Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Lesson in Tolerance

To tolerate a different religion is not the same as affirming that religion’s validity. Christian’s can’t logically validate another religion (without ripping pages out of Scripture) because to do so would make that religion’s view on final purpose (or “salvation” or “heaven” or “Nirvana” or “Valhalla”) efficacious. But Christianity rests on the divinity of Christ who explicitly claimed his own exclusivity toward salvation. If we deny the truth of the exclusivity of Christ, we deny the divinity of Christ. If we affirm the validity of other religions, we are calling the divine Christ a liar.


Tolerance has become the highest virtue in Western society. The dominant worldview of the day demands it. When the pre-eminent philosophy holds being true to one’s self as the telos (or final purpose) of our existence, it naturally follows that this can only happen socially if an atmosphere of toleration is established, imposed, or demanded.

Jewish philosopher David Heyd remarked that tolerance “has been hailed as one of the fundamental ethical and political values, and it still occupies a powerful position in contemporary legal and political rhetoric.”

To be “intolerant” is to commit the gravest social error, and will cause one to be excommunicated from the cathedrals of academia and politics.

But what ontologists know that existentialsts apparently don’t is (1) Toleration is not the same as Validation; and (2) One can distinguish between tolerance for ideas and tolerance for beings.

If we are commanded to be tolerant, we had better be sure what it means. Oxford’s modern definition reads “the disposition to be patient with or indulgent to the opinions or practices of others; freedom from bigotry or undue severity in judging the conduct of others.” Its original definition, which is still appropriate, is “The action or practice of enduring or sustaining pain or hardship; the power or capacity of enduring.”

The modern definition and original definition are very much linked – they both imply bearing, a carrying, or a forbearance. The word itself goes back to the Latin verb fero/ferre/tuli/latus, which is “to bear or carry.” Specifically it is derived from the perfect tense (tuli) – which is to imply a completed act – i.e., “I did carry,” in the infinitive tolerare = “to endure,” and its participle toleratum = “an enduring.”

It is closely related to dozens of other words through its root’s other tenses (ferre/latus), including words like “offering” (to carry a gift toward), “suffer” (to endure pressure from above), “superlative” (to carry to the highest degree), and “relate” (to carry or bring back). The etymograph below shows the mapping of this word. What we see in common throughout the relationships is the idea of carrying, of enduring.

Before moving on, I will only note that there is a fallacy in logic called the fallacy of etymology. I don’t mean to commit that here, or imply that because a word meant something different at one point in time it must mean that same thing now. Etymology is not useless, however. It gives us a family portrait, as it were, enabling us to identify commonalities as well as distinctions in the etymons and derivatives. If we could speak ontologically about words, etymology allows us to draw nearer to a words essence, much like the study of DNA allows us to draw nearer to biological essence – that is, the property (or properties) without which Thing A would cease to be Thing A.

What these commonalities mean – at least etymologically – is that enduring a thing, or allowing a thing to exist, or withholding judgment and bigotry from a thing, is essential to the idea of tolerance.

What tolerance in no way implies is an expression of the value of the thing being carried or endured. That idea of value is foreign to the word tolerance in and by itself. In other words, toleration does not equal validation.

Tolerance as a concept is related to validity insofar as this: when a thing is validated it is necessarily tolerated; but the reverse is not necessarily true. When a thing is tolerated, it need not necessarily be validated, or “made efficacious,” or given the power of efficacy.

But when we are asked to tolerate the concept of homosexual marriage or new transgender pronouns, we’re not being asked just to endure their subjective existence, we’re being compelled to validate those things to the point of state enforcement.

We see this also in modern religious discussions. Christians are increasingly asked to affirm a stance of religious pluralism – that there can be more than one true religion – and deny the “arrogant” claims to exclusivity for salvation. This is done in the name of “religious toleration.”

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