The False god of Tolerance

R. R. Reno in his blog post , Religion in Public Life, comments on the false idea that tolerance is always a societal good.

“But I found myself thinking, why is tolerating pornography on library computers a sign of good citizenship? Or for that matter why is it a sign of civic virtue to be OK with racists teaching elementary school kids?

Tolerance is not, in itself, a virtue. On the contrary, tolerating what is vicious and wicked can be a sign of moral amnesia brought on by making a god of tolerance.

A friend of mine was a pastor in a small town in upstate New York, where he was on the local public library board. One board member wanted the library to buy and install filters to prevent library patrons from using library computers to view pornography. My friend thought: “Duh! Of course the library should do that.” But to his surprise and dismay the majority of the board voted against this measure. Why? Because it involved (horror of horrors) CENSORSHIP.

That decision and countless others have led to the degradation of public culture—a sign of misguided and bad citizenship, not good citizenship. To a great degree, urban public schools have been destroyed by tolerance of a bad sort. Gated communities and the segregation the rich from the poor—these are social phenomena reported with dismay, and rightly so. But why has this come about? Surely in part because of a permissive, overly tolerant mentality that allows the most violent, boorish, and disruptive citizen dominate public spaces.

I’m in favor of a wise and prudent tolerance. Indeed, I think it’s indispensable for life in a pluralistic society. But this good kind of tolerance is not unlimited. On the contrary, in our permissive age of enforced tolerance, a genuinely good citizen with a sense of responsibility for civic life needs to speak up for limits. Only a sane tolerance—one that knows its limits—can provide an enduring basis for a pluralistic society, and that’s what a good citizen endorse.”

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
This entry was posted in Church and the Public Square, Culture Wars. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The False god of Tolerance

  1. noah gimbel says:

    I came upon this post searching for peoples’ reactions to the concept of tolerance. I agree that the concept of tolerance can be harmful, but I’d like to point out another reason apart from the ones mentioned.
    Tolerance implies that something abnormal is being accepted, most likely with some reluctance by another who is considered the ‘normal’ party. Example: ‘Tolerating’ black children attending white schools affirms that it is the sole prerogative of the white society to determine whether or not the minority group will be allowed into their space. At the same time that this tolerance supposedly removes some barrier to equality, it places firmly in the hands of those who benefit from inequality the power over those who suffer from inequality.
    So while violence should not be tolerated by society, neither should seemingly innocuous things like integration – those innocuous things, those solutions to historic in-justice, should be imposed by society in the name of justice, not ‘tolerated.’
    There is a big difference, and this type of talk of tolerance should recognize that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s