Engaging Culture

The Intolerance of Tolerance

I received an interesting response to a Twitter post last week from a 20-something young man. He told me he had read many of my books, but regretted it now based on some of my Twitter posts. Then, making a huge leap linking me to comments from conservatives, he told me that he couldn’t follow me anymore because “conservatives don’t have any compassion.” He said they were just too intolerant. I first asked him what anything conservatives or the Republican Party says had to do with my books. (Or the Democratic Party for that matter.)  But more important, I told him he didn’t sound very tolerant if he decided to not follow me based on some of my opinions.

He responded that he was extremely tolerant, but didn’t like what I had to say, so he didn’t want to hear it anymore. Sounded to me like he wasn’t as “tolerant” as he thought. I called him on it, and after a few more exchanges, he finally asked: “OK – maybe I don’t understand this “tolerance” thing. Can you explain it to me?”

At that moment, I realized a huge challenge with this culture today. We’ve lost the real definition of the word “tolerance,” and have shifted it to a more politically correct definition of “being tolerant of things I agree with.”  Worse, too many think tolerant means not just allowing other opinions to be heard, but having to agree with them.

The basis for civil discourse is being able to listen to ideas you disagree with, and honoring their value.  Being for or against gay marriage, abortion, the death penalty, parking fines, or hundreds of other issues doesn’t mean the other side shouldn’t be heard.  I will fight to the death for you to have the freedom to express your opinion, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

That’s the big question: Can we have a country where people really value disagreement?  Or should we use the power of the media or the state to silence opinions some find offensive?

What do you think?

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  1. “Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance. And if you disagree we’ll kill you!” – This slogan was used for a cartoon in a French satirical magazine, and their office was subsequently firebombed, thus proving their point.

    1. I dare you to do the same in a backwater American Baptist town. There are “good Christians” in this country that will beat you to a pulp in the name of their “GOD”. It’s easy to be narrow minded, but remember, RELIGION is a word that covers MILLIONS (nearly billions) of people of many faiths. The same latitude most people want in their lives (not all white people are racist, not all black people are criminals, not all Mexicans, Cubans, Domincans, etc., are illegal) you and others should learn to have in yours with regard to blanket statements about such large groups. To put it another way, IF ISLAM was not a peaceful religion, YOU and I would be peering out our windows waiting to shoot at the sight of the white of their eyes. Members of Islamic faith are in nearly 2 billion strong. Trust me, THEY are not violent people. The few thousand that terrorize the world need to be SMOOSHED.

      1. I suggest you read the Quaran and Hadith and then you’ll see just what kind of a peaceful religion Islam is. In my original post, I did not state that all Muslims were violent, merely that their religion (which incidentally is more of a warrior code) is. They are commanded to conquer the world in the name of Islam, either by military force or through infiltration. The fact that most do not adhere to this (the millions of peaceful Muslims you mention), does not change the core message of the religion.

        1. One more thing: in many ways, what I say above is beside the original point. You are quite correct in what you say about loony Baptists in parts of backwater America. It’s just another example of what Phil is talking about. I chose the Islam one, because that is a very visible, clear and present threat to free speech in the West.

          1. It was too easy to find this:
            http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124494788 RELIGION is violent. Religion itself was a product of protecting a group, city, town and country under the pretense of a common GOD watching over a collected group of people. I know for a fact, the Christian God has been the engine for more than a few moments in WORLD history where a FEW THUGS “responsibly” control a few hundred thousand members of their religion for personal gain. I do not condone violence from any region, but until there is no REASON to chose a side in the middle east (oil oil oil) we will continue to market the culture and the religion as, in its essence, VIOLENT. It benefits our cause. I allows Americans to make statements like yours and to not push our combined world forces to truly truly END the leadership of the many evil men who have co-opted the religion for their own gains.To not understand this is to continue to find ways to illustrate the inherent VIOLENCE in yet another religion’s misuse.

          2. To pull that NPR piece would be a little misleading, because you also have to address interpretation and intention. Much of the “violent” material in the Bible is historical storytelling, and the bottom line is that you don’t find Christians blowing themselves up and killing innocent people. Islam may be a faith with millions of peaceful members, but there’s something there that creates a combustible mix. And to go further, the numbers would actually be on the secular state’s side when it comes to killing. The bloody regime’s of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and others trying to create a utopian state without God would dwarf any religion’s record.

          3. you don’t find Christians blowing themselves up and killing innocent people” -Today. But I would have had no problem in the early days of the USA (witches by the dozen), the middle of the dark ages (non believers by the hundreds of thousands in the name of spreading the Christian Kings territory).. I will never defend what goes on in the MidEast, but it would be nice if it was understood that we are talking about a large group of PEOPLE based on the actions and leadership of a very small group. I would be considered a fool if I were to read about something racist in the USA (hanging chairs) and then believe ALLLLL white people are racists. All black people are criminals and/or poor in need of welfare (Romney is selling this RIGHT NOW) The analogy works. We are watching a culture of people who are mostly being held prisoner by very very wealthy (thanks to western needs and money) greedy and evil men. Its been like this in the mideast for nearly my entire life (45 years) and in the end, it is only continuing because of “who we back” in the fight. Sooner or later, the place will be treated the same way we treated Germany in the 40s (lots of dead people in the name of eradicating a small minority) or worse, like Japan. When considering VIOLENT histories, Japan, sadly, serves as one of the best examples. UNTIL the USA did the worst thing this planet has ever seen, Japan was a very angry rogue state of thugs who exerted violence throughout their region in a manner that is totally unbelievable to me for such a very small country. There was a large religions and “patriotic” aspect to their violence. The “final solution” in that case just might become the final solution in the Middle East if someone (lots of someones) do not stand up and properly provide outsiders with a good, clear blueprint. Until then, I will not cast ANY religion as violent as they can all be when wielded by violent men and women.

          4. Too many posting on this subject are either conveniently forgetting or are ignorant of this reality: people who murder others in the name of Jesus do so in strict violation to His teachings. People who murder others in the name of Islam do so in strict adherence to the teachings of their prophet and their religion. HUGE difference, folks.

          5. I think you, like many people with this xenophobic problem, conveniently forget the number of times the bible commands people to KILL for God related reasons. Its not US who are forgetting. Its too easy to read passages from ALL “holy” books side by side and see the amount of violence that is “justified” in them. IF we were a truly good christian nation we would have many dead women in accord with the bible. A quick example of the sacred non-violent lovable bible ”
            In much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are laws that command that people be killed for absurd reasons such as working on the Sabbath, being gay, cursing your parents, or not being a virgin on your wedding night.” IT IS MAN only who carries out these idiotic concepts and in the case we are discussing it is STILL a small minority who lead the charge. Blanketing ANY faith with prejudiced characterizations is uninformed.

          6. @ricciricci – Read the New Testament then show me exactly where Jesus teaches Christians “people be killed for absurd reasons such as working on the Sabbath, being
            gay, cursing your parents, or not being a virgin on your wedding night”. The whole point of the Bible (and of the Christian faith) is to show that the death and resurrection of Jesus nullified the need for such drastic sanctions. Therefore, Ejody is entirely correct in his original assessment of the ultimate message of both faiths (taking both the Bible and Qu’ran in context rather than quoting bits of them out of context).

          7. Only TRULY fasle arrogance and very sinful pride allows a person to write what you have written. You started with “THE NEW TESTAMENT”.. LOL.. I cant write any more when you are willing to stand on the “second edition” of “Gods” word. ROFL.. Maybe one day the Koran will get a part two. Bottom line is I’m sure no one with half a brain would argue that religious texts are violent. I gave you direct concepts from the bible where death is commanded by GOD himself. Thats even better than a prophet. The Bible’s GOD is violent. Its not a bad thing. Christians had the good idea to write a Second Edition (New Testament) to semi-hide the violent tone of their book. Bottom line, the USA supports and has supported a small yet very violent and controlling faction of Islam. Our “enemies” have supported other small violent factions of Islam. In the middle is a very very large population of non-violent and loving people who get caught in “our” crossfire. There is no denying it other than hiding behind shame.

          8. @ricciricci – You seem determined to misunderstand me, so I’ll try and make this as clear as I can. I stand by the Old and New Testaments both as historical texts and as principles to live by, but what is abundantly clear if you read both is that when Jesus Christ died and rose again (in our place, for all past, present and future sins of the human race), his once and for all sacrifice meant that drastic sanctions (such as execution for being a homosexual, etc) were no longer needed. The New Testament makes that clear, but the principles remain absolute on some points (eg the New Testament makes it clear that homosexual acts are still sinful) whilst on others (such as certain dietary laws introduced primarily for heath reasons so the Israelites wouldn’t get tapeworms in the desert, etc) they are no longer needed at all. The difference with the Qu’ran is that the overall message taken in context is one where Muslims are encouraged to conquer – either militarily or through subversion – and suppress or kill Jews and Christians. Obviously not every Muslim behaves in that way, but that is what the text actually says, regardless of how politically correct one is determined to be.

