Tolerance as the Last Virtue of a Depraved Society

On a daily basis, I hear that Christians are judgmental and are not at all tolerant. But I think that the problem is largely a result of a misunderstanding of what it means to be tolerant in our culture. To clarify terms, philosophers distinguish classical tolerance from a modern understanding of tolerance by stating that according to a classical view of tolerance one should accept the differing views of other people and treat them fairly no matter what. Therefore, a person who holds to this classical view will continue to respect, uphold the dignity of, and value the other person no matter what he or she believes, understanding that each person has a right to argue or propagate his or her own ideas. However, the modern view of tolerance states that each person should always accept others (their ideas, arguments, beliefs, morals, and behaviors) as equally valid as anyone else’s, to the point that any judgment will be interpreted as intolerance. The latter is problematic for the following reason: the classical view of tolerance continues to uphold the value and dignity of the person, while the modern view seeks to uphold the value and accuracy of each person’s beliefs.

All people are created equal and have immeasurable value, but it would be foolish to say the same is true of all people’s ideas. Can we with all sincerity equate Jeffrey Dahmer’s beliefs about the value of human life to Martin Luther King, Jr’s or Gandhi’s beliefs? You may be thinking that if someone’s beliefs are that important to them then if you disagree with their beliefs you’re also devaluing them as a person. But the classical view (and biblical view) states that no matter what a person believes, feels, or thinks you are to love and respect him since he is made in the image of God. Notice that I did not say you have to agree with him, but that you are challenged (because you’re obligated) to not only tolerate him, but to love him. So, if calling Hitler’s or Dahmer’s actions wrong makes you judgmental or intolerant by the modern view of tolerance’s standards, then wear your judgmental badge proudly. But know that it is by no means wrong to make a judgment regarding someone’s behavior. I have to follow up that sentence with the statement that it is important to note the attitude of one’s heart and perspective when they comment on another person; if you continually speak as though you are flawless and you take pleasure in pointing the finger to show how god-like you are, then ironically you’ve just demonstrated that you’re not God-like at all. The attitude of your heart should be one of humility and compassion.We all struggle with the temptation to be self-righteous, which is why we must hold each other accountable to maintaining an attitude of humility (read Philippians chapter 2 for the best example of humility known to man).

But what about the Scripture passage that everyone quotes about how Christians aren’t supposed to judge others? Matthew 7:1-5 NAU “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Robert H. Mounce explains that the Greek construction for “Do not judge” carries with it the idea of ceasing what you are already doing (“stop criticizing others”). He goes on to say that judging in this context implies a “harsh and censorious spirit.” “If you insist on condemning others, you exclude yourself from God’s forgiveness. The admonition not to judge is often taken incorrectly to imply that believers are not to make moral judgments about anyone or anything. That this is not intended is clear from verses 15-20, which warn of false prophets who can be known by the fruit they bear. Jesus does not ask us to lay aside our critical faculties, but rather to resist the urge to speak harshly of others. The issue is serious in that God will judge us by the same standard we apply to others. [This] rather frightening truth should change the way in which we tend to view other people’s failings.”

In the Word Biblical Commentary, Donald Hagner adds: “One should not judge others more harshly or by a different standard than one judges oneself.” On a personal note there have been times that another Christian has confronted me about immoral behavior and what the Christian said was right, but his spirit was wrong. He was almost hate-filled in the way he approached me, and I have to admit that my obstinate nature tempted me to handle it poorly, but when it came down to it regardless of his “ungodly” attitude, what he said was right, and I couldn’t argue with it. This is just a reminder to not mistake accountability for judgment. Furthermore, judgment in Matthew 7 refers to criticism and discrimination, emphasizing that God will judge us based on the standards by which we judge others. Therefore, be merciful to others and God will be merciful to you. Also note that showing mercy to others does not mean overlooking areas of their lives that need improvement; if you love them the best thing you can do is go to them and challenge them concerning areas that need to change. The same principle applies to our response to corruption in our culture. The Christian’s duty is, after all to destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (II Corinthians 10:5).

On a larger scale concerning our society, we are to hold one another accountable to uphold the values that would best preserve our society as a whole, even at the risk of being labeled judgmental or intolerant. However, when we speak the truth to others, we are to speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15) so that our motives cannot be misinterpreted and we remain above reproach. It is to our detriment that the Christian reputation has been sullied due to our unloving approaches to social issues. However, it still remains that the Christian view of tolerance is more courageous and even confrontational whereas the world’s view of tolerance is cowardly and evasive, ultimately bearing no fruit and eventually leading to the decay of society.


Leave a reply