The Problem with Tolerance

Among words as well as among people, there is nothing more irksome - or more dangerous - than a wolf in sheep's clothing. Such a word masquerades as something it is not, slinks about a nation's vocabulary with subtle malice, and sows in the minds of people ideas, attitudes, and habits. By the time it is stripped of its mask and shown as it really is, it may be too late to undo the damage it has caused - already, an entire nation may have fallen prey to its lies.

Such a poisonous word, one frighteningly prominent in today's America, is "tolerance."

"Tolerance?" gasp the masses. "Surely you can't be serious! Tolerance is a word of truth and beauty and goodness, a word we need to clasp to our bosoms and engrave in our hearts! It is not poison!"

To these well-meaning masses, I say: "tolerance" has deceived you. You do not know what a serpent you shelter beneath your roof.

This "tolerance" does not mean mere absence of bigotry. It does not mean acceptance of other races. It does not mean patience with followers of other religions.

"Tolerance" means "not caring."

It is a lack of hate, perhaps; but it is also lack of love. It is lack of anger, but it is also lack of passion. It is lack of racism and bigotry and prejudice; but it is also the lack of heroism, and courage, and sacrifice. It is a lack of anything, a manifestation of nothing.

Tolerance paints in gray, cold colors. No spark of passion enlivens its brush-strokes; it knows no vibrant crimson, no verdant green, no fervent azure - not even a blazing white. It is simply (to borrow G. K. Chesterton's words) "an absence of color," a void, a gap. It is as dull and lifeless as the cement walls of an unfurnished and abandoned basement.

What is tolerance? It is nothing strong; it is nothing brave; it is nothing sincere. It is simply laziness, a stubborn uncaring act of looking the other way. It sees something disagreeable, feels a vague sense of discomfort, and says, "I will say nothing; it is not mine to judge. What do I care?" One who accustoms himself to this way of thinking will soon care about nothing at all. And what is a life of caring for nothing? Spare me from such an existence! - I would rather live languishing in a dungeon for something I believe in than reveling in a sumptuous palace with nothing to love but my food and my bed.

Love! - that is the solution the world really thirsts for. In the depths of our souls, it is love we really long for, even when we speak of tolerance.

How different love is from tolerance! Tolerance sees something and promptly looks the other way - says, "I do not care." But Love looks at something with a burning passion and says, "I do care!" If it is something wrong, then Love shouts, "No! This thing is evil; it harms that which I would shed my blood for. I must oppose it - for I care."

Who wants to be tolerated when one could be loved? What has tolerance to say in the face of flaming charity? Nothing. It will sit there in its polite silence, and stroke its neatly-trimmed mustache, and straighten its perfect tie, and say, in a yawning sort of voice - "Why, I might not be very exciting, but that's just the point. We modern advanced people have gotten over excitement. We are civilized."

We modern advanced people are horrifically polite.

Since when has Truth been polite? - this is Love's retort to Tolerance; for Truth and Love are inseparable friends, chaste paramours, and one never shows his nose unless the other is close behind. Truth is never polite, never politically correct, and Love always carries a flaming sword. Wherever they go they shed light and life and health and courage, a forgetfulness of worldly honor and a desire for the good.

Perhaps what Truth's torch reveals is unpleasant, a festering sore - Tolerance shames the Truth, and not the disease. Perhaps Love shouts "Injustice!" at some screaming act of discrimination - Tolerance tells Love to hush, and not offend the discriminator's delicate ears. Always Tolerance is silence, consent, politeness, while Truth and Love like thunder and lightning are noise, protest, and a mad military charge.

Love and Truth come at a price. They are very uncomfortable; they are very impolite. But once they are established as king and queen of a culture - well! Watch how well everything flourishes. There will be more tolerance then than there is in a culture founded on Tolerance.

For Tolerance is merely a drain, sapping life from a people as well as sickness, and when it is done with its doctoring it leaves a pale invalid, too weak to stir from his bed. But Love and Truth are a raging river, rushing into a nation with such force and vigor, such life and health, that the disease will have no choice but to flee.

