A few weeks ago I came across a podcast recording of a conversation between D.A. Carson and Al Mohler which really challenged my perspective on how our culture approaches ideas and arguments.
One of the most important aspects of our existence is being able to face, understand and think about the world that surrounds us. We live our lives propelled by our perspectives on the life that surrounds us. The ideas that fill our minds and hearts are the most important determiners of our direction and fate in this great big world. We all believe in something, live for something, desire something, etc.
Because of the huge importance of the topic of our worldviews, our ability to engage in intelligent conversations about the issues that matter most to us is one of the most vital aspects of life. Throughout history, we can see that discussion and debate gave rise to conflict and separation, but it also inspired the continual search for truth in all the various areas of knowledge (science, philosophy, religion, sociology, etc.).
In all this, the classic definition of tolerance has been defined in the following way: though they might have profoundly disagreed with each other for a number of reasons, they would strongly defend their opponents right to present their ideas up for discussion. Disagreement was always targeted at the idea, not the person.
Yet in the last 20 years or so we have seen a massive shift in how people approach the whole issue of talking about what they believe. In today’s day and age, we believe that truth is shaped and created by the individual themselves, and therefore any disagreement with anything that a person says is taken as a personal attack on the one who said it. All of a sudden, the idea of tolerance is not just applied to the person themselves, but to the idea that they present. One must be tolerant, not only of people, but also of all the ideas that they present. Anyone who disagrees strongly with anything anyone else says, and defends their views is labeled ‘intolerant’.
We live in a culture that embraces and accepts, not only all people, but all ideas, regardless of their true standing value (or the lack of it). The one rule in today’s discussion is the fact that we are not allowed to think that our beliefs are better than the person next to us.
This is both absurd and intellectually suicidal. First of all, it promotes dishonesty – do we really think that everyone’s viewpoint is equally valid? No. We all believe what WE believe not what the person next to us believes, and we all have reasons for it. Second of all, it kills a huge opportunity to grow in our thinking ability. Schools have been built on the presupposition that each idea must be tried and tested. By killing the conversation, we are also killing the future of our own intellectual development. Third, and worst of all, it leads to the shunning and prejudice of those who truly seek to stand on their convictions. If you want to advance your ideas you are viewed as controlling, narrow-minded and offensive. Thus, what was once viewed as valuable and noble, is now ridiculed. This new ‘tolerance’ is actually an intolerance of true tolerance.
From a christian perspective, today’s foolish mindset is lines up really well with what the Bible says about the selfish human heart. As sinners we are naturally repulsive against any objective source of truth. We always want to be able to shape our own truth according to our selfish desires. The objective nature of the story of the person and work of Jesus Christ collides with this head on, and challenges the most foundational ideas that we depend on. The gospel is so much more than a ‘feel good story’ – it is message that makes powerful sense of every aspect of our existence.
Regardless of your background, I encourage you to resist this bankrupt culture shift and think deeply and carefully about what you believe and why, encourage those around you who stand on their convictions, and listen carefully and humbly to what they have to say. By doing so, you will not only deepen your own life and mind, but also the lives of the people around you.