Monday, 19 February 2007

Tolerance

I thought I'd give the post an obvious title. Just for once.

'Tolerance'

Tolerance is one of those 'good' words in our society. Others include democracy, multi-culturalism, diversity, equality. Some are accepted; others are condemned as 'buzz-words'. There are, of course, the opposites: intolerance, dictatorship, élitism. You know the words I refer to, I'm sure.

Such words are a little pet hate or mine. Or rather a large one. I prefer, at this stage, to express no general opinions on the topics themselves. Except tolerance, of course. That;s the point of the post. But of the others, let me say that we must be careful what we mean by the words. Consider the example of tolerance.

The rise of tolerance

Tolerance is one of the cardinal virtues of our society today. That is not a bad thing. But tolerance can go too far. That is why I hope that it is well defined when people extol its virtues.

My own example

I often wonder whether I should be more compromising. But I tend to conclude that I am in the right vein. Being self-opinionated and pompous makes that conclusion inevitable, I suppose.

What is the point of excessive tolerance? It gets close to the various forms of relativism, which are really rather absurd. Naturally, I respect other people's opinions, but I can still believe them to be entirely wrong.

To take the controversial subject of religion for a moment: I am a Christian, thus I hold firmly to Christian beliefs. Because of that, I must necessarily believe that all other religious beliefs are wrong when they conflict with mine. Is any other position truly logical?

In practice

It is the practical applications of such a position when one starts to commit social sins. Take abortion, for example. My beliefs lead me to think that it's murder. Nothing else, except in the very rarest of circumstances, when killing the child is necessary. Such as to preserve the mother's life.

So where does that leave me? In 2004, in England and Wales, 193,160 abortions took place. Of these, only 19% were for medical reasons. Thus with the most conservative estimates possible, that's 156,456 murders of unborn, defenceless children.

But I do not want to make this a discussion of the topic of abortion itself. What am I to do with this ethical dilemma I find myself in? By the rules of society, I must 'tolerate' others' beliefs. But it is not ethically justifiable to stand and do nothing at all.

Another example

So that I do not turn this into a fundamentalist Christian rant - which it might sound like at the moment - I'll observe that exactly the same problem applies on issues where a church is divided. And not just 'The Church', in that 'interesting' Protestant-Catholic debate, but when an individual church is divided.

Going to a free church, we set our own rules. Not a great idea. It means we get hugely liberal in some areas and mind-bogglingly conservative in others. For example, it's not possible to serve in a position of responsibility in the church unless one is baptised as an adult and by total immersion. Both are absolutely necessary. Which is absurd.

But more seriously, we have not objections as a church to re-marriage. That is strictly unbiblical. So what do I do? Kick up a fuss? What would my good friends - that re-married couple - say to that?

The solution

The solution must be persuasion. I must accept that other people have the right to be wrong. And try to persuade them diplomatically, rationally, and respectably, that my beliefs are right, rather than theirs. It is, after all, a denial of my own beliefs not to do so. Not to let me do that would be intolerant.

2 comments:

Tom said...

I do so dislike it when I comment on the last paragraph primarily. It gives the impression of all the preceding paragraphs being of less importance. However, I must pick you up on a point you made in the last paragraph:

"The solution must be persuasion. I must accept that other people have the right to be wrong. And try to persuade them diplomatically, rationally, and respectably, that my beliefs are right, rather than theirs."

Now if I were to adopt this stance and attempt to persuade you diplomatically, rationally and respectably that my beliefs were right and yours wrong, would your beliefs allow you to consider my beliefs as being right and yours wrong?

If not, then I ask you how it is you can expect others to consider the same. You have stated that you "tend to conclude that [you are] in the right vein. Being self-opinionated and pompous makes that conclusion inevitable, [you] suppose."

Surely if other people's beliefs are as strong, then rational debate is not an option because their belief extends beyond the rational.

Faced with such an outcome (and I accept that you can persuade some people), what point is there in you attempting to persuade others to change their minds? Is it that it is not simply the success of your efforts, but the efforts themselves that are important for you to exercise?

I do wonder if beliefs simply persist because beliefs state that they must persist.

Thank you for another interesting read Phil.

Gavin said...

The fundamental difference is that you're right and they are wrong. I appreciate how ignorant that sounds, but if you believe in objective Truth rather than the equal validity of all opinions, you must come to this conclusion, or else change your view!