Tolerance is this word that is thrown around, by myself included, which tends to mean different things to different people.  In a previous post Amy Schultz called me out in my use of this word in the context of tolerance toward homosexuality versus the mainstream Christian viewpoint that homosexuality is wrong.  Her comment read as follows:

“I think you just spoke out of both sides of your mouth! To say that disagreeing with a lifestyle is intolerance, is in itself a statement of intolerance and not respecting the idea of agreeing to disagree!  This is where definitions are important!  Let’s come to some agreement with what tolerance means definitively. To love others in spite of disagreement is tolerance in my opinion.  Agreement with the lifestyle as tolerance would mean to achieve unity we must have uniformity and that is not interesting at all!  That is like listening to music with no harmony, only unison voices.  Love helps us to rise above differences and come to common ground with our differences and diversity.  It also creates interest and harmony.  Religion that requires everyone think, act and look the same is legalism, not Christian.”

I have to say that I have the utmost respect for what Amy is saying here, and I agree with her reasoning for bringing this to our attention.  I would like to both define tolerance, as well as state my position on tolerance.

Tolerance is defined as:

1.   a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differs from one’s own; freedom from bigotry

2.   a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.

3.   interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

4.   the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited.

So, it is clear that key elements to tolerance are the attitudes that people carry, not necessarily the feelings that they have toward a particular opinion, practice or person.  This is an external projection of one’s own beliefs and feelings onto a given person or situation.  The interest in, the concerns for and the capacity to endure ideas that differ, or are foreign to one’s self are internal abilities that one can strengthen through practice and increasing familiarity with these different and foreign entities of the world.

To me, the most important elements of true tolerance are being liberal (favorable to or in accordance with concepts of maximum individual freedom; free from prejudice or bigotry; open-minded; free or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas) and undogmatic (unwilling to accept dogma, especially in religion; not asserting opinions in an arrogant manner, not pertaining to a set of presubscribed tenets or doctrine authoritively laid down, as by a church.)

As we have seen time and time again, societies of men/women have established opinions beliefs and principles that we later come to realize are simply social constructions of our surroundings in which we often use our governments, our churches and our personal unwillingness to understand those who practice different life patterns.  Dogmatic practices have lead to the death, persecution and suppression of blacks, Hispanics, women, Jews, “witches,” Native Americans, mentally and physically handicapped, little people, homosexuals, the poor, and many many other sects of societies.  People and their cultures have been socially mishandled due to preconceived notions, and also from misrepresentation or direct language coming from religious texts or leaders.

I would like to add that this is not imply that I believe all behavior should receive tolerance.  For one example, if the actions of a person inflicts harm or stress on another person or takes advantage of another person who is an unwilling participant or is incapable of making an informed decision, I believe this to be wrong because a person is essentially stripping the justice, the fairness and the essence away from another human being.

Thanks Amy!  I hope I clarified my current position.  I look forward to your response as well as those of others.