Tolerance vs TOLERANCE! And how to tell the difference

January 16, 2018

“So you’re saying that *abortion/homosexuality/Islam* is wrong?!”

“As a Christian, I…”

“This is why I hate religion, you always think you know best. Like your backwards, Stone Age holy book has all the answers?! Why not accept that times have moved on? You are so INTOLERANT!”

I’m no stranger to conversations such as this. Discussing sensitive topics such as those mentioned above can be challenging. Navigating them thoughtfully, with compassion ought to be the aim. However, all to often these kind of conversations get shut down before they really get started. The arguments become ad-hominem very quickly. “You’re INTOLERANT!” An accusation which is usually always intended as a conversation stopper. You see, there isn’t really anything more undesirable in our culture than someone who is intolerant. Tolerance is a much vaunted virtue here in the west, even making it into the four Fundamental British Values now used by Ofsted. But is the tolerance preached in pop-culture actually tolerant? Here I’ll define the new TOLERANCE! and contrast it with the classical definition of tolerance, keep your eyes peeled for the differences.


– All views, beliefs and ideologies are to be treated as equally valid.
– Disagreement with and criticism of someone else’s belief system is intolerant of them (unless they are Christian!)
– To say that your view is the right one is intolerant of those who hold different views.
– Tolerance means accepting and celebrating all views and beliefs including those which oppose your own.

Tolerance (Classic)

All people are of equal value and worth, all ideas are not.
– Disagreement with someone is a necessary precondition for tolerance. You do not tolerate someone who you agree with about everything, you are in agreement with them! You can only tolerate someone who you disagree with.
– If you did not believe that your view was the right view, you would not hold that view. In order to establish which is the correct view reasonable discourse needs to take place, where arguments are given and evidence is weighed.
– Tolerance is the ability to treat those who hold views which you dislike or disagree with in a respectful, fair and honourable manner.

TOLERANCE! actually turns out to be wildly intolerant! Modern tolerance fails it’s own tests. Shouting someone down as INTOLERANT shows that you do actually believe that your view is the right one and that theirs is wrong. Very INTOLERANT! Equally, someone who accepts and celebrates all views and belief systems isn’t tolerant, they just have no rational or moral standards. This kind of individual ought to be feared not revered! Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that all ideas are not equal, they do not deserve the right to be treated equally. Some ideas are brilliant, some are dumb. The best ideas are those that map the closest onto the objective nature of reality, these are the truest ideas. We find out which these are through honest inquiry and being willing to let go of bad ideas when they become exposed. Simply pretending that all ideas, views and beliefs deserve to be treated equally is the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears, shutting your eyes and yelling “I’M NOT LISTENING!” Childish.

“Be egalitarian in regards to people, elitist in regards to ideas” – Peter Kreeft

So, it is how you treat people that ultimately determines whether you are tolerant or not. The Christian worldview offers us a firm foundation for tolerance. Genesis 1:27 states that God made mankind in his own image. This means that all and any human life bears the inalienable image of The Creator, whether white, black, in-utero, gay, straight, able-bodied or disabled. Therefore all human life is sacred and is to be considered of equal and incalculable worth. Ideologies, views and beliefs that run contrary to this are to open to challenge by the Christian, it is not intolerant to question Islam or to uphold scriptural teaching on sexuality. On the Christian worldview tolerance makes sense, it is a response to the fact of each individual’s innate value and worth given that all bear the image of God. TOLERANCE! only extends to the TOLERANT! the INTOLERANT shall not be TOLERATED! Therefore, TOLERANCE! breaks down again because it is contingent upon other’s obedience to the new model of tolerance which is self-refuting.

True intolerance is what happens when we silence those with opposing views, something which I believe proponents of modern TOLERANCE have every intention of achieving.

by Graham Phillips

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