“Shut Up, Bigot!”: The Intolerance of Tolerance

toleranceMercatorNet 20 August 2015
America is in the midst of a raging national debate on issues surrounding sexuality and gender. If you dare to suggest that gender is determined by sex and is immutable, that same-sex sex acts are immoral, or that marriage is a permanent, exclusive union of husband and wife, then you will be called an intolerant bigot, hater, and homophobe.

Where does the charge of bigotry come from? Is it just a passing fad, a political and social tool for power and control, or do its roots go deeper?

Bigotry is defined as “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.” Notice that bigotry is not intolerance toward the opinions or beliefs of persons other than yourself, but intolerance of the other person. Bigotry is not simply disagreeing with what someone else believes; it is an unwillingness to tolerate or accept the person who holds those beliefs.

A little reflection on this definition will reveal that the vast majority of bigotry accusations populating the internet and in public discourse are not legitimate ones. On the contrary, they are the consequence of a mistaken view of tolerance that is itself a product of a warped postmodern epistemology.
Two Views of Tolerance
Under the traditional view of tolerance, two aspects were required: first, that you respected the right of the person or individual in question to hold his beliefs and voice his opinions; and second, that you had a right to disagree with those beliefs and contest them both privately and publicly. As D.A. Carson paraphrases it in The Intolerance of Tolerance, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” You do not have to like the person with whom you disagree, but you do have to respect and tolerate his right to speak.

This conception entails tolerance toward the person while allowing intolerance toward beliefs. Since beliefs are abstract objects communicated through propositions in written or spoken language, they have no inherent dignity in themselves. It does them no harm or offense to disagree with them or offer a rebuttal. Disagreeing with or being intolerant of a belief, in this view, is fundamentally different from being intolerant or hateful toward the person who holds that belief. In other words, this definition is built on a clear and obvious distinction between a person and his beliefs.
Intolerance: The Supreme Sin
A critical error of the new tolerance is that it conflates beliefs and persons. In this view, to accept divergent beliefs is to be accepting and respectful of the person who holds them; conversely, to reject a belief as untrue is thought to be a rejection of the person who holds that belief. To say, “I think your view is false,” is akin to saying something unkind and insensitive about the person with that belief.

Thus according to the new tolerance, to be intolerant toward another’s beliefs is to be intolerant toward the person. And intolerance toward persons, incidentally, is the definition of bigotry. So when traditionalists voice dissent against the array of beliefs held by sexual liberals, this is interpreted as a rejection of the people who hold those views. Thus, within the incoherent paradigm of the new tolerance, the accusation of bigotry appears justified.
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