The Intolerance of the Tolerant

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The Intolerance of the Tolerant

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A college student questions American involvement in Iraq, asking, "Who are we to decide they would be happier living under our form of government?" In response to a survey concerning beliefs about God, a 16-year-old girl replies, "In my mind, the only people who are wrong are the people who will not accept different beliefs as being, well, acceptable." Many state legislatures are debating the question, "Why shouldn't couples of the same sex have the same right to marry that a man and woman have?"

While the majority of Americans may not ask those questions, there is a growing trend in our nation to question the value of long-held beliefs and morals. It's not that the people asking the questions are always concerned with discrimination or even political correctness. Their cause is "tolerance." But this new kind of tolerance is not the traditional quality, from common courtesy, of respecting people and their differences. Rather, they advocate a wholesale acceptance of every conceivable belief, lifestyle and moral standard.

According to those groups seeking change in the way the nation thinks, the majority of Americans do not yet practice "tolerance." In our centers of education, in the arts and through the media, there is a consistent message of "tolerance" being touted as one of the most important attributes a person can develop.

What is tolerance, anyway?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "tolerance" as "the capacity for or practice of recognizing and respecting the options, practices, or behavior of others." By that definition, most of us would consider ourselves and most of our friends and acquaintances to be tolerant people.

Traditional tolerance is primarily comprised of three behaviors. First, we must respect the right of others to choose their own lifestyles, even if we disagree with them on moral or biblical grounds. God allows us to be free moral agents. He doesn't force us to choose His way, even though He encourages us to live according to His decrees.

Notice the instruction in Deuteronomy 30:19: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing..." God set before ancient Israel two distinctly different ways of life, one of which would bring about a satisfying and blessed life. The other would bring about misery and death. In spite of His obvious desire to see His people prosper, He let them choose.

Joshua, too, recognized and respected the right of Israel to choose its own lifestyle years later. "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served... or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell" (Joshua 24:15).

Likewise, today we must respect the rights of others to choose how they will live and what they will believe. It is a God-given right. It also happens to be supported by our nation's antidiscrimination laws.

Another behavior inherent in traditional "tolerance" is an overriding love for all mankind, whether or not others believe or behave as we do. Christ set the example for us by loving us even when we were sinners—when we weren't "choosing" the way He would have us choose (John 3:16; Romans 5:18). Regardless of how others treat us or what they believe, we are admonished to love all people, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Thirdly, if we are truly tolerant, we will purpose to live in peace with all people, regardless of their lifestyles, beliefs or other choices. "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

This type of tolerance is a Christian responsibility and quality that is supported by the Bible. But this isn't the tolerance being "pushed" in America today.

Redefining tolerance

In a May 2003 interview with the Zenit News Agency, which reports on news from the Vatican, Senator Rick Santorum (Republican from Pennsylvania) was asked how a devout Catholic politician could abide by Vatican decrees that establish a moral code of "right and wrong," yet satisfy a constituency that "places a high value on tolerance and respect for a diversity of opinions." His reply captures the essence of how "tolerance" is being redefined in today's society.

"The cultural elite, that is, our universities, the media and our arts, place a high value on tolerance and moral relativism. We are currently engaged in a culture war, wherein many Americans do not believe in absolute truth and are dictated by moral relativism.

"I cannot accept the fact that many hail tolerance as the greatest virtue. They worship tolerance to the point of not being able to make judgments at all. This is wrong. As G.K. Chesterton said, 'Be careful not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.'

"Tolerance, in the true sense of the word, is a great good. If one is truly tolerant, one is respectful of other people's opinions. This does not mean agreeing with them, but giving them the right to profess their opinions. But, when tolerance is understood in a libertarian, modern way, we falsify the meaning of reality. I don't think we should accept tolerance as believing every point of view is equal and good. To do this is to blur the lines between good and evil" (emphasis added).

Do you see how today's "tolerance" is being redefined? It is not enough for those with alternative views and morals to have their right to choose respected. It's not enough for others to live in peace with them. The new tolerance demands much more. It demands the acceptance of every lifestyle and an end of a value system that defines "normal." Its proponents want the concept of "right and wrong" and "good and evil" removed from the national conscience. This latest strain of historical humanism leaps past the philosophers of Athens to the Garden of Eden and brings to the fore the question, "Who will be God and who will make the rules, God or man?"

God has a stern warning for those who would blur the lines between evil and good. "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:20-21).

God expects His people to be able to discern right from wrong and good from evil, as defined by Him in the pages of the Bible. In fact, that discernment can be seen as a Christian responsibility.

Of the coming Messiah, it was prophesied that He would "know to refuse the evil and choose the good" (Isaiah 7:15). Likewise, New Testament Christians, who are imbued with the Holy Spirit, are expected to "have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

Christians cannot serve God and the interests of those pushing the new value system. God holds His people responsible for "carrying the torch" of understanding right and wrong, good and evil. We are admonished to "let our lights shine." One of the ways we can do this is to not allow modern society to affect our views of "right and wrong" and "good and evil," even if the whole world goes that way.

Where does this attitude of "tolerance" come from?

Much of the news media deluges us with stories that applaud this redefined tolerance or show the "need" for it. Television, radio and the Internet are packed with features and stories that focus on offbeat beliefs and lifestyles and portray them as good and normal.

