Are you tolerant? (Should you be?)
Deconstructing the gospel of tolerance.
January 11, 1999
It is the only serious sin left. Even murder has its mitigating factors, but not this one. It is the pariah sin, the charge that makes you untouchable without need for further explanation. The sin is intolerance, and the greatest sinners in late twentieth-century America are evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. America is sick of intolerant people, and it's not going to tolerate them anymore.
How did orthodox Christianity, whose spread throughout the world was predicated in great part on its inclusiveness ("Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden"), come to be a symbol of exclusivity and intolerance? One possible answer echoes the sentiment seen on the church signboard: "If you feel distant from God, guess who moved?" It seems so simple. Christians have stayed true to a 4,000-year-old revelation of moral truth, ultimately rooted in God's eternal nature. Naturally this of-fends the "do your own thing" sensibilities of talk-show hosts, Hollywood filmmakers, White House spin doctors, and those who follow after.
A less sanguine explanation is that tolerance was invented in response to the spectacle of Christians slaughtering each other in the name of Christ. The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe led to the increasingly widespread conviction that there had to be a better way to decide these things than with the sword. The answer was tolerance, essentially a decision not to decide—that is, to decide on the private level but not on the public.
Historically, then, tolerance was the liberal, secular answer to the inability of conservative religionists to compromise with those who differed from them. Tolerance, in this sense, is relatively new, not something even thought desirable ...
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