Tolerance: The Most Misused Word Today

Posted: April 11, 2014 in Apologetics, Uncategorized
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I’ve been reading D.A. Carson’s book The Intolerance of Tolerance. It’s a very insightful book with a multitude if poignant examples of the agenda at work when “tolerance” is used as a club to beat dissent to death.

It wasn’t too many years ago that the secularists (who were in the minority), accused the religious communities of being intolerant. My how the fortunes have turned!

We’ve allowed the word tolerance to be redefined and turned in its ear. Instead of the historic definition of tolerate:

“Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference:”

Or, to

“Accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance:”

from the

“early 16th century (in the sense ‘endure (pain)’): from Latin tolerat- ‘endured’, from the verb tolerare.” (1)

Carson says that this definition is

“becoming obsolete, but it still surfaces today when we say that a patient has a remarkable ability to tolerate pain.” (2)

He gives another another older definition:

“Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is similar: “1. to allow; permit; not interfere with.” (2)

Notice what happens when the subtleties of changing definitions creep in:

“This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it…We move from allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting the articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid. Thus we slide from the old tolerance to the new.” (2)

Now, it seems, Christians are called intolerant for not accepting other views as equally valid. Do you see the irony of this redefinition of tolerance? This redefinition actually results in intolerance of any but the accepted belief that all religious or non-religious views are equally valid. It’s a self-refuting argument.

Carson quotes Terry Eagleton in The Illusions of Postmodernism:

“For all its vaunted openness to the Other, postmodernism can be quite as exclusive and censorious as the orthodoxies it opposes. One may, by and large, speak of human culture but not human nature, gender but not class, the body but not biology, jouissance but not justice, post-colonialism but not the petty bourgeoisie. It is thoroughly orthodox heterodoxy, which like any imaginary form of identity needs its bogeyman and straw targets to stay in business.” (3)

He goes on to declare that

“In the name of inclusion (because, after all, we are tolerant), we may end up with exclusion (proving we are intolerant).” (4)

That’s the absurdity of where we are as a culture.

I leave you with one other quote from the Christian Mom Thoughts blog I found interesting:

“Tolerance is the most misused word today. By definition, tolerance simply means to bear with ideas other than your own. Most people who throw the word around, however, treat it as though it means to agree with or accept those other ideas. To agree with all ideas is the ultimate nod to relative truth. Christians, however, should treat all people with respect, but stand firm that we believe only Christianity is true. Believing in absolute truth is not intolerant.”

– Natasha Crain


1. “Definition of tolerate in English:.” tolerate: definition of tolerate in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US). Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

2. Carson, D. A.. “Introduction: The Changing Face of Tolerance.” The Intolerance of Tolerance. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2012. Loc. 44-56. Kindle file.

3. Carson, D. A.. “Introduction: The Changing Face of Tolerance.” The Intolerance of Tolerance. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2012. Loc. 923 of 2278. Kindle file.

4. Carson, D. A.. “Introduction: The Changing Face of Tolerance.” The Intolerance of Tolerance. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2012. Loc. 926 of 2278. Kindle file.

simul justus et peccator,

Eric Adams


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