A Look at Three Widely Misunderstood Terms Part I of III

After much consideration, I’ve come to the realization that the three most misunderstood terms in modern society are tolerance, moderate, and respect.  In modern times, these terms have come to mean or at least suggest one does not have a firm belief system, lacks conviction, is wishy-washy, or all things are equal although that is not what these things truly mean.  This note will focus on tolerance and what it should look like.

Tolerance means we do not expect everyone to act like us, believe as we believe, or look like us.  Differences that are expressed in a rational, respectful manner are accepted and respected even when two people completely disagree.  Respectful and reasonable expressions of another’s beliefs should be readily accepted without the expectation that the other person will convert to your way of thinking.  Instead of expecting all conversations to lead to the conversion of the other person, these conversations should be a time for both parties to learn from and about the other.  We should be able to listen, offer rebuttals, and thoughtfully consider the beliefs expressed as we are still able to learn from the other.  What exactly does the other person believe?  Why does this person believe what they believe?  How did they come to believe this?  These are questions we can always seek to understand even when we are unable to agree regarding the primary issue.  This is not arguing; it is intelligent conversation between intelligent people regarding the most difficult topics of our time: religion, theology, politics, and law.

The Christian may look at this and wonder if tolerance means they cannot speak out regarding what they believe is sinful or must praise sinful behavior.  My response would be, “No!  We must speak out in a considerate and dignified manner.”  We must accept the fact every person has the free will to accept or deny Christ and Christianity and to live a moral or immoral life.  Just as people denied Christ and Christianity when Christ walked the earth, people will deny him in this day and age.  Is this disappointing to Christians?  Yes.  Our response to this disappointment should be to fulfill our Christian duty to encourage people to live in accordance with natural law and the teachings of Christ and to witness to the best of our ability in a considerate manner even when we are faced with derogatory treatment, but we must respect each person’s free will decisions.  This does not mean their behaviors or beliefs are correct or in accordance with Christianity, but it means we realize we cannot force people to live in accordance with Christian teachings and allows us to leave the door open to reach those who disagree with us.

When we see things from the other person’s perspective our beliefs, when properly formed, will be solidified.  We have to come to the realization that intelligent people will come to different beliefs/opinions and, especially for the Christians among us, even when these beliefs are offensive to us we have to respect the person’s free will to disagree with us.  Sadly, our ability to rationally and objectively communicate with others is limited as we’ve entered an era of emotionalism and subjectivism with rational thought all but thrown out the window.  (Thank you, Mr. X, for helping me with this last turn of phrase and for listening as I work through my thoughts.)

There will be two more posts in this series so as to cover moderate and respect; these posts will be posted on December 11 and 18.