William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tolerance As A Principle Of The Gospel

The comment was made:

"On another thread I made the comment that tolerance is not a principle of the gospel, but that obedience is. What I mean by this is that we do not have to tolerate evil or help men justify their evil acts. I am continually amazed that people seem to think that all manner of sin and wickedness deserve the same sort of tolerance that we should give to differences of opinion, race, or cultural differences.

But I know that some will differ and claim that even tolerance of evil is a principle of the gospel. So I guess what I am asking is why people think that?"

To which I responded:

First, I think we have to address some definitional issues. Tolerance has been defined generally as:

"1. The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.
a. Leeway for variation from a standard.
b. The permissible deviation from a specified value of a structural dimension, often expressed as a percent."

"Evil acts" is unfortunately somewhat vague. I don't expect anyone to tolerate murder, for example. But what about tolerance for people choosing not to believe in God? Should we respect their belief even though it differs from our own? I think so, even though tolerance does not mean that we must agree with someone.

Often times we may have a lot in common with people but will disagree with them for various reasons, including: different life experiences, different world views, different methodologies for concluding what is true, natural skepticism, overall attitude, etc. In deciding whether to tolerate someone's beliefs or behaviors, I believe we should consider some critical principles, including, without limitation, the following:

1) Whether there is room for reasonable disagreement on a particular point by people acting in good faith, including conflicting evidence and arguments, or lack of objective evidence (i.e., you might feel based on your personal spirutual experiences that it is extremely obvious that God exists, but for someone who has not had such experiences, and has not seen God, as most people haven't, it may be perfectly reasonable not to believe in him);

2) Whether the belief or behavior is objectively harmful (i.e., murder certainly is by any reasonable standard, but there is great disagreement over whether masturbation is, for example (and, indeed, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community says it is not));

3) The general principles that discovering the truth will sometimes require exercising faith, and that we have a general moral obligation to sometimes sacrifice our short-term desires for the needs of others.

So, in conclusion, I believe that tolerance IS most certainly a principle of the gospel. Intolerance is often the result of overconfidence in the face of doubt- a failure to appreciate the possibility that you could be mistaken in your beliefs. If all of the grief and suffering in human history brought about by intolerance has taught us nothing else, it should teach us humility. While we all may have our private convictions, we should exercise great caution in our judgments, because, as Jesus instructed, we may be judged with the same level of harshness with which we judge others. That is not to say that we should never judge, for indeed we must; but in doing so, we must remember that resepect for reasonable disagreement is one of the cornerstones of human peace, harmony, and even democracy. Both in our family relationships, and with the rest of the world, tolerance is the principle which helps us get along despite our differences. If that is not a true principle of the gospel, then I am not so sure the Celestial Kingdom is the place for me.

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