Redefining of Tolerance
by Dan S
Close-minded. Intolerant. Arrogant. All these words are frequently used to disparage and ridicule those who believe that absolutes exist and can be known, that there are moral rights and wrongs, that some viewpoints are correct while others are erroneous.
Relativism -- a widespread belief?
A growing number of people reject the idea of the existence of absolutes in favor of the philosophy of postmodern relativism. Today's relativism dogmatically asserts that nothing can be known with certainty, except the maxim of relativism ... yes, a self-contradictory statement. This dogmatism is similar to the atheist's emphatic assertion that God does not exist. Since under relativism, positive knowledge is an impossibility; no viewpoint can legitimately claim to be superior, except of course relativism. Neither does any individual or group have a basis or prerogative to say that something or someone is right or wrong. For the relativist, to make such distinctions is an inherently presumptuous act -- modern day effrontery. As a corollary, the accusation of lack of tolerance is now raised in almost every discussion about controversial subjects. So, what is tolerance?
Tolerance -- a changing virtue?
In a traditional sense, tolerance is a respect for the views, beliefs and practices of others that differ from our own. This includes the ability to understand others, how they think and feel, and to put yourself in their shoes. These are noble character traits, which have long been taught and practiced in many sectors of American society.
However, the way tolerance is being redefined in today's setting is often a great distortion of its essential meaning. True tolerance entails a respect for the dignity of human beings regardless of their qualities. The redefined notion of tolerance, on the other hand, doesn't merely ask for a respect of differences but often demands acceptance of the beliefs and practices of others. Any person or idea that opposes this new definition is, of course, viewed as intolerant. Under the 'new' tolerance, those who prefer to "agree to disagree" are labeled narrow-minded and bigoted. In the relativist's world, there is no genuine basis for right or wrong, just politically-correct or incorrect personal preferences.
Relativists say that morality is relative to the individual and each person's values should be tolerated (accepted) but then hypocritically judge everyone according to their redefinition of tolerance. What these folks nearly always mean when they speak of tolerance is that you should be tolerant of all views except those with which they disagree. This type of "tolerance" is not tolerance at all, but a power ethic by which relativists maintain complete control of discussion under an intellectual dictatorship and censor all opposing views. They are basically saying "don't you dare impose your values on us, but we can impose our values on you." While they complain about efforts of censorship, they are not above attempting to ban the expression of ideas they dislike from the public sphere. In short, they are hypocrites -- typically engaged in an unethical and ruthless grasp for power and control.
Disagreement = Hate?
Further, today's relativists have confused genuine disagreement with hatred for the people that are being disagreed with. A good example of this fallacious thinking comes from gay-rights advocates. Their goal is nothing short of a universal endorsement of the homosexual lifestyle. It's not enough for homosexuals to be respected as human beings -- rather, every last member of society must accept the legitimacy of gay behavior. Anyone who says "homosexual behavior is immoral" is labeled intolerant, hateful, bigoted and homophobic. This ploy seems to work so well in today's society, others are using it too. Is not society being intolerant in not accepting a variety of other behaviors as well -- e.g. drug use, incest, copulation with animals, etc.? If not, why not?
Author Dale Berryhill remarks, "Tolerance as a virtue within a moral framework works fine, but tolerance as an underlying principle -- as the foundation for a moral framework -- does not. What are we to make of the fact that the very people who claim to base their entire philosophy on tolerance are themselves intolerant? Among other things, it shows that pure tolerance -- tolerance based on moral relativism -- is impossible."