          9. So the Qu’ran needs a 2nd edition like the Bible? LOL. classic.. Im obviously having a discussion with seriously intelligent people. YOU and others are top rate. Very smart no doubt. YET, I still feel for some reason you honestly attribute issues of the middle east to their religious beliefs and defend your position based on “Christian” religious beliefs. BELIEFS. The reality is exactly what you seem to know but refuse to champion, which is: a SMALL minority has captured the middle east in various countries. This small minority is usually heavily funded and represents some offshoot of dangerous and thuggish wealthy men. We’ve had fun the last few days debating RELIGION. SO, lets drop the pretense. YOU and others want me to look you in the eye so you can tell me the problems in the middle east are DIRECTLY related to their faith, and the difference is Christian faith has had 2 (if not more) editions to its “holy book” which is the reason Christians are “incapable” of the violence and insanity I see in the Middle East. I’m not buying that. History serves up many cultures and many many men and women who follow a minority group towards death and destruction. Religion is never the issue. To single out religion as the issue in the case of the middle east AND THEN somehow argue “Christianity” as being incapable of similar violence (though history is littered with violent “christian” movements led by a minority of thugs), illustrates sad arrogant and prideful views and tends to lessen the ability to truly learn HOW to help for once. We are talking about a region and a culture that once sat as a major focal point of science, math, literature and art -until it was hijacked. “Their” religion is no more powerful or impotent than any other. Again, I love your analysis of Christianity in view of its various editions, yet, Hitler rose to power as a Christian leader and that wasnt very long ago. IF we can close our eyes and pretend Germany circa 1930s was Iran, would we blame religion? Are we capable of looking beyond the differences in faith to do so? Can you successfully place images of Germany in your mind that appear as people of different dress and very different language? People of different cultures who just seem very different to us because of their “faith”? I commend the people of the middle east for NOT becoming Germany 2.0 and having an army that would easily be a million strong. The fact that they are very far from doing so is easy evidence that Religion is far from the issue. Religion is the veil.

          10. OK guys – I’ll have to bring this thread to a close. Thanks for participating, but for these long-winded responses, you should consider starting a blog… 🙂

        2. Dear Sir.You must have read a corrupted translation of Quran and not The Quran itself (Saudi Arabia is a torch bearer in this aspect) otherwise please quote any aaya (verse) where quran proves to be a ”warrior code”.As far as the Hadees are concerned you’re right.I myself find a huge lot of crap in it.I don’t know if you are aware of the fact that islam was hijacked right on the death bed of the prophet Muhammad and his rightful successor Ali was denied his rights.I donot know if you are aware of the islamic history but there is a huge amount of it available.tabari,ibn e khuldoon,ibne kathir,sayuti,waqdi etc; just to name a few and find it for yourself that the present day islam is rather opposite to his teachings.It was the second caliph umar who transformed it into imperialism.unfortunately what the west knows about islam is sunni islam and the terrorism,expansionism,power greed etc is it’s logical outcome.Please don’t blame it upon the prophet Muhammad.you think 2 billion of people are stupid to believe in him and love him?for the last 14 centuries he has spent solace and comfort to the people of faith.if you want to know about islam then go to his progeny and their teachings and if you find any sword in it then let me know it.It’s highly unfair to blame Quran or the Prophet for the deeds of this power-hungry caliph of islam.
          In the 23 years of his preaching and living among his folk let me know an instance where this ”warrior code” was implicated.This present day Islam is nothing else than imperialism cloaked in a religious mantel.
          The shia muslims diagnosed it rightly and protested against the tyranny of umar but were subdued with brutal force and till today the mainstream islam considers them a heretic.I’m proud to be one of them and I’m happy that though born in sunni islam i was able to abandon it.I studied islamic history for over 15 years and made my decision.

  2. Two things have left the public square – respect and compromise. In my lifetime I have never seen this country more polarized, fractured and virulent. What’s needed is a restoration of civil dialog and a real attempt by all of us to be friends to those with whom we disagree.

  3. Can we have a country where people really value disagreement? A lot of things in our culture would have to change. Consider:

    Poles are created by the belief that there are only two points of view and only one can be right. So we have Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, tolerant and intolerant, us and them…

    As a follow on, there are only two types of people in the world…those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. Which type is the minority and also more likely to embrace disagreement?

    Either/or is much easier to process for most people than more complex possibilities.

    Power, the ultimate narcotic, is currently acquired in our culture by those best at dividing and polarizing the populace.

    Our need to be right and even more so our need to belong is threatened if we don’t adhere to all of the tenets of rightness in the group where we find identity.
    Insecure people will rarely value disagreement. Disagreement makes them feel too insecure. Blind loyalty to a party or ideology is much more emotionally satisfying.

    We have somehow as a people learned to disrespect those who disagree with us. How do we turn that around?

    That sounds a bit cynical, but in a media culture where only the loudest and most strident seem to be heard, and revenue can best be generated by reaffirming and not by challenging the values of the gathered tribe, can we expect people to live under a banner such as mutually assured respect?

  4. It is a highly underrated gift these days: freedom of speech. When did it happen that you had to hide your belief or walk on egg shells if you had an opinion? What if I feel passionate about something? Do I have to squelch it because it may not be popular in the world community? If I have a different viewpoint, that does not make me INTOLERANT. It makes my viewpoint different; that’s it. What if by sharing our thoughts, we all learn something, or grow, or widen our knowledge, or even change? We can actually love one another and disagree. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Look at the millions of lives he changed. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to think on our own, make our own decisions and affect the world for good by it. It’s our right to speak, and it’s what this country was founded on.

  5. When disagreement turns to violence, the opposing party, in my mind, devalues and smears their very reputation, message and potential of that message.

  6. Answers to your questions: “I sure hope so” and “absolutely not.”
    You’re right…tolerance is a lot bigger than simply “putting up with” those with whom you disagree. Treating others with love, dignity, and respect isn’t an option, no matter their opinion. Paraphrasing Jesus, anyone can love the loveable.
    However, I understand a bit of what that young man was trying to say. It’s sort of like turning off the endless political ads…I support their right to exist, but I don’t want my day, or my Twitter and Facebook feeds, filled with “gotcha” sound bites that don’t advance discourse.
    So I turn off, or de-friend or unfollow when it becomes extreme–not because I want to suppress anyone’s right to speak, but because I don’t want my day filled with negative thoughts.

  7. I once had a management team that consisted of an American, 2 Ecuadorians, a Colombian, a European and a Canadian… I learned that not only did we disagree on a large number of issues, we often approached a problem from a completely different reality. Once we all decided to learn from each other and understand our different realities, we actually did some incredible problem solving.

    Having lived outside the USA for the last 20 years, one of the things I notice is that the media is used in the USA more to call names, point fingers and nay say the other side than try to get people to understand “our” reality.I don’t think that we will see an end to that until we realize that the answer does not lie on one side or the other (or a third or a fourth side) but lies somewhere in the middle… or is perhaps all of the answers depending on the reality of a particular situation…. Now there’s a concept…. What if we are all right?

  8. This issue roots itself in fear, like a majority of issues in this country (guns, Homeland Security, Homosexuality). It is the person’s inner fear that keeps their tolerance at the “tolerable for things I LIKE” level and not the “if it doesnt affect/effect me, I can tolerate it the way I tolerate the insects in my yard” level. While ONE sounds selfish, and the other sounds to be somewhat disrespectful, do not be fooled. Tolerating other ideas and people as if they are insects in our backyards is the best metaphor. I do not run around killing every bug I can find. I know they have their lives and they do what they have to do to survive. I LIKE what they do as they add to the world of my yard. BUT should they venture into my home or attack me, depending on the insect, my behavior changes. Similarly, with hard-line conservatives, homosexuals, racists, feminists, black OR white power guys, politicians, criminals, doctors, lawyers (LOL), I LIKE what they bring to the world, but, at a certain level within the confines of my home there are rules that I set and if they are broken, my tolerance falls. FEAR keeps these issues going because MOST AMERICANS truly believe that another ADULT’S (important to remember we are discussing ADULTS) behavior in their private lives, or their ideas will in some way corrupt the privacy of the home. You can hear this when listening to intolerant people discuss things they “feel” might happen if Gay Marriage is allowed, if ABORTIONS are legal, if DRUGS are legal. The fear is always how these freedoms will effect THE HOME (which usually consumes ‘society’). Getting over this FEAR issue is only going to happen with continued efforts by individuals to continue to push their cause. It will take TIME. A long time, relative to the average American belief that things happen overnight (see conservative issues with the economy when we are just 3.7 years away from nearly a DECADE of living on borrowed time started in the late 90s). Naturally, FEAR is related to intellect and education, which is why any group that feels slighted must continue to push for their personal freedom and we all must continue to push against rules that hinder individual, private freedom. I’m just sayin..

  9. Our national leaders and the media have led us into not only divisiveness as a nation, but they’ve also modeled contempt for opposing opinions… it seems it has been adopted by our culture. What happened to living by the old simple statement, “Agree to disagree and move on”?

  10. “I will fight to the death for you to have the freedom to express your opinion, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.” A very Liberal, Left-wing college student recently said that to conservative (and Jewish) commentator Dennis Prager at one of his talks. Prager astutely and honestly replied, “Sir, while I appreciate your sentiment, I do not believe you for one second. I do not believe that you would die for my right to state that which disagrees with your worldview.” And he was 100% correct.

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