Everyone, Including You, Is an Intolerant Hypocrite

Everyone, Including You, Is an Intolerant Hypocrite March 22, 2018

When I was in high school, our friend group would often pile into one of our cars to go find something to do together. One of our friends, however, had a nasty habit. Thinking he was funny, he would wait for a strategic moment while someone else was driving and with all his might pull up the emergency brake that sat between the driver and passenger in the front seat. Immediately, the car would screech to a halt.

Today, the relational version of that emergency brake is calling someone intolerant. Once someone pulls that, the conversation screeches to a halt.


The Western world has actually experienced a radical redefinition of tolerance. Dr. D.A. Carson explains the difference between the old tolerance and what he calls “the new tolerance.” In his book The Intolerance of Tolerance he examines the progression of dictionary definitions of tolerance and points out a subtle but massive shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views.” Tolerance once meant “recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices,” but now means “accepting the differing views of other people.”(1)

Under the old definition, two people disagreed without abandoning their position. They naturally thought the other person was mistaken but tolerated their ideas nonetheless. Carson points out three assumptions underlying this scenario:

  • First, objective truth exists.
  • Second, the people who disagree believe their view is true. It is the better view.
  • Third, by sorting through their disagreement in a reasonable manner, both sides have an opportunity to arrive at the actual truth.

But as Carson notes, the new tolerance “refuses to adjudicate among competing truth claims and moral claims on the ground that to do so would be intolerant.” It “becomes a synonym for ethical or religious neutrality.” The old tolerance “actually requires you to take a stand among competing truth and ethical claims, for otherwise you are not in a position to put up with something with which you disagree” [emphasis in original].(2) Tolerance by definition means disagreement. I don’t tolerate people that agree with me. I enjoy them. So tolerance means people do not see eye-to-eye.

Tensions spike between Christians and non-Christians because we tend to think and speak in terms of the old tolerance while others more often than not fall in line with the new tolerance. Christians assume tolerance means figuring how to get along with people you think are wrong, so that everyone survives to debate another day. But much of our world is no longer on that quest for truth. No one is ever right or wrong. One idea or behavior is as good as another. If that is the case, we should not only tolerate differences but approve of and even celebrate everyone and everything as equally right. To put it bluntly, unless you show up for every parade and wave every flag you are an intolerant bigot.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!