I see words like “tolerance,” “open-mindedness” and “respect” bandied about quite a bit by right-leaning Christians, often expressed in the negative (intolerance, close-mindedness and disrespect) with the latter aimed as charges against leftists and atheists. Those words and their adjectival derivatives have frequently been thrown in my teeth, and I imagine that among readers of, and contributors to, this board I’m not alone in that experience. It seems to me that some discussion of these terms is perhaps in order. TOLERANCE In human affairs (as opposed to the way engineers use the word), tolerance is a term that describes legal standing and the limits of governance.
It concerns that which is permitted by law, as its antithesis has to do with what is proscribed. In the United States, tolerated behaviors are enumerated in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights; the list includes such things as free expression, freedom to assemble peaceably, freedom to worship whatever one wishes in whatever manner one pleases, and the right to move freely about the country and associate with whomever one will (and, yes, the right to bear arms – the most problematic of those Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, and the one most in need of revisiting for the sake of our society’s health). Those activities are all tolerated by the government: such Constitutional guarantees are a hedge against powerful interests (corporations, religious institutions, moneyed interests) that might seek to curtail such activities.
A cursory glance at history should be enough to make it clear, why such guarantees are precious and worth defending. With this understanding of the term in view, it should be obvious that – allowing for the exceptions of child-rearing and classroom management, in which case intolerance of certain behaviors becomes a matter of parental and social responsibility – an individual cannot, strictly-speaking, be either tolerant or intolerant: tolerance is not mine to extend or withhold. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on “Rules of Engagement””