Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tolerance: The Definition Has Changed

Tolerance: The Definition Has Changed

The New Oxford American Dictionary has not caught up with the change, but the modern, popular definition of "tolerance" is radically different (I believe, dangerously perverted) from the "old" meaning.

Oxford defines TOLERATE as "allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference". The word originated in the early 16th century from "tolerare", Latin for "enduring pain".

TOLERANCE is the ability or willingness to tolerate something, to "endure the pain" of the existence of something.

What is the new definition?

According to D. A. Carson, "tolerance" has changed from accepting that lots of people have different views, some of which are wrong, to agreeing that all views are equally true.

What difference does this make?

A diametric difference!

Mark Driscoll recently wrote an essay about the changing definition of "tolerance" that helps explain the ground-shifting difference between the "old tolerance" and the "new tolerance".

The old view of tolerance was based upon three assumptions:

  1. There is objective truth that can be known,
  2. People believe they know what that objective truth is, and
  3. Disagreements, dialogues and debate will give everyone an opportunity to learn, grow, change and possible arrive together at the truth.

The new view of tolerance refutes all three assumptions:

  1. There is no objective truth than can be known,
  2. People do not have the truth but only what they believe to be the truth, and
  3. Disagreements, dialogues and debate are useless and lead to needless conflicts and prejudices

Anyone else notice how intolerant the "new tolerance" appears?

It denies moral absolutes by holding to the moral absolute that there is no moral absolute.

It denies that anyone knows any truth.

It denies discussion or debate.

If "tolerance" truly has changed its meaning for us, is that because there is no other word that accurately represents the new meaning, or is it because there is no better way to change people's minds than by controlling word definitions?

What other English word captures the intent of the "new tolerance"? What other word means to agree with every opinion and to discourage disagreement or debate?


That's it. The modern world's highest virtue has become "agreeability". One person says coffee, and all the world must say coffee. Another says yes, and all the world must say yes.

Even as I write this I must make my examples benign, lest others erupt in hostile "tolerance". When a person's value or power is threatened by disagreement or debate, their response is to gather a mob and throw stones.

The other word that comes to mind at this point is "insanity". Conformity to a common opinion of coffee versus tea will never happen for humans. Why do we think it can happen with morality? We will never reach a concensus concerning some moral opinions. We will never be without the need to disagree, dialogue and debate.

If you wish for no conflict, don't call it "tolerance". Call it for what it is: "agreement".


Photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc