On tolerance

I’ll be out of town for a few days and will continue my series, “The classical argument of God” when I get back. For now, I wanted to share a grace perspective on tolerance, adapted from Larry Osborne’s book,  Thriving in Babylon.

Tolerance doesn’t mean we’re saying everyone is right; it means we grant people the right to be wrong.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 39 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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30 Responses to On tolerance

  1. John Branyan says:

    As you know, we are pretty intolerant of other’s definitions of tolerance.

  2. KIA says:

    Saying tolerance is affording others the right to be wrong is not tolerance. It’s arrogance. It doesn’t allow for the possibility that you are wrong yourself.

  3. Anthony Paul says:

    “…I wanted to share a grace perspective on tolerance…”

    Mel, I must say that I’m beginning to see some rather glaring cracks in your wall of intellect. “Grace of tolerance” you say? Do I really need to point out to you that many people come here from the other side of the faith spectrum and that in the real world out here (KIA has it right) this is little more than downright arrogance. It doesn’t ring true except perhaps within the walls of a church where many (not all) bobble-headed christians are happy smiling and nodding in agreement with everything the pastor says… after all, he isn’t pastor for nothing.

    Sorry, friend… but your comment is neither graceful nor tolerant. In fact, it’s rather offensive and smacks of the kind of elitist mentality that so many christians are often accused of by those searching for some kind of immutable truth in their lives.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Anthony. I understand what you’re saying and that it could be taken that way, but it wasn’t meant that way. And why is it assumed that it’s only Christians who thinks they’re right about everything, and the same doesn’t apply to those who think we’re wrong? That sounds rather prejudicial to me.

      Actually, there is humility in the intent of this statement. Let me clarify. We all think we’re right about what we believe whether we’re theists or atheists. If we didn’t we would have no convictions or opinions. People come here on my blog and think I’m wrong about things; I will think they’re wrong about things. So, it’s not about Christians being right and everybody else being wrong. It’s about accepting disagreements gracefully.

      I hope that makes sense.

      • Anthony Paul says:

        “And why is it assumed that it’s only Christians who thinks they’re right about everything, and the same doesn’t apply to those who think we’re wrong?”

        Two things here, Mel. First that sounds very defensive… and yes! Others can be wrong as well… but even as a believer I have to admit that some of the most unteachable and unreachable people I have ever dialogued with are christians, not atheists. There is a brand of christianity (“God said it, I believe it, that settles it”) that is very closed off to any kind of meaningful dialogue. Secondly, not just as believers, but as followers of the One by whose name we call ourselves (if I refer to myself as “christian” I often follow it with a qualifier because the connotations embarrass me) we are supposed to accept it as a matter of course that we will be misunderstood as Jesus Himself who offended and continues to offend many today. So people are prejudiced against believers… nothing new here… why do you seem surprised by that? Look… all I’m saying is that if we’re trying to start an argument with “the world” then this is a good way to go about it; but if the intent is to reach people by putting out our hand to help a brother or sister who happens to be climbing the same mountain in order to reach the top… as we all are, then it’s not helpful to poke people in the eye with one hand as we reach for them with the other.

        One final point… I can’t begin to count the number of books I’ve read by good christian writers who all point the way to Jesus and the salvation of His blood and Cross… and I found most of it to be worthless drivel after the first few sentences that generally start with the idea that God sent His son in human flesh to live and die (forgiving and loving us in the process) and rise again so that we could have eternal life… (that’s the whole message — there… I’ve just written my first book). A lot of what these writers said was arrogant and condescending to just about anyone who disagreed with them. As I have gotten older I have changed my views about who is right and who is wrong about anything (it’s not about that anyway), but most especially about the nature and purpose of Divinity. I believe that in some ways we all have it right and wrong to one degree or another…. the important part is that we all stay engaged in the dance together… that’s how we get to know who God truly is… in community and fellowship with all. God is in the physically and spiritually poor… the defeated, the lost. He is in that atheist who is pissing you off

        I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am coming up with my own personal beliefs that I like to respectfully share with people, and that includes everyone regardless of what religion they follow or even if they don’t believe in God at all. Our beliefs after all don’t create God, they only allow us to develop a clearer idea of who he might be for us today in the here and now as He suffers in communion with us. This is a journey which of necessity puts us mostly on different paths to one degree or another; it is not a contest. What I have come to learn is simpy this: I don’t need to be “right”, because I am on a journey which should be taking me closer to my Source and that what I know about that Source can go on the head of a pin… and that we are all sharing this dream together as part of God’s own dream and that something marvelous is supposed to be happening here as some of us are awakening to the reality of who we all are and of what we are supposed to be doing as we move on to the next phase of eternal life… and God and His angels are looking on with great excitement and joy.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Anthony, I’m very surprised by the reaction I’m getting here. I may be wrong but it sounds like you’re talking past what I meant based on your past experience with fundamentalists or something. My statement was more about the traditional view that being tolerant means you must agree with everybody, nobody is wrong, to each his own, etc. That is not a good form of toleration. It can easily lead to subjective incoherence and the truth is never found. It also takes no real humility to just agree with everyone. You could pride yourself in being “tolerant.” But true toleration comes when you grant them to their convictions even if you disagree.

          but even as a believer I have to admit that some of the most unteachable and unreachable people I have ever dialogued with are christians, not atheists.

          I can see that and agree (which is why I also feel like I need to qualify the term “Christian”!). But it’s also very popular and easy nowadays to just bash people of faith and blame it all on those “intolerant Christians.” And I’ve also experienced a lot of very angry and judgmental and obstinate atheists who all they seem to want to do is prove how wrong I am. They talk like they believe in toleration until you disagree with them. Some are every bit as dogmatic in their anti-theism as the most extreme religious fundamentalist. I think it’s really a human problem more than one of religion. Angry people project their anger on to whatever they strongly believe in. Ideologues can be bad in every flavor. But that was not the point of my statement.

          Thinking one is right is not necessarily a fact, it’s an opinion (unless you’re talking about math or logic). And we all have an opinion. The bottom line is, somebody will be right and someone will be wrong about a lot of things. BUT we can come to some consensus as a society, as you said. I agree. And, since this is true, our communication between opposing groups should not have as its highest goal being right and proving the other guy wrong. That’s just polarizing, combative, ineffective, and immature relationally. It should be to understand one another. So, even IF I think someone else is wrong and I am right, regardless of whether that’s true, I should grant them that right (even if it turns out that I am wrong). Again, that is not arrogant. That is humility because, in spite of my opinion or conviction, I grant them the right to theirs. They may believe just as adamantly as I do and we’re at an impasse. So let me say it this way. True toleration comes in, not by saying everyone is right (which cannot be true), but by granting them the right to what they believe even if we think they are wrong. Some things may never be proven one way or another. In the meantime, graceful communication stays open.

          Btw, your last paragraph had a lot of good things to say! I agree. My comment’s already too long, but I was hoping that my statement would imply that it’s not a contest. Having to be right is not the end all, be all. That actually stunts maturity and truth. And we will find that path partly by granting other people the right to an opinion we may think is wrong. Yes,again,we may even find out we were wrong. That’s the grace aspect of this kind of toleration. But just saying everyone is right, or that everything is subjective, would not a good form of toleration.

        • Nan says:

          And may I add to your statement — ” … we will find that path partly by granting other people the right to an opinion we may think is wrong” … and doing so in humility and grace.

          Plus, it never hurts to ask questions, either. The person that disagrees has his/her reasons just as you have yours. Productive discussions/conversations will include looking at both sides with as little bias as possible … and being OPEN to conflicting opinion.

          One more point to consider … throwing out sarcastic comments and barbs does nothing to encourage productive conversations.

        • Mel Wild says:

          That’s true, but again, it goes both ways. For instance, I find that “atheists” (for lack of a better word) tend to have all kinds of bias and prejudice about “Christians” (for lack of a better word) when talking to me, based on their experience with other Christians I suppose. And they have called me names, accused me of lying, being disingenuous, when they don’t know me at all. That does get a bit annoying. That’s why I apologized to Ben when I misjudged his comments in the other post. I understand how that feels.

          And, sometimes, sarcasm comes from after a long history with combative people who have shown they aren’t really interested in productive conversations. They’re only interested in telling us how wrong we are. And some sarcasm can make a point, if it’s not done in a mean way. But I agree with you. It would be better to engage in a more productive conversation.

        • Ben says:

          Mel, while there have been some things you have written about that I don’t necessarily agree with, reacting angrily and impulsively is not the way to go about showing that I disagree. So I too apologize. You reacted rather harshly to my first comment on your previous post and looking back, you were definitely justified in being offended. I would have felt that way too. You may have thought that I was just another head on a monster who showed up just to fling mud and you reacted accordingly. I clarified my position so you knew a little bit about where I was coming from, but I have absolutely no hard feelings for why you felt the way you did. If I feel one way or another about something, I know that I need to be patient and more thoughtful in my responses. I think if we all just paused to take a breath and respond civilly, we can have much better dialogue and debate.

          As far as tolerance is concerned, we all need to be much more tolerant than we have been on the past with regards to our differing beliefs. If someone believes this and another believes that, we need to be respectful and discuss it with open minds. It’s not going to be productive if we all assume we know what the other is thinking based on previous discussions or just because someone on one side is an atheist and the other a Christian (or somewhere in between). We can, and most likely will from time to time, disagree and that’s okay. Finding common ground is better than each side just trying to come out the winner. Having compassion and understanding is much better than going home with a trophy.

          I have spent some time the last couple of days reflecting on who I am and how I respond to people on both ends of the religious spectrum. I have come to the realization that I don’t really know where I fit so to attack you or anyone else is unfair. Piggy-backing is unhelpful as well. Both sides do it but back slaps and high fives just make the divide between opposing views even greater. I once believed as you do (maybe to a different extent) and now I am kind of in-between. I can see some good points from both sides. Those who don’t agree with your side have some questions that I too have. That’s why I think so many people ask you for evidence. Getting a better understanding of why you believe what you believe is something both sides can discuss and debate. I think many people don’t really know who you are (personally) and maybe you don’t know all of us very well either, besides the comments that push against each other. Having a truly faithful person explain what keeps them faithful is (for me at least) a big deal. I know many people on here push for evidence, but for me it isn’t evidence so much as it is a missing puzzle piece. When I lost my puzzle piece (whether justified or not) I just threw the whole puzzle out rather than try to find the missing and make it fit.

          I think (and I don’t really care if anyone else reading this agrees with this or not) that anger, frustration, bitterness and regret can add unnecessary negativity to our conversations and pit one side against the other. I can only speak for myself as I think those things added fuel to some of my comments as well as some of my own more recent blog posts.

          I know this is a rather long comment, but I just wanted you to know that whether I think you or anyone else is right or wrong, I will keep an open mind…and a civil tongue. I think that we sometimes think if we upstage the other side, we will somehow come out ahead. I disagree with that. I think that if we are more open and honest with each other, instead of avoiding questions just to prove a point, then we can make some progress. We can (respectfully) agree to disagree and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Very well said, Ben. And I appreciate your candor and insight. It’s also helpful to hear you here and get to know you a little better. Plato said an unexamined life is not worth living. I’m not sure I would go quite that far but the principle is sound. Our willingness to step back and look at ourselves constructively is a sign of maturity.

          Let me know if you have specific questions that hang you up (other than the “evidence” question, which is too vague). I can try to give you my perspective on them.

          Your last statement that we can respectfully agree to disagree is the gist of my “tolerance” statement. Maybe I need to tweak it some so it’s not misunderstood.

        • Ben says:

          Thanks Mel. I just think that on both sides of the debate we all need to be open, honest and patient with each other. There are strong, opposing opinions that sometimes make us forget that the person on the other side is in fact a real person with real feelings. We all experience the same human emotions despite our religious or irreligious leanings. There are experiences in our lives that have brought us to our current positions and have led to our convictions. To each person, they are the correct positions. To others, they are way off. When someone is right (or at least they think they are) it is easy to roll eyes and point fingers. I have been married nearly 20 years and I’ve been right so many times. That is of course, until my wife shows me how wrong I’ve been. I was sure at times that her stance was way off base, but when I took the time to listen and put myself in her shoes, I was humbled and my apologies were hers for the taking. 🙂

          When I read through the comment section of your posts I see a lot of “this is the truth and your view is wrong” coming from both sides. That’s fine, as we are all entitled to our opinions. But when it starts to get nasty, I can’t help but think we’re missing opportunities to find common ground. Playing the blame game solves nothing. Instead of saying it’s the other side’s fault, we need to look ourselves in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable for our own words and actions. Anger and hate solve nothing. Patience, understanding and compassion? These things can change the world.

