International Day of Tolerance is observed in November…but why should we tolerate each other?
Tolerance, once defined as "bearing or putting up with someone or something not especially liked", has taken on a whole new meaning in reference to our 'politically correct', relativist Western culture.
Today the most popular definition of tolerance is 'all values, all beliefs, all lifestyles, all truth claims are equal' and anyone who denies this is 'intolerant' and worthy of contempt.
Oxford Senior Research Fellow and philosopher Dr. Ravi Zacharias warns, "Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance. Real tolerance is deference to all ideas [i.e. a respectful understanding], not indifference to the truth."
We might tolerate the dog barking constantly next door, the family member who never replaces the empty toilet roll or that one friend who really should think before they speak. Yet, when it comes to public discussion of religious beliefs, the fuse often runs short.
In 1995, when the United Nations declared an annual observance of the International Day for Tolerance on November 16, they drew up The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance.
According to their definition, tolerance "is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human...Tolerance is harmony in difference."
The charter also declares that tolerance is "the virtue that makes peace possible".
While this explanation of tolerance on a global scale seems fair, I would not go as far as to say that it is the virtue that makes peace possible or that it can create lasting harmony.
Popular Christian writer and apologist Joshua McDowell reasons that the pursuit of truth means countering the new doctrine of tolerance.
McDowell writes, "It means teaching our children to embrace all people, but not all beliefs. It means showing them how to listen to and learn from all people without necessarily agreeing with them. It means helping them courageously but humbly speak the truth, even if it makes them the object of scorn or hatred."
Adding to this, McDowell explains that everyone loves the idea of love but few recognize how incompatible love is with the new tolerance.
"Tolerance simply avoids offending someone... Tolerance says, 'You must agree with me.' Love responds, 'I must do something harder; I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced 'the truth will set you free'. Tolerance says, 'You must allow me to have my way'. Love responds, 'I must do something harder; I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk'. Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks... Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything."
Much deeper than simply tolerating others is this virtue of love, expressed no better than through the perfect example Jesus Christ set when He walked on earth.
Many are shocked to discover that Jesus was considered a radical in the day and culture in which He lived.
After all, "an eye for an eye" was the leading motto of the time. Instead Jesus taught everyone to "love your enemies, and bless those who curse you" (see Matthew chapter 5) and to "love your neighbor as yourself".
He went on to say that "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (from John 15:13) and demonstrated the power of this statement when He suffered our punishment on the cross for the sins we have committed against God.
Later God inspired the Apostle Paul to describe this idea of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, verses 4-7, when he wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
If the God of the universe loved us enough to come as a man, Jesus Christ, and deliver us from the curse of sin through His death and resurrection, then the least we can do is love Him in return and love each other by sharing this good news.
Yes, we may not agree with the beliefs and ideas that others may have but, in a loving way, it is worth risking disagreement and offence to uncover the truth.