I believe “tolerance” is one of the least understood words in the English language.
Dictionary.com defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc. differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.”
If you rely on the media for a definition, however, things would be quite different.
You’ve probably heard the recent news about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. A&E, the network that airs the show, has suspended him indefinitely for voicing his controversial opinion on homosexuality. Why would they do such a thing? Well, if you ask A&E, he was being intolerant.
At first glance, it’s easy to see how such a conclusion could be drawn. He doesn’t agree with homosexuality, a practice different from his own, to use wording from the definition above. He said he “would never treat anyone with disrespect” for their differences, but because he disagrees with homosexuality, he has been removed from his show.
Which, if you think about it, is a very intolerant thing for A&E to do.
If A&E were truly tolerant, they would have a “permissive attitude” toward Phil’s beliefs. If they were equally intolerant, they would have simply released a statement that they disagree with his beliefs, and that would have been it.
Ironically, A&E is more intolerant than Phil, because they actually acted on their narrow-minded beliefs and removed him from the show. At least Phil said he would treat homosexuals with respect. A&E couldn’t even do that – they saw fit to remove him for a simple expression of a belief.
You see, the problem here isn’t that someone stated their beliefs. The problem isn’t even that someone was censored for doing so. The real problem lies in the fact that even the dictionary definition of “tolerance” is flawed, but this flawed definition has so penetrated society that it has severely hampered our ability to agree to disagree.
In common usage, “tolerance” simply means to “put up with” something. A truly tolerant person treats those who believe differently with respect. And that’s it. You can disagree with someone and still be a tolerant person. You just can’t treat them badly for having a different opinion.
And by that definition, Phil Robertson did nothing wrong. Sure, his views are a little more extreme than even the average Christian. It’s understandable why someone could be offended by his beliefs. But if we’re honest, few TV shows out there are free from anything that would offend anyone. Lots of shows even feature homosexual characters. That could easily offend someone who doesn’t agree with homosexuality. By definition, those shows should be considered intolerant as well. But I don’t see networks shutting those shows down.
The media has successfully constructed a one-sided view of tolerance. You can’t have any quibbles about what someone believes – unless they don’t believe that you can’t have any quibbles about what someone believes. In that case, fire away. It doesn’t make any sense, but somehow this flawed definition has come to be widely accepted.
So what needs to happen? The whole “intolerance” conversation needs to go away. After all, it’s based on circular logic anyway. As soon as someone says “Hey, you’re being intolerant!” and indicates that they have a problem with it, that person is being equally intolerant.
I don’t agree with everything Phil Robertson said, but I do believe he has the right to voice his opinion, no matter if it is sensible, senseless, agreeable, disagreeable, normal, or extreme. Christians are being portrayed in the media as “intolerant” by people who are equally intolerant – of Christians. It’s insanely stupid, and it needs to stop.
Update: the full text of the article is available here (warning: the author uses obscene language). Also, the Governor of Louisiana has shared comments on the matter that are well worth reading.