          I am sure that I will have many questions for you in the future about this or that, but for now I will leave you with this: no matter what the actual truth is, no one is right all of the time. No one. We may think we are and we sit up on our high horses, looking down at all those who we feel are wrong, telling them how very wrong they are. We all do it at one time or another. But high horses are not things we should want to hop up on. High horses are nasty, divisive creatures. But the high road? That’s something else. That’s where we each need to take our positions. If instead of looking down at someone else, we all hold ourselves to higher standards, avoiding pettiness, we will notice one obvious characteristic of this high road. It is perfectly flat. It is flat so that neither side can look down upon the other. Instead, we can all look in each other’s eyes and see each one of us as equals. Whether you are right or someone else is right, it doesn’t matter. All debates should end in a hand shake instead of walking away frustrated or bitter.

          Take care Mel.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Again, very well said. Look forward to talking to you in the future.

  4. jim- says:

    True tolerance would lead one to examine carefully the ideas of another viewpoint, instead of dismissing them because it doesn’t align with their belief. That is how we come to consensus and truth

    • Mel Wild says:

      I agree. But even if there is an impasse and we still think the other is wrong, we allow for it and come to an consensus. What it still doesn’t mean that everyone is right.

      • jim- says:

        I know you know my leanings Mel, and we have been at complete odds for some time now. Why is that? Having fifty years to try out something that never came to fruition, I think I have done my best to examine and try faith as a viable option. It has no substance. Have you and your followers considered another option at all? With honest intent?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks Jim. I do appreciate that you’ve been gracious here with your comments. I’m not sure what to tell you on your faith issues. It seems you’ve already made up your mind. I can only tell you that I’ve had my faith tested severely about 20 years ago, I’d lost hope in typical “American” Christianity that I was experiencing (would probably agree with a lot of what ex-converts have said about churches), almost literally lost everything that was dear to me, but then somehow I got it back after a long process. So, yes, I have considered “the other option” and have read all the main arguments.

          But saying there is no God, to me, is logically incoherent. I don’t mean that to be insulting or condescending. I mean that, personally, having considered all the arguments, “no God” it’s not really in the running. While I can see where people won’t like religion, or even certain forms of Christianity, I don’t see the logic of having no ontological explanation for our existence. And I say that both from personal experience and logical deduction. From personal experience I have never felt God be more real to me now than in any other time in my 40 years as an believer. Of course, I can’t use my experience to try to convince someone else. They would need to experience my experience! But arguments won’t win me because I wasn’t won by an argument in the first place.

          So, I guess I’m saying it’s hard for me to answer the question for someone else. I can only describe how I see it. It really is a faith issue in the end, even if one only believes in empirical evidence. There’s still an “unknown” in the equation because we can’t know all things.

        • jim- says:

          Thanks. I do enjoy the discussions, and have learned a thing or two along the way. Good night Mel. Hasta Mañana

  5. Stefan says:

    So true, Mel! In today’s world, where information is unlimited, we have a lot of variance in the things we believe. To find the truth and to defend our choice, we have to openly talk about why we believe what we believe. But in those arguments, instead of going right in and taking our personal feelings with it is not the way to go. We have to let the material and the truth do the work. It’s okay if somebody else does not agree with us. Let the truth stand on it’s own. Our job is to love people and express our viewpoint. Have a good trip! God bless!

  6. Enjoy your travels, Mel!

    I haven’t read that book yet, but I love the comment. I like the process, the kind of love that allows people the space and the freedom to be totally wrong. Like saying I love you and I trust you enough to get it right…eventually. On the other hand, I’ve simply gone and embraced my intolerance, because I finally realized that the things I don’t tolerate are important enough to fight for.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Exactly. A healthy relationship works through the process. We all feel strongly about certain things. We must grant the other person the right to feel just as strongly about what they believe and respect that, even if we think they’re wrong. Hopefully, what is true will win out eventually but the relationship is more important.

  7. Chris says:

    Many of you on here are very intellectual. I am not. After reading, studying, thinking, and reasoning; I am of the persuasion that God will fix and heal and restore and purify and enlighten us all in His own due time and in His own perfect way. I believe we are all included in His perfect plan. In the meantime, as far as is possible with me; I will make it my aim to be at peace with all others. There is something healthy about tolerance, and then there can be a danger if it is taken too far or if it isn’t offered as much as is possible. Even when I see or hear things in an other’s life that I despise and simply cannot tolerate, I must filter my emotions and response through the truth that each one of us has one Father.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Chris. I think that’s what I was trying to say. Tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean we think everything is right or even condone everything someone says or does. It means that we allow them the right to have that position. In other words, we value people over ideas or worldviews.

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