Robertson case: What is tolerance?
In a world of competing truth claims, where society values the notion of inclusivity and tolerance — which sometimes is at odds with religious beliefs in general, and Christianity in particular — it begs the questions, is there a prescriptive paradigm for co-existing as citizens, especially relative to pluralistic contexts? And what about the notion of tolerance?
Nowadays, the word “tolerance” is so widely accepted that it is assumed to be desirable for society as a whole. But if one considers the root of the word “tolerance,” would it shed new light on how the term is to be understood? Should “tolerance” continue to be used in terms of how we ought to live and interrelate with each other?
This conversation is particularly relevant in light of the present “Duck Dynasty” controversy, where Phil Robertson expressed his sincerely held Christian belief opposing the homosexual lifestyle.
And despite expressing that he “would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me [him],” the Robertson family patriarch, as of this week, is still indefinitely suspended from the hit reality show on A&E. Ironically, the A&E executives acted intolerant towards Robertson’s views, claiming that he is intolerant.
Unfortunately, intolerance of Christian views has been around since the days of Jesus and his disciples. But in a culture that is supposedly tolerant, it is quite telling that the media seems to only attack Christian views as being intolerant.
After all, is it only Christians who express the kind of sentiment that Robertson opined? If an alternative view of what is to be “tolerated” in society is so prevalent, why is the secular notion of tolerance so popular in today’s society?
The notion of “tolerance” is rooted in an attempt to provide knowledge that is supposedly reasonable for all. It is a product of modern Western Enlightenment rationale and its agenda of scientific exclusion of non-rational ways of knowing things. Concomitant with this agenda is an attack on faith and the supernatural, in general, and Christianity in particular.
Underlying the notion of “tolerance,” then, is a pretense to neutrality, for it is a stratagem with a definite secular bias. In other words, the self-appointed arbiters of what is “tolerant” really are contestants in disguise. They have their own agenda, which, at its core, is antithetical to the Christian worldview
And though, in the present postmodern culture, the relativistic outlook of some proponents of “tolerance” tolerates non-rational as well as supernatural ways of knowing, still, they reject, or, are intolerant of authoritative traditions such as that of the Bible.
Instead, they accept, and even prescribe, whatever a given community tolerates as normative for how we ought to live and interrelate with each other. Such relativism, however, cannot be a real criterion for what is to be normative in society, because it cannot “objectively” evaluate moral standards of truth from falsehood.
Therefore, one should not accept peer-pressured “tolerance” that rejects traditional understandings of social relationships.
Indeed, as the A&E executives have demonstrated in saying that Robertson’s “personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community,” the “tolerance” movement has its own orthodoxies and intolerances.
Those who continuously emphasize the notion of “tolerance” — even though they are inconsistent in their supposed belief, since all truth claims have imbedded within them a level of intolerance — seem to have the agenda of limiting speech they disagree with in an attempt to “tolerate” the offended.
While it is a noble cause to want to promote a society that is welcoming to people, the Robertson case reveals the underlying tension that exists in society in terms of what is to be tolerated.
As for me, any standard of normativity in society should always involve a holy God, and what is edifying for all.
[Fitzroy John Willis, M.S., M.A., Ph.D., is co-founder and president, The Willis Group, LLC (thewillisgroup.org). He also is Adjunct Professor of Theological Studies, Ohio Christian University.]