And then what flowers will bloom! what festivals will make merry the night! what joy will fill every heart!

Tolerance, in its proper place, is a result of something, not a means to an end. Did I say it was an evil thing? Not necessarily; it is only evil if it is blown out of proportion and used as an all-powerful tool. In America's current state, Tolerance has grown to a monstrous and unnatural size, ruling over national manners and convictions. But this same Tolerance - or at least a distant cousin of its, a cousin which bears an identical name - really does have its proper place: a small and humble place, not as an all-powerful monarch but as the flowers which grow outside the castle walls. It cannot do much itself, this little tolerance, cannot motivate people to great deeds - but it is there, the natural offspring of fiery Love and dauntless Truth.

But never must Tolerance be an excuse for giving up, for giving in, for looking the other way. The moment we ignore some wrong or keep quiet in the face of some outrage because it "is not polite," Tolerance has overstepped its boundaries - become a roaring monster rather than an ornamental elf. It is this bloated tolerance which is responsible for all widespread evils in the world. For where would Hitler have been, had he been opposed early on? Would Christ have been crucified if enough people in the crowd had cared? Were it not for blasted delicacy, would fifty million American babies now be dead to abortion?

Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance. Such a little word, and yet...this seemingly benign jumble of letters has sheltered great evils in the past and never achieved any real good.

Was it tolerance which motivated Martin Luther King Jr. to stand up for what was right? Was it tolerance which inspired Wilberforce to work against the slave trade? Was it tolerance which gave Harriet Beecher Stowe the passion to write Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Was it tolerance which stood up for the Jews during the holocaust? Was it tolerance which gave St. Maximillian Kolbe the strength to die for another prisoner? Was it tolerance which led Mother Teresa to the streets of Calcutta to care for the poorest of the poor? 

It isn't tolerance which acts as a force for good in this world; it is Love, Love with her eternal partner Truth. Until we turn to these virtues of fire, we will be caught in Tolerance's purposeless eddy of clammy docility, and swirl ever downward until we are swallowed up by a drab sea of lukewarm listlessness...

Let us not tolerate each other; that means nothing. Instead, let us "love one another, deeply from the heart."


  1. "You can choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know." -- William Wilberforce

    Great job, Lucy Agnes!

    1. Agh! I love that quote! So so true. :) Have you seen the movie "Amazing Grace"?

      Thanks, Jessica!

    2. I have indeed. It's . . . well, amazing. No pun intended :-)

    3. Haha! That's hilarious. :) It really is!

  2. This was AWESOME!!!! Oh and I've seen Amazing Grace!! Jessica showed it to me, this summer I think. It was incredible!

    1. Thanks, Rosie! Oh, isn't that movie just one of the most wonderful things?? (Okay, "things" is broad, we'll say "movies"...) Definitely a favorite. :)

  3. Thank you for stating this so eloquently! I have grown to strongly dislike the word tolerance. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Political correctness is lauded far too much these days.

    It's interesting that you say tolerance is nothing, a void, colorless, etc. I find it to also be an indiscriminate embracing of anything and everything. When a group or a cause demands the world tolerate them, what they really seem to say is, "Agree with me! Embrace me! Approve of me! Don't just refrain from opposing me; stand alongside me and champion my views."

    I shall simply stop now before I get into a big rant. You've touched on a topic I'm rather passionate about. ;)

    1. Oh, thank you for your sweet comment, Tracey! Isn't the word "tolerance" - well, intolerable? I know what you mean about a bad taste in the mouth. :) Political correctness, yes - way overrated. It's such a bland virtue. :P

      Good point. Tolerance really is an embracing of everything - but it's impossible to embrace every belief, every faith, every behavior, without contradicting yourself. Lots of times "tolerance" means rejecting any moral code, because moral codes draw lines and set limits and say "no." The result is everyone gets tolerated except for people opposed to sin. Like G. K. Chesterton said, "These are the days when a man is expected to praise every religion but his own" and "Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions."

      Now I'm starting to rant, too. :) Thanks for stopping by!


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