A Plea for Toleration—Part 1

The word “tolerance” has gotten a bad rap lately. The word, if not the concept, has been maligned because some have used it to promote relativism (the idea that truth is not absolute) at the expense of traditional beliefs. This misunderstanding has caused an overreaction against toleration to the point where some pride themselves on being intolerant. True religious toleration is an important theme of both our Christian and American heritage, one that we cannot afford to lose.

Some on the religious right are quick to point out the inconsistency of those who discriminate against them. In a rhetorical judo flip, they accuse liberals of hypocrisy for being intolerant of conservatives. Actually, those who condemn intolerance are more intellectually consistent than those who demand religious toleration for themselves while denying it to others.  Someone who values toleration would naturally oppose intolerance. To do otherwise would be hypocritical. For instance, a supporter of religious liberty can oppose the Taliban for its religious persecution without being intellectually inconsistent.

By “tolerant” I mean acknowledging another’s right to exist, even if you don’t believe what they do. The Bible calls it “forbearing one another” (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:2). In the military I defend the right of all to worship, even Wiccans. Why?  Not because I believe they’re right or that truth is relative. I do so because I believe strongly in religious freedom. If we do not respect the religious freedoms of others, we put our own religious liberty in jeopardy.


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