An unsettling thought indeed and there are good reason for not dismissing this thought outright particularly when we look at the word tolerance.
Society believes, or say it believes, that all people have a right to their own opinion -- and there are those who hold that some opinions are better than others. That is to be expected. For once, we have all different values, outlook of life, cultural upbringing, to name just a few components that play a role in our development of opinions. However, we have often difficulties to listen honestly and carefully to each others point of view. The reason for that is in my view that we often arrived at an understanding without really understanding the why, why we hold that particular opinion. After all, rather than being rational we are emotional beings that arrive at lives decisions, values and opinions not after a lengthy time of reflection. And therefore, on both side of a debate about anything, we tend to want our cake and eat it too.
What does that all mean in practice to us today? I must say, I am not really sure all that it means to the Church in practice at this moment. However, it should be clear that the changes in media and court decisions will further highlight the clear riff between the underlying foundation of society at large and the church. To begin, however, it clearly means this: We, the followers of Christ, have been utterly foolish in our concentration on trying to segregate from one another because of different opinions in our systematic theologies. That excluding behaviour has broken down the truth in bits and pieces and has taken away from the big picture. This inadvertently pointed to a problem in the theology of love, as some regard "Christianity" and their own denomination's name and particulars to be synonyms. This has not only taken our focus from making disciples of Christ but also to a complete failure to face the total world view that informs our daily life decisions. Rather than addressing the foundation that brings us together into conflict with the world, we have opt for the easy way out and are holding small inhouse debates, "trying" to convert one another. And in so doing we effectively failed to witness to the truth that Jesus was sent.
We have not understood that different world views, being accountable to someone other or not, will effect the totality of all bits and pieces and inevitably brings forth totally different results in life, cf. abortions. I don't think that is nowhere more obvious than in media and law -- where a different world view with its bits and pieces is almost forced into our thinking.
Unfortunately, many believe or at least act today as if rational, emotionless discussions about different opinions, resulting from a different world view, have no place in the public realm since all answers are based on personal opinions. We are increasingly taught, we are simply stuck with our different opinions and that all opinions are relative -- having no basis in any objective or unchanging moral truth. Therefore, anything which presents or argues from an absolute truth position is quite rightly seen to be a total denial of a relative position and can't be allowed. In some respect, both positions is an exclusivist one, and at least on an intellectual level intolerant when it presents itself exclusively through political or legal institutions. Tolerance, once expressed as respecting others' right to hold differing perspectives, has morphed into a pervasive insistence that no one should hold firm convictions.But we need to be honest, the history of the church is full of intolerance.
What is truth?
"What is truth?" retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. The NIV translation, perhaps unintentionally, points to a believe of relativism of morality and truth by Pilate. And that should be expected, because the politic of Rom was if not to respect but at least to tolerate local religious believes, it kept the peace. Perhaps skeptical that any are true, he also observe that religions brought a sense of purpose, comfort, stability, and security to people's lives. He too might regard religious diversity as a positive force bringing social stability and cohesiveness within the realm of the empire. Thus, he might be religiously tolerant. In this sense we may want to accuse him to have a relative view of truth, a view that is so prevalent in our society today. What is truth? This today fundamental question was not meant to be answered. It was not an inquire from someone seeking after truth, but rather a rhetorical question. For Pilate was really saying, you have no basis or right to make moral judgements about individuals and their actions or about society at large. Who are you to judge? Who are you to judge me, Jesus or the procedure that will follow?
The question about the foundation of life is a serious one, and is raised in one form or the other by many people in our contemporary society. It is serious because Pilate suggest relativism, and here particularly moral relativism, whereas Jesus calls attention to himself; "I am the truth,..." With whom do we side? The view when it comes to moral issues there is no universally objective right or wrong in any given situation, or with Jesus? Are we going with; What is in the interest of the majority, what is in the interest of peace for the majority? A sentiment we find in Caiaphas; "it's better one man should die for the people." That is not to say than humankind is not intrinsically unselfish, corrupted only by outward circumstances and influences. No, we are fallen and not fully what we were created to be. The question simply is; who is going to be the judge on the bench?
It is true, we are all socialized from such an early age and to such an extend that it is very difficult to separate what is cultural from what is personal. We cannot deny it, we are to a large degree the product of our upbringing with its surrounding cultural influences. That position is not particularly easy for some people to take. However it is essential if religious peace is to be maintained in Canada where religious diversity is rapidly increasing. In some cases, tolerance can simply be a result of a lack of religious convictions -- i.e. lack of discipleship or a byproduct of indifference. Some Christians may have few or no strong religious convictions of their own. They will probably be quite tolerant of other people's beliefs in the sense that hey simply don't care what others or they themselves believe.
There, therefore, can be neither inappropriate or appropriate judgement, and no reasonable or rational ways to make moral judgements that would apply in every time, in every place, in every culture, and to every person? Really?
At the same time, we need to admit that today's western societies have become largely areligious while coming from a Christian background which nonetheless informed their values.
What is truth? This question unanswered leads to the danger of moral relativism at which end only subjective opinions and personal preferences exist, no different from one's feeling about capital punishment, female circumcision or the preferred ice-cream flavour, or hockey player.
When we look into the development, the unfolding of the story, relativism simply doesn't carry enough bit to save tolerance, or the individual. What we rather detect is a kind of ambiguity or different self-interests that lead to injustice. The authority of power to judge (Pilate) was no exercised because of situational self-interests, but also the want of the majority. Therefore, although Jesus was pronounced innocent according to the opinion of Pilate, he got executed in a method that was otherwise chiefly inflicted on slaves or the worst kind of criminals. On one hand the by the Jewish law required stoning for blasphemy did not take place yet consideration was given to the Sabbath law. We see and find ourselves in a climate of inconsistency, contradiction, cohesion and self-interests, little has changed. And around and around we go in this regressive spiral where we find ourselves sacrificing today not Christ but tolerance in the name of exclusivity be it relativism or absolutism.
The problem we face than and today is that moral relativism doesn't protect tolerance since anyone can choose to value mutual tolerance or not. After all, there can't be any reasons for preferring one set of values over another, except mine because they suite me best. But tolerance or to tolerate proper understood is nothing more than to put up with, conditionally, with a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own. But that requires that we actually have strong convictions ourselves, rather than lose opinions.
Tolerance, I believe is the underlying current in what the New Testament presents to us. However, neither tolerance nor permissiveness toward an action frees us from providing an alternative response in love. Tolerance is not indifference. True tolerance means taking our deeply held convictions seriously because understanding and sharing our differences actually makes a difference. Disagreements matter. True tolerance means engaging one another with love and respect despite our differences. We need a recovery of a biblical expression of tolerance, insisting that the existence of disparate views even and perhaps more important among Christians is vastly different from the acceptance of all views being equally valid. Tolerance understood in this way is not really an abstract, personified ideal, but has always been, although in a subtle way a dominant part of the early witness of the church. Intolerance, if we want to call it that way, was exercised within the small confinement of a local church addressing sin rather than differences of religious opinions and values. Tolerance in love, however, is vital to the life of the church even if only for the weaker brothers and sisters.