armour]
‘Tolerance … involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism.’ [citing the United Nations “Declaration of Principles on Tolerance”.] [Please note: The rest of this Declaration is more expressive of traditional ‘tolerance’ than of the ‘new tolerance’ and could actually promote the protection of Christians in countries where they are a persecuted minority - RB]
‘Any system or individual that believes dogmatically in anything – and especially in absolute truth – is by definition guilty of intolerance! You don’t even have to say anything; if you do not reject the idea that some beliefs and behaviour are right and that others are wrong, for all people, for all places, and for all times, then you are intolerant … and thus you are an appropriate object of intolerance! If you – or your church, or your children – “make any negative judgments about other points of view,” (citing Legutke) you will be targeted.’ [p43,44]
D.3 When the advocates of relativism actually destroy pluralism
Similarly, when relativism and the new tolerance advocate the equality of all beliefs on the basis of the absence of all absolutes, they are actually undermining the very belief systems that they appear to be seeking to support.
They are saying, on the one hand, that there is actually no plurality – that ‘all roads lead to the one god’ and that all are just different expressions of the one truth. This expression of relativism is actually condescending to all religions, denying their individuality and distinction.
They are saying, on the other hand, that these belief systems and value codes have no under-girding basis and no fundamental reality except in the minds of those who maintain them. If no belief system can claim to be valid, if no moral code can claim to be ‘right’, then every belief system is invalid and every moral code is ‘wrong’.
We are left with no valid belief system and no valid morals.
D.4 When humanism dehumanizes the human
Read the quotes from Schaeffer below. Underline everything that indicates a devaluation of the human. Discuss the cause of this devaluation. Identify expressions of it in contemporary society.
Francis Schaeffer comments:
‘On a humanistic base people drift along from generation to generation, and the morally unthinkable becomes the thinkable as the years move on. By “humanistic base” we mean the fundamental idea that men and women can begin from themselves and derive the standards by which to judge all matters. There are for such people no fixed standards of behaviour, no standards that cannot be eroded or replaced by what seems necessary, expedient, or even fashionable.’
‘What we regard as thinkable and unthinkable about how we treat human life has changed drastically in the West. For centuries Western culture has regarded human life and the quality of the life of the individual as special. It has been common to speak of “the sanctity of human life.”’
‘The … concept of the sanctity of human life … came … from the Judeo-Christian world-view which dominated the West for centuries. This view did not come from nowhere. Biblical doctrine was preached not as a truth but as the truth. This teaching formed not only the religious base of society but the cultural, legal, and governmental bases as well.
‘Until recently in our own century [20th century] … human beings have generally been regarded as special, unique, and nonexpendable. But in one short generation we have moved from a generally high view of life to a very low one.
‘Why has our society changed? The answer is clear: the consensus of our society no longer rests on a Judeo-Christian base, but rather on a humanistic one. Humanism makes man “the measure of all things.” It puts man rather than God at the centre of all things.
‘Today the view that man is a product of chance in an impersonal universe dominates … humanist standards sweep on from one loss of humanness to the next. What we are watching is the natural result of humanism in its secular and theological forms, and the human race is being increasingly devalued.
‘In our time, humanism has replaced Christianity as the consensus of the West. [A result of this] is to change people’s view of themselves and their attitudes toward other human beings…. The loss of the Christian consensus has led to a long list of inhuman actions and attitudes …
‘First, the whole concept of law has changed … law is only what most of the people think at that moment of history, and there is no higher law. … the law can be changed at any moment to reflect what the majority currently thinks. … More accurately, the law becomes what a few people in some branch of the government think will promote the present sociological and economic good. In reality the will and moral judgments of the majority are now influenced by or even overruled by the opinions of a small group of men and women. This means that vast changes can be made in the whole concept of what should and what should not be done. Vales can be altered overnight and at almost unbelievable speed.
‘Second, because the Christian consensus has been put aside, we are faced today with a flood of personal cruelty… the Christian consensus gave great freedoms without leading to chaos – because society in general functioned within the values given in the Bible, especially the unique value of human life. Now that humanism has taken over, the former freedoms run riot, and individuals, acting on what they are taught, increasingly practice their cruelties without restraint. And why shouldn’t they? If the modern humanistic view of man is correct and man is only a product of chance in a universe that has no ultimate values, why should an individual refrain from being cruel to another person, if that person seems to be standing in his or her way?
‘If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.’ [pp282-290]
We could add to Schaeffer’s list the dehumanization of the human in a wide variety of sexual practices and perceptions, and in the obvious loss of respect for people and their possessions.
E. THE END RESULT OF SUBSTITUTING TOLERANCE FOR TRUTH
The new tolerance demands that we cast aside all claims and concepts of absolute truth and absolute moral standards, because of a fundamental belief that all is relative – that there actually is no such thing as true truth or true morals. All is just subjective, relativistic human opinion.
If we do this, five things will inevitably result:
Truth, and all concept of truth, will be lost
Morality, and all concept of morality, will cease to exist
We will not be able to trust anyone.
Freedom will disappear.
Either chaos/anarchy or totalitarian government will result.