Entertainment champions alternative lifestyles, non-Christian religions and the need for all people to "accept" everyone else. Often the message of the story is that people with biblically based values are narrow-minded, foolish, "behind the times" or just downright prejudiced or biased.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul makes a remarkable comment: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:1-2). In a time before there was radio and TV, Satan still ruled the "airwaves." How much more true that is today! It's no wonder that the airwaves are a major vehicle by which a redefined "tolerance" is being promoted.

But it's not only the media. Our schools and universities have adopted sex education and multicultural initiatives that teach that heterosexual and homosexual relationships are equally "right." They teach that Christianity and the Bible hold no more relevance to education than does any other book or belief in any other god. We live in a world where God is constantly under attack—from removing His commandments from public view to attempts to remove His name from the U.S. pledge of allegiance.

Our educational systems teach "tolerance," which is not truly tolerance at all, but rather the acceptance and approval of lifestyles and worship practices forbidden by the Bible. Increasingly, American instructors are not allowed to teach the morals or the lifestyles from the Bible, on which foundation the United States was built.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness... because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:18, 21-22).

When people make the choice to turn their backs on God, they will suffer the consequences: "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie... And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:24-25, 28).

The human mind, when it chooses to leave God, loses the ability to make good judgments about right and wrong. Even "discernment" goes by the wayside (verse 32) when people choose to believe the lie instead of God. Under modern-day definitions of "tolerance," we are expected to approve or accept those practices that are contrary to Christian morals espoused in the Bible.

Why would people think this will bring what they want?

The young people of Western nations see a myriad of examples in the millennia of mankind's history of the effect of one nation that believed it was "right" going unjustly against another nation. They see the effect of one religion believing it was "right" persecuting and tormenting people with different beliefs. They see the effect of Hitler thinking he was "right" and mobilizing a nation to try to enforce his extreme beliefs on a continent. They see the effect of one race claiming superiority over others. Recently, they see the actions of a very few who commit hate crimes against those with whom they disagree.

Advocates of the redefined tolerance point to these examples and reason: "It is extremism that leads to great harm, whenever a person believes his idea, lifestyle, religion or morals to be right. Therefore, we should eliminate inflexible definitions of 'right and wrong' and 'good and evil.'"

When you think about it, it seems right, doesn't it? It seems like this idea just might work. But God warns, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25).

Where is all this headed?

But where is all this leading? Is today's world, bent on virulent humanism, going to lead to a multicultural Shangri-la for all? Let's peek into the future through God's Word and see where the ageless Creator of all says this will lead. Christ showed that near the end time personal persecution, offense, betrayal and hate will be directed at Christians for His name's sake (Matthew 24:9-11).A time is foretold when even family members will betray and hate each other, for His name's sake.

What does Christ stand for? Of the coming Messiah, it was prophesied that He would "know to refuse the evil and choose the good" (Isaiah 7:15). Throughout His ministry, Christ came to preach obedience to the Commandments (Matthew 5:17-20). If we follow His example and commandment to us, we, too, will stand for the discernment of "good and evil" and "right and wrong." Could it be that our position will not sit well with a world that has adopted "tolerance" as its primary virtue?

Christ also prophesied, "Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12). Could it be that "lawlessness" is the result of an age of "tolerance," a time when the distinction between "right and wrong" and "good and evil" is blurred? Could it be that the time of "lawlessness" is the time when a lack of discernment is one of many sins that will define the world?

It is in an age of lawlessness that "the love of many will grow cold." The "love of many" was apparently able to stand firm in the face of war, famine, pestilence and earthquakes that were the "beginning of sorrows." But the "love of many will grow cold" in an age where human reason replaces godly righteousness, when "tolerance" dictates that all should "approve" of every lifestyle, belief and god, and accept them as equal.

During this time of relative peace, it is prophesied that the love of many will give way to the way of the world. They will yield their "crown of righteousness" to "believe the lie" (2 Timothy 4:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). Yes, it appears that many will fall prey to an attitude that will permeate the world and, at least for a time, bring peace and prosperity.

But this system, this time of "lawlessness," has its inherent flaw. It's the same flaw that has plagued every plan of man from the beginning of time. Even "tolerance" has its "intolerance." Its proponents, too, will believe that it is the only right way. And it will try to enforce its beliefs on all those who will not yield to it.

In Revelation 13, we read about a "beast" power that opens its mouth in blasphemy toward God, setting itself up as authority in place of God (Revelation 13:6). The whole world will worship and wonder after this power. It brings in its wake temporary peace and prosperity. But this "tolerant" society will not "tolerate" those who disagree with its philosophy.

"It was granted to him to make war with the saints..." (Revelation 13:7). The enemies of the state will be those who "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12). Could the saints be considered enemies because they continue to discern between "right and wrong" and refuse to yield their "love" to a system of "lawlessness"?

Satan is the force driving the "beast" power, and the source behind the "lie" that will grip and deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9). He has always wanted to wage war with the saints. "[The] wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow on the string, that they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart" (Psalm 11:2). "The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him" (Psalm 37:32).

What is the antidote?

How can Christians guard against accepting the "lie" and having our love "grow cold"? What can we do to ensure that we "endure to the end" as Christ admonishes us to do?

The apostle Paul, in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, foretold of a coming time of lawlessness that will precede the return of Jesus Christ. He admonished his first-century audience, in words that we would do well to heed: "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled... as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first [when "the love of many will grow cold"]... For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way...

"The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth that they may be saved. And for this reason, God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

The antidote to the coming age of "lawlessness" or "tolerance" of all lifestyles and beliefs is to have a strong love of the truth. What more reason can we have to "test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21)? WNP