09 April 2013

Book Review: The Intolerance of Tolerance

I have read a few of DA Carson's books and this may be my favorite. In 2012, he published The Intolerance of Tolerance, which is an extended reflection on the modern notion of tolerance. In our postmodern culture where everything goes, it seems that tolerance is the queen mother of all virtues.  Forget love. forget truth. Tolerance represents the pinnacle of our aspirations. Carson sets out to refute these modern notions.

Importantly, Carson sets out early on to differentiate between the old definition of tolerance and the new definition of tolerance. Basically, the older tolerance, which is a still a positive virtue in society, accepts that there are different views held among people. The newer tolerance means accepