Monday, May 21, 2012

Intolerance and Bigotry

Bigotry, as defined by Webster is the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. As we break down the definition, the first step is to understand what the words “stubborn” and “intolerance” mean. One definition says stubborn means “unreasonably obstinate.” Well, this introduces the question of what one considers “reasonable.” The definition has a good deal of subjectivity attached to it. But don’t all definitions? By this standard, everyone could be “reasonably” considered a bigot. But is that idea itself reasonable? I don’t think it is. Let’s move on to our next word. In my mind, it seems to best way to understand “intolerance” is to begin by examining the word “tolerate.” What does the word tolerate mean? Webster says it is an act or instance of tolerating, especially of what is not actually approved; forbearance: to show toleration toward the protesters. It is also defined as “permission by law or government of the exercise of religions other than an established religion; noninterference in matters of private faith and worship.” The word comes from the Latin toleratus. It means forbearance, sufferance. The word has roots in the 16th century. The religious sense is from the “Act of Toleration” status granting freedom of religious worship in England to dissenting Protestants in 1689.

Here is the elephant in the room that so many of us miss: if there were no disagreements, tolerance would not be possible. Tolerance depends, for its existence, on disagreement. If we all agree on everything, then tolerance becomes impossible. The only way tolerance is possible is if you and I disagree on a matter. I decide to tolerate you, to respect you, even though I may not agree with your view. Here is the second point: disrespecting your opinion is not the same as disrespecting you. I can respect you, extend to you the highest degree of courtesy while at the same time having little to no respect for your view. For example, I cannot respect the view that asserts there is no God. I can say to an atheist their view is wrong, that I disagree with their view, that their view is even pernicious or wicked without actually disrespecting them as a person. I am not asserting that we have to respect all men the same. I am not even saying that respect always looks the same. That is not my point here. My point is that disrespecting a person’s view is not the same thing as disrespecting the person. An objector may assert that disrespecting a person’s view is a form of disrespecting the person. However, that is not an easy case to make. If that is true, then logically, hating a person’s actions is the same as hating the person. Who actually believes that? Ask any parent whose child has committed a crime or engaged in serious rebellion and you are sure to discover it simply isn’t the case and wanting it to be so doesn’t make it so. In short, tolerance is only possible if disagreement exists. That being the case, let’s move on to intolerance.

Since tolerance is forbearing with someone who disagrees with you, intolerance means “not” forbearing with someone who disagrees with you. Intolerance takes many forms. Modern culture does not seem to recognize that what they call intolerance is nothing more than disagreement. Today, if you disagree with me on an issue, you are intolerant. You are especially intolerant if you think my view is wrong and yours is right. Since we know that tolerance is to put up with those you disagree with, intolerance must mean to “not” put up with those you disagree with. Intolerance is an incapacity or indisposition to bear or endure. While tolerance ends with disagree, intolerance translates into action. Intolerance inherently brings consequences into the relationship. When a boss says to an employee, I will not tolerate your tardiness any longer, it means consequences are coming. If there are no consequences, then the boss is tolerating the behavior. Think about it! That has to resonate with you. When you allow your children to do certain things, you are tolerating their behavior. You might disagree with it. You might even hate it. But you are tolerating it. The minute you introduce consequences you have not become intolerant. The church tolerates disagreement with the world on, well, almost everything the world thinks. The church tolerates homosexuals. She tolerates adultery, lying, murder, and a host of other wicked behavior in the culture. She tolerates these things because Jesus commanded her to. Where? You say!

Matt. 13:25-30, 36-43 is an excellent parable of this truth. The wheat represents the sons of the Kingdom while the tares are the sons of the evil one. The field is the world. Jesus is saying to the church, it is not your mission to root out the evil from among you in the earth. In other words, we must tolerate the sons of the wicked one until the time of the harvest. When harvest comes, He will separate the tares from the wheat. However, tolerating evil men in the world is one thing, but tolerating them in the church is altogether a different story. Within her community, the Church is forbidden from tolerating wickedness. In Matt. 18:15-18 Jesus Himself tells us to put wicked, unrepentant people out of our midst. In I Cor. 5, Paul commands the Corinthian Church not to tolerate immoral behavior in her community because it will spread like cancer. Intolerance and discrimination are not ipso facto bad things. After all, do we tolerate murders walking around on our streets or do we lock them up and even put them to death? This is an example of how the Church should think today.

There you have it! Modern culture has redefined tolerance as agreement and disagreement as intolerance. In so doing, it has actually made tolerance impossible by insisting that we all agree on everything. In the end, intolerance actually becomes impossible because tolerance no longer exists. Discrimination is not ipso facto evil. The Church has to be very discriminating concerning her members. Society is discriminating regarding the type of people she allows to roam about freely. Universities are discriminating concerning their students. Employers are discriminating concerning their employees. God is discriminating concerning who enters His kingdom.

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