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The Old Tolerance Versus the New Tolerance,
This review is from: The Intolerance of Tolerance (Hardcover)Prolific author and research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, D.A. Carson has written another gem, doing a comparative analysis of the "old" definition of tolerance and today's "new" tolerance. This book grew out of a series of lectures he gave of the same name. Carson traces the not so subtle shift in the way societies understand what tolerance means, or has meant for centuries, to what it means today. In his Introduction, Carson writes:
"This shift from `accepting the existence of different view' to `acceptance of different views,' from recognizing other people's right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it'" Nor, according to Carson, is opposing the view tolerated today. Those who dare to do so are labeled intolerant.
Later, Carson defines the "older" view of tolerance as either truth, objective truth that can be known, and the best way to uncover it is by the public tolerance of those who disagree, since sooner or later truth will win out. He asserts that the "old" tolerance accepted that there is a right and wrong that is intuitive and can be discovered and therefore rationally defended, which allows healthy, civil debate and discussion, even opposition. Carson introduces a number of examples showing that under the "new" tolerance "no absolutism is permitted, except that there must be no tolerance for those who disagree with this peculiar definition of [new] tolerance."
After quoting S.D. Gaede, Carson broadens his definition of the "old" tolerance by concluding it defines its limits as a result of substantive arguments about knowable truth, goodness, inflicting harm, and protecting an entire society and its victims, while today's tolerance defines its limits based on what it alone judges to be tolerant and intolerant, hurling insults (narrow-minded, ignorant, and so forth), labeling offenders as "intolerant." According to "new" tolerance, all opinions, viewpoints and lifestyles are equally valid because there is no absolute, no right and wrong. Any religious, which most do, that insists on exclusive knowledge and truth, are marginalized and tagged as intolerant, without discussion. One of the hallmarks of "new" tolerance is its ability to shut down open discussion and debate over opposing ideas, opinions, viewpoints and lifestyles, leaving room for forced acceptance of intellectual nonsense, silliness and the like. Thus, the question arises, "Who is really the intolerant ones?"
According to Carson, "Every culture and every age necessarily displays some tolerance and some intolerance. No culture can be tolerant of everything or intolerant of everything; it is simply not possible. A culture that tolerates, say, genocide (e.g., the Nazis) will not tolerate, say the Jews it wants to kill or homosexual practice. A culture that tolerates just about every sexual liaison may nevertheless balk at, say, rape or pedophilia, or in many cases bigamy and polygamy. If we are going to think carefully about tolerance and intolerance, a little historical perspective will help." Carson proceeds to frame and anchor his arguments with a look back through centuries of movements and writers who have influenced discussion on tolerance across the centuries, including a few from contemporary sources.
There is little question as to the tremendous research that Carson put into this book. His carefully constructed arguments are sewn together, moving from chapter to chapter, one building upon the other. For those who have read even a few of D.A. Carson's books, this comes as no surprise. One habit Carson has kept through most of his books, and one I thoroughly enjoy is his footnoting at the bottom of the page instead of adding them as end notes at the back of the book. In this volume, Carson doesn't just define the new and old tolerance. In the final chapter, titled "Ways Ahead: Ten Words, he provides the reader with a summary of sorts and ten suggestions, what he calls the pragmatic to the foundational, concerning what can be done at the grassroots level to engage and expose the "Intolerance of Tolerance. Highly recommended.
One final quote from Carson's last of his Ten Words in the final chapter would seem helpful to wrap-up this book review:
"Delight in God, and trust him. God remains sovereign,wise, and good. Our ultimate confidence is not in an government or party, still less in our ability to mold the culture in which we live. God may being about changes that reflect the more robust understanding of tolerance better know in earlier times, and that would be very helpful; alternatively, he may send 'a powerful delusion so that [people] will believe the lie' (2 Thessalonians 2:11), and in consequence we may enter into more suffering for Jesus than the West has known for some time. That would have the effect of aligning us with brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world, and enable us to share something of the apostles' joy (Acts 5:41)."