The Difference Between Old and New Tolerance

Keep Calm and Be TolerantTolerance is a popular word that is often thrown out in Western cultures today. To be labeled “intolerant” is just about the worst thing to be accused of. One of the problems that we face with this trend is the fact that the word “tolerant” itself has changed in recent times. We need to be clear what definition of “tolerance” we are working with when we use the word (or someone else uses the claim against us).

What Is Old Tolerance?
It is interesting that many dictionaries actually use an old/classic definition to describe tolerance. However, when one takes the time to read a dictionary definition of tolerance, it becomes apparent that this is not at all what many Oxford DictionaryWesterners actually think “tolerance” means today.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of Tolerance is as follows: The ability or willingness to tolerate (endure) the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with

Peter Kreeft defines old tolerance as: 

  • Be egalitarian regarding persons
  • Be elitist regarding ideas

In other words, if we are tolerant in the classic sense of the world, then we will view people as equally valid and we can indeed be loving towards all people whether we agree with their ideas or not. As Christians, we view others as people created in the image of God (imago dei). Regarding ideas, we are elitist because we do not believe that all ideas are true or that all ideas are good (ex. the moral outcry towards the idea that killing Jews is a good thing to do).

Under this definition, you cannot be tolerant of someone you do not disagree with. If you do not dislike or disagree with the other persons view, then you are not being tolerant you’re just agreeing.

What Is New Tolerance?
New tolerance takes Kreeft’s definition of old tolerance and says the complete opposite:

  • Be egalitarian regarding ideas
  • Be elitist regarding persons

Under new tolerance, it is not polite to say that one view is right and another is wrong. It is not polite to say that there even is such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral, etc. New tolerance says that you must not only accept the existence of another person’s ideas, but you actually must accept the other person’s ideas themselves. All views must be equally true and valid. In the same way we were taught as children that “there are no dumb questions” we are now told that “there are no dumb ideas.”

This new tolerance happens to be elitist regarding persons. This means that those who happen to disagree with the new definition of tolerance, should indeed, themselves, not be tolerated. Anyone who claims that another person is wrong should not be tolerated… how ironic.

What Is The Difference?

Old tolerance was a good and healthy idea for a society because it allowed hard differences on topics such as: morality, religion, politics, etc. If someone was truly tolerant in that sense of the word, there was room to debate issues as either right or wrong. Indeed, people believed that an objective right and wrong truly existed and should be sought after.

New tolerance, however, has been used as a means of intolerance in recent years. It does not allow for there to be debate and reasonable arguments on different matters. Those who hold to this new tolerance assume that their position is the superior view and anyone who deviates away from that must be intolerant (i.e. if you disagree about their views of homosexuality, abortion, and a whole host of political topics).

New tolerance claims to be neutral but is definitely not. Why? It has a bias and coerces others to agree with that bias by politically correct name-calling. It is not beneficial as a means to actual productive discussion.

God Bless,
Tyson Bradley

For further reading, I would recommend “The Intolerance of Tolerance” by D.A. Carson


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