Friday, October 27, 2006

Tolerance


Are you a tolerant person?

A few days ago, I was talking with my brother, and he said something about tolerance that was profound:

"Tolerance used to be based on knowledge; now it is based on skepticism."

I think what he meant was this:  In the past, a tolerant person would know the differences between his own view and the view of his neighbor.  Knowing these differences and being fully convinced his own view was correct, he would then, because of civility or perhaps brotherly love, tolerate the false view of his neighbor.

In this circumstance, tolerance is the best of three options.  (The other two being annihilation of the neighbor and the holding of the other person's false view.)  It is the choice of tolerance that leaves open the door for persuasion and dialogue.  But without this first step, a claim of true knowledge by one or both parties, there can be no tolerance.  And without this, no dialogue worth having.

Today this classic view of tolerance is not commonly assumed.  What passes for tolerance in our day is really agnosticism: we assume that knowledge of ____ is impossible, so therefore anyone could be right. Again, this cannot be tolerance because, by definition, tolerance requires a difference, and if we are all just making equally valid guesses at an unanswerable question, then there is no substantial difference between our stances.

I believe that the classic view of tolerance is one of the most basic expressions of love.    And I believe the current usage of the term, the agnostic use, to be the cornerstone of oppression.

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