Recently, I have come across several folks who have grown weary with our culture of tolerance. We have to be tolerant of others' beliefs. We have to be tolerant of others' lifestyles. We have to be tolerant of others. Enough already! Can't we just move past all of this tolerance stuff.
My response to that is "sure, if where you're going is from tolerance to love and not from tolerance to intolerance".
Rabbi Irwin Kula, during one of the lectures that I heard during my time at the Chautauqua Institution made the comment (and I'm paraphrasing) that we see so much intolerance of the beliefs of others because of the uncertainty that we feel in our own beliefs. I see this particularly in the realm of Christian apologetics. Why do we need so many "proofs" for the greatest of all mysteries. A God I can comprehend is no god for me. I understand where Rabbi Kula was coming from. We watch news programs that reinforce our own views, primarily because we don't want to stumble upon some bit of truth coming from someone we disagree with. We immerse ourselves in study of our own faith out of fear of discovering that other faiths might have inklings of truth as well.
I truly am starting to understand that intolerance is a defense mechanism. But why do we need to work so hard to defend our own rightness? Why are we so insecure?
Before I drift off into relativism (which is such a bad thing!) let me say point blank that I have found my foundational meta-narrative in Judeo-Christianity. I believe in one God. I believe, as Paul says in Colossians 1 that Jesus was the image of that God. I believe in justice. I believe in love. My worldview is shaped by those things. But that's just it. It's my worldview. I don't know that I feel the need to argue its rightness. I feel the need to offer it as a help where it's helpful. I guess I'm also open to being critical of my worldview, and slowly, I'm becoming open to others' critiques of my worldview. That's hard, but I think I'm moving away from the fear of my uncertainty, recognizing that I'll never be completely certain of my own rightness.
No, I'm not okay with tolerance. I don't believe we're ever called to tolerate people and I personally don't want to be tolerated. I do believe we're called to love. I want to be loved and so do you. Love sometimes means offering a critique of someone else's worldview, but I don't believe that is love's primary stance. Love moves people away from those things which are harmful to those things which are fulfilling and life-giving. The problem is, oftentimes people believe they are being loving by imposing their worldview. I don't know love to be coercive, so that doesn't work for me. I do know love to be persuasive. I also know love to be protective. Those things keep love from being an "anything goes" sort of force. Love will always protect loved ones from hurting themselves. But love walks hand in hand with wisdom and love can distinguish between when someone is hurting themselves and when they are just doing something we don't understand or that challenges our worldview. Love is patient enough to hear the loved ones side of the story and to seek understanding.
Do I have a point to all of this? God, I hope so. I think my point is that this thing called "tolerance" isn't getting us where we need to be. I can't just live and let live and be okay with that. I have to live and be in community with others who are living as well. Being in community means co-existing worldviews. It always does because no two people see the world the same way. That's the great lie of assimilation, that we all think the same way on things. (thanks to Andrew Marin for that word when I needed it!) Tolerance doesn't ask us to hear others' stories. It doesn't ask us to break bread with those who are different. It doesn't ask us to hear their fears and anxieties. Love does all of those things and more.
The challenge for all of us is to not be so certain of our own rightness (and righteousness) that we close the doors to hearing, understanding, and being in community with others.