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The Intolerance of Tolerance Hardcover – January 31, 2012
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-- President, Covenant Theological Seminary
"Thoughtfully shows how tolerance has morphed into a pervasive insistence that no one should hold firm convictions. . . . Not to hear and heed Carson is to enter a nightmarish world in which zeal to discern truth is replaced by zeal to keep anyone from claiming anything is really true."
"Carson shows the structural flaws and inconsistency of modern tolerance and its fixation on opposing traditional Christianity. . . . The Intolerance of Tolerance is not a political jeremiad so much as a call for Christians to fight for the value of truth."
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Basic to the argument of the book is the difference between the "old tolerance" and the "new." The old tolerance meant that while you disagreed with someone, you "tolerated" them, and believed that everyone should be free to express what they think. Underpinning this was the belief that there really is such a thing as "truth" and that free discourse was an important aspect in finding and exploring it. The "new" tolerance, in contrast, starts with the basic premise that in matters of morality and belief, there is no "truth," only opinions. Tolerance in the new sense means never saying anything that criticizes another person's beliefs.
The problem is both in the basic premise, and in the hypocritical way in which this new definition of "tolerance" is applied selectively against Christians, or whoever is labeled "intolerant," in the new sense.
This is scholarly, logical, nuanced, and thoroughly thought out. Carson cites dozens of real life examples in his thorough exploration of the subject. In the end, this book is a devastating critique, on multiple levels, of the flimsy but increasingly venerated "new tolerance." A good book for critical thinking, and analyzing a key cornerstone of modern culture and public discourse.
Carson details the history of tolerance and gives numerous examples of the new tolerance's intolerance. For example, the Boy Scouts of America have endured pressure and many law suits for two decades to admit girls, to admit atheists, and to allow avowed homosexuals to serve in leadership. The Supreme Court rulled in their favor - yet the fight continues led by the ACLU and gay rights groups.
Carson elaborates on the above issues and more. As Christians we need to understand the intolerance of tolerance so we can speak up winsomely and entice others to face the moral problems this causes in our culture. I'm including a few quotations further inform the readers of this review.
"Muslim thought runs along quite different lines to Christian wrestlings over the relationship between church and state. Where Muslims are in control, Muslim thought about non-Muslims in the society is quite clear. The choices are three: kill them (under certain circumstances) convert them, or dhimmitude." (lower status.) Pg 119
"While the secularist wants all other religions to retreat into the private sphere, he or she insists that secularists have the right to control the public sphere because they are right - completely unaware that they are trying to impose their worldview on others who disagree with it." Pg 120
"Relativism is the view that no one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly exists that is valid for everyone." Pg 132
"The new tolerance swamps penetrating discussion about truth and morality: tolerance is widely perceived to be more important and more enduring than either. The result is a greater tendency to believe lies and to come adrift in immorality." Pg 138
The book begins with a look at the one of the various root causes for our modern problem with tolerance, the definition of tolerance itself. In Christian worldview circles, it's well known that definitional sleight of hand is one of Satan's greatest weapons (as Eve found out when the serpent whispered, `you will not surely die!'). Carson argues that tolerance has lost its original meaning of finding ways to work and live with people even though we don't agree with them. The modern definition is the acceptance of a central claim: all sources, and all statements, of truth are equally valid. And because they are equally valid, they must all, also, be equally celebrated.
Chapter two lists a litany of social problems he believes are related to this problem. This is, perhaps, one of the weakest chapters in the book -- any Christian reading this type of material probably doesn't need to be convinced of the social problems caused by our society's intolerant tolerance.
From here, he moves into a short history of the concept of tolerance, and then explains how these two different views of tolerance make meaningful conversation difficult, if not impossible in some situations. There is a slip in this fourth chapter; Carson says, "sometimes the right sounds off about issues that few if any would want to be sorted out by rewriting the penal code - for example, the ideal of limited government or certain economic policies." But why should the issue of tolerance be tied to, or limited, by issues that can be solved by "rewriting the penal code?"
Chapter five deals with the Church and Christian truth claims, making the argument that when religion is forced into the private sphere, or subsumed to the state, it's no longer something religious adherents can actually practice. Chapter six, the problem of the further slippage of our language; in the name of tolerance, the word "evil," is being taken off the list of words you can use is polite company -- and yet, the world still recognizes evil. The words replacing evil are "hate," and "intolerance," which are not the same thing at all.
In the next chapter, the author deals with the problem of where the moral foundation of society comes from, relating that to the idea of tolerance through the concept of every moral system being right. He argues that the majority cannot be right -- there must be some other foundation for the legal and moral stands a culture makes. The final chapter is a wrap up that considers the Ten Commandments as a guiding moral force for today.
In his discussion on the history of tolerance, he misses the underlying tie between the State's desire for a moral code through which to control people to the betterment of the ruling class within minimal state oversight -- clearly a shaping factor in the Roman Catholic merger with the state under Constantine, and even in some of the discussions around and results of the Reformation. Carson also sometimes lapses into using the new definition of tolerance himself when dealing with how to solve this problem, saying Christians shouldn't be seen as trying to enforce their moral code on others, but this mixes up morals pulled through the filter of natural law from legal implementation of specific Christian belief.
For instance, unless Christians are to impose a Judeo-Christian perspective of tolerance through social and legal means, then how can tolerance itself actually survive? Don't Christians have to at least assert that their view of humans as individually created in the image of God, and hence individually worthy of respect and tolerance for a tolerant society that accepts non-Christian views to exist in the first place? The separation of church and state can only happen when the state is firmly grounded in a worldview that respects individuals because of the religious insistence that individual humans are worth more than grist for the state's mills of power -- and there is no worldview that supplies this base other than the Judeo-Christian worldview itself.
Overall, this is a much needed conversation opener on the nature and state of tolerance in the modern world, and the pernicious effects of our current view of tolerance.
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Reviewed by Jack Kettler
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