Thursday, July 13, 2006

To Tolerate? Or Not To Tolerate? It IS the Question

From an esssay on the topic of "Tolerance" by Fr. Thomas Williams, LC:

If tolerance is a virtue, it is a decidedly modern one. It appears in none of the classical treatments of the virtues: not in Plato, not in Seneca, not even in Aristotle’s extensive list of the virtues of the good citizen in his Nichomachean Ethics. Indulgence of evil, in the absence of an overriding reason for doing so, has never been considered virtuous. Even today, indiscriminate tolerance would not be allowed. A public official tolerant of child abuse or tax evasion would hardly be considered a virtuous official.

The closer one examines tolerance and tries to apply it across the board, the more obvious it becomes that it’s simply insufficient as a principle to govern society. Even if it were possible to achieve total tolerance, it would be exceedingly undesirable and counterproductive to do so. In his play Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We may prate of toleration as we will; but society must always draw a line somewhere between allowable conduct and insanity or crime.”
Moreover, as a virtue, tolerance seems to have distanced itself so far from its etymological roots as to have become another word altogether. Thus the virtue of “tolerance” no longer implies the act of “toleration,” but rather a general attitude of permissiveness and openness to diversity.
A tolerant person will not tolerate all things, but only those things considered tolerable by the reigning cultural milieu. Tolerance therefore now has two radically incompatible meanings that create space for serious misunderstandings and abuse.

....and we all know WHO makes up the "reigning cultural milieu," eh?

Tolerance and intolerance have no objective referent, but rather can be applied arbitrarily. Thus the accusation of intolerance has become a weapon against those whose standards for tolerance differ from one’s own, and our criteria for tolerance depend on our subjective convictions or prejudices. Thus Voltaire was able to defend the actions of the Roman Empire in persecuting Christians and blamed the Christians themselves for their martyrdom because they failed to keep their religion to themselves. He avers that the death of Christians was a consequence of their own intolerance toward Rome, and not the other way around. Such sophistry is part and parcel of many of today’s debates on tolerance, and flows from the ambivalence of the term.

HT: Insight Scoop

1 comment:

Billiam said...

Excellent! I get so tired of that word. Jesus didn't tolerate sin. He told the aduteress she was forgiven. Then, to "Go and sin no more"! Why don't people understand that?