WORLDVIEWS

CONTEMPORARY TOLERANCE

Until recently ‘tolerance’ meant being respectful towards people whose opinions or ways or beliefs were different from one’s own. It meant being respectful towards a person, even if at the same time rejecting or standing in judgement on that person’s opinions or beliefs.

This expression of love towards a person at the same time as rejection of that person’s beliefs is totally consistent with the biblical standard where we find God loving the world, but speaking very strongly against all religions other than the true worship of him alone.

Today, however, the meaning of the word ‘tolerance’ has changed: today ‘tolerance’ means that I not only respect the person, I must also respect and affirm the other person’s opinions, ways and beliefs. I must not speak in judgement on the other person’s beliefs. I must not speak in judgement of a person’s actions. If I do I am considered ‘intolerant’ or ‘discriminatory’ and find myself the target of criticism and, in some cases, of legal action.

Why has this change occurred? The long term impact of secular humanism and its accompanying relativism is the disintegration of all standards of belief and of morals. People no longer have the perception that there is a body of absolute truth that is that is true for all people in all places at all times. People no longer have the perception that there is a system of absolute morals that is applicable for all people in all places at all times. In this post modern loss of absolutes our society has also become decidedly and deliberately post Christian.

In this way of thinking it is absurd to claim that one’s belief is the only right belief or that one’s moral standards are the only right moral standards.

We are left with no definition of truth and no moral standard by which to assess all beliefs and all standards.

All belief systems are considered equal.
All moral standards are considered equal.
All are considered subject to change.
All are considered mere human inventions.

On this basis contemporary tolerance demands that we each support and affirm the other in our pursuit of whatever belief system, lifestyle, morals etc we choose, and that none of us must do or say anything that infers that we consider our personal belief system, lifestyle and morals are any better than any other.

This new, contemporary, post-modern ‘tolerance’ puts the Christian in a very difficult place.

Conservative evangelical Christianity maintains belief that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant Word of the God who alone is God. 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.

The Christ whom we follow and whom we acknowledge of our Lord was extremely ‘intolerant’ of alternate beliefs and alternate standards. He repeatedly made exclusive and absolute claims about himself – claims that outlawed all other religions and all other standards – and commanded us to go into all the world and to teach all nations what he taught.

Our Christian mandate assumes that there is a fence, that we as believers in the one, true God are, through the life and death of his one and only Son, on the right side of the fence, and teaches that we are obligated to do our utmost to tell everyone else in the world that there is a fence and that they are currently on the wrong side of the fence. Thus our Christian mandate commands us to ‘intolerance’, outlawing as thoroughly unbiblical the new, contemporary, post-modern tolerance that eradicates all fences.

For your study: Examples of biblical ‘intolerance’: Exodus 20:3-4; Deuteronomy 6:4; 6:13-16; Isaiah 42:8; 44:6b,8; 45:18, 22-24; 46:9,10; Matthew 7:13,14; John 3:16-18; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5.

 © Rosemary Bardsley 2011