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Tolerance Clarified3 min read

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One of the frustrating things about the debates over homosexuality is the constant accusation of "hate" from the pro-gay side of the debate.  I previously wrote a post discussing the various types of disagreement that are often misunderstood as hate (see What is Hate).  Just this week, Greg Koukl at Worldview Weekend wrote a very nice article echoing some of my sentiments on the often juvenile and illogical hate accusations made by pro-gay apologists. 

The Three Faces of Tolerance

  • Tolerance of Persons – what might be called "civility," can be equated with the word "respect."  This is the classical definition of tolerance:  the freedom to express one’s ideas without fear of reprisal. 
  • Tolerance of Behavior – Note that respect is accorded to the person, here.  Whether his behavior should be tolerated is an entirely different issue.  This is the second sense of tolerance, the liberty to act, called tolerance of behavior.  Our laws demonstrate that a man may believe what he likes–and he usually has the liberty to express those beliefs–but he may not behave as he likes.  Some behavior is immoral or a threat to the common good.  Rather than being tolerated, it is restricted by law.  In Lincoln’s words:  There is no right to do wrong.
  • Tolerance of Ideas – Tolerance of persons requires that each person’s views get a courteous hearing, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.  The view that no person’s ideas are any better or truer than another’s is irrational and absurd. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful standard of tolerance.

And here’s what happens when people conflate or confuse these three:

If one rejects another’s ideas or behavior, he’s automatically accused of rejecting the person and being disrespectful.  To say I’m intolerant of the person because I disagree with his ideas is confused.  On this view of tolerance, no idea or behavior can be opposed, regardless of how graciously, without inviting the charge of incivility.

The author concludes with a nice approach to real tolerance ;)

Tolerate persons in all circumstances, by according them respect and courtesy even when their ideas are false or silly.  Tolerate (i.e., allow) behavior that is moral and consistent with the common good.  Finally, tolerate (i.e., embrace and believe) ideas that are sound.