I can’t stress this enough, “tolerance” should be a dirty word. “Tolerance” in the sense it is used today has almost no use as a viable word in the English language anymore, it has declined into a contradictory meme of itself that provide no actual guidance on how to treat one another. It has become a grossly misunderstood term that is now completely misused for means and causes that lack an understanding of the term and misuse it to support name calling.

Tolerance: “The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

Go ahead, read it again. Maybe again. Ok? Good. Now think how that compares to what we actually think when we hear someone use the word tolerance. It doesn’t add up, because in today’s world…

Tolerance IS Intolerant

The way the word tolerance is used today is absolutely absurd. Today tolerance is a “good thing” it is good to tolerate those you disagree with. I would completely agree with that. The problem is that many times those who espouse those views are not actually tolerant of opposing views. For example should we tolerate neo-nazism? Most people would argue that we shouldn’t. However, if you truly believe tolerance is such a high value then you have no choice you MUST at least tolerate nazi views. If you don’t want to tolerate behaviors and beliefs different from your own then you are not tolerant. This isn’t how the world sees tolerance today though is it? Maybe your response is; why should we tolerate intolerance? Do you hear yourself? Tolerance and intolerance are opposites. The law of non contradiction does not allow you to use these values at the same time in the same sentence without making a fool of yourself. So what if another view is not tolerant of you? Does that mean your tolerance should automatically be negated? No, it actually means you have now stooped to the same low of those you are intolerant of. That is worth repeating….

When intolerant of those who are intolerant you have stooped to their level.

With the modern context and views on tolerance in popular and political domains it is safe to say that those who preach the value of tolerance are self contradictory in their views of rationality. Don’t take my word for it….here is what a wise Christian apologist once said; “I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.” Did I say Christian apologist? I meant the late writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens. It doesn’t take a Christian worldview to see that tolerance is a misused and misunderstood term. If all this rings a bell please take note. I am not claiming that we should tolerate all behavior. I am saying that we should perhaps consider leaving tolerance in the dust, because…

Tolerance is NOT Always the Moral High Road

Is it good to tolerate a bus driver ready to drive a bus load of children over a cliff? Goodness No!(as Peet the Cat would say). Of course we should not tolerate behavior that is immediately destructive. Should we tolerate people who have ideas that are potentially harmful? SURE. Why not? What is our goal? Tolerance is intended to help build bridges so conversations can happen. However, that does not mean that we should ACCEPT their view. Again, another good place to recap,

Tolerance does not = acceptance

I do not have to accept your view to tolerate you as a valuable human being. I also may tolerate you with the purpose in mind of changing your view eventually. This view does not betray the true definition of tolerance. But we have left out an important term; TRUTH. Truth is important, and our end goal is not to tolerate ignorance in place of the truth. After all we should all care about people having their reality aligned with the truth. When we neglect the value of truth, people get hurt in many different ways.

Also tolerance is not the highest way we can treat others. Tolerance is merely that, tolerating regardless of the outcome. I don’t think this should be any of our end goals. After all none of us are truly neutral towards all individuals and ideas and more importantly if there is truth we shouldn’t be. For example, if my child believes rocks are food…I will not tolerate this behavior because it contradicts reality. I may tolerate their misunderstanding until I can get them counseling for their pica but I don’t have to stand ideally by and accept their harmful behavior, it would not be the most loving action I could take. Love is a higher value than tolerance. Love as a value will tolerate many wrongs…because it is patient. But that does not mean the most loving action will always be one that is tolerant. Maybe we should begin to consider a higher standard than tolerance. I mean after all if I (as a man) stand outside a women’s march with a sign that reads; I TOLERATE YOU. What would you think? Not a very reasonable action to take and certainly not the moral high road. Heck, if I told my wife daily that I tolerate her, I don’t think she would be happy with me for long. She doesn’t even tell me she “tolerates” me even though I am sure many days require significant tolerance on her part. Penn Jillette probably sums up my wife’s definition of tolerance rather nicely; “Tolerance is you saying something crazy and me smiling and saying, ‘That’s nice.'”

Bottom Line: Tolerance is not the highest standard, LOVE is.

Sound Familiar?

Does all this oddly ring a strange bell? Perhaps you have heard it before, even if you aren’t big into watching YouTube lectures like I am. I think the reason may be that you have heard it said somewhere before.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(Matthew 5:38-48)

Yep, Jesus did not call his followers to tolerance, he called them to love. And yet, Jesus was not a pacifist as some would suggest. He flipped money changers tables in the temple and often spoke strongly against the religious hypocrites of the day. In addition, he notes here that the expectation is Godly perfection…something unachievable and yet not something void of all forms of anger or intervention. We are asked to fill ourselves with love. Sadly, many will continue to miss the boat when they ascribe to cheapened worldviews that negate truth. Take Stan Lee’s take for example; “Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.” I don’t intend to judge Stan Lee and certainly don’t know his full world view but you can’t fill your heart with something that is a void. And that is exactly what tolerance is…a void. Perhaps G.K. Chesterton summed it up best; “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” I personally would much rather attempt a standard of loving my neighbor as myself then merely tolerating them and I hope others would adopt the same.

Summing it Up

In case you skipped down to here I will try and give you a compelling reason to give it the full read.

Tolerance has lost its real meaning.

The modern understanding and use of “tolerance” is not actually tolerant at all. 

Tolerance is an awful moral standard by itself. 

Love > Tolerance. So much so that tolerance is scubula compared to the vast superiority and solutions that love can provide. 

There you have it. I hope that you will take this under consideration and more importantly I hope you will consider love as a superior alternative to tolerance.

Caleb Johnston

Caleb Johnston is a father of 4 and husband of 1 from Roanoke Virginia. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Roanoke College and has an deep passion for apologetics. Caleb’s goal in life is to seek out truth and help others to do the same.