Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On the subject of tolerance

After some recent discussions I've had with family and friends, I've felt the need to jot down and share some thoughts I've had with regard to the term "tolerance" and its application in today's society.

There are many today who, espousing a particular viewpoint or belief, will declare that those who disagree with them are "intolerant," quickly followed by accusations of hatred. Yet, by what definition is a person declared to be "intolerant?"

I must suppose, to begin, with the assumption that everyone believes that their personal beliefs have some degree of merit or, in other words, that they are in some way "right" in feeling or thinking the way that they do. Drawing upon an easy example, conservatives feel that conservative ideas have merit and liberals believe that liberal ideas have merit and each one feels that they are right and that the other is, by default, wrong.

Does this inherently imply that one side is intolerant of the other? While I do my best to try and see the logical basis behind any argument no matter how much I may disagree with it and while I am familiar with the idea that "A is right for me and B is right for you," many such ideas and beliefs are directly contradictory and I cannot conceive of a rational human being accepting all ideas presented to him/her as being correct and incorporating them into their philosophy.

I am, for example, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormon. As such, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. I also believe that God still speaks to mankind through a prophet, just as in ancient times. I believe the Holy Bible to be the word of God inasmuch as it is translated and preserved correctly. I also believe the Book of Mormon, written by ancient prophets on the American continent and revealed to a modern-day prophet, Joseph Smith, to be the word of God. These beliefs separate me ideologically from all but about 14 million of Earth's inhabitants which, compared with a little under 7 billion or so people on earth, is a fairly small group.

I am hardly immune from the right vs. wrong paradigm. Yes, I believe that I'm right. This implies that, while I believe that a lot of other faiths have valuable truths in their creeds, I believe that everyone else, at some point, is wrong. Does this make me intolerant? If so, does that automatically make me a hater and, thus, mean that I hate nearly 7 billion people?

By no means! One of the basic foundations of Christ's gospel, as I've discussed elsewhere in this blog, is to love everyone. EVERYONE. Think about that for a moment. I can wait.

While I cannot honestly state that I have achieved this perfect love of all mankind, I think I can honestly state that I don't currently hate anyone. Thus, in my case at the very least (and I believe that this extends to the rest of humanity as well), disagreeing with someone does not mean hating them, nor does it mean that one is "intolerant."

After all this, how do I define tolerance and, by extension, intolerance? To my way of thinking, it boils down to how we feel about and treat those who disagree with us. Do we attach a derogatory label to them by default, like one of my professors at BYU who, when it comes to politics, seems to automatically assume that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot and, ergo, not worth his time nor a shred of politeness? This, to me, seems the very height of intolerance. As another real-life example, I recently heard of a friend of mine who had been labelled intolerant by a group of his peers because he disagreed with them on a particularly touchy political subject. A member of this group decided to buy cupcakes for everyone except my friend. Remind me, who's being intolerant here?

By contrast, getting back to the principle of loving all mankind, I believe that tolerance means loving and respecting everyone, whether they agree with you or not. As I once told a friend of mine while discussing another friend who had made what I believed to be a less-than-appropriate life choice, if I limited my circle of friends to those who strictly follow God's law according to *my* interpretation of it, I couldn't even be my own friend. The same applies for politics: If I only made friends with those who think the same way I do, I would have had VERY few friends in Connecticut. Thus, I still consider that previously mentioned BYU professor my friend (which is why he remains nameless here).

I leave you tonight with a scripture taken from the words of Christ which, while it never uses the word "tolerance," demonstrates my point well.
Matthew 5:43-48

43Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

No comments:

Which classic Superhero are you?

Your results:
You are Superman
Green Lantern
Iron Man
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are mild-mannered, good,
strong and you love to help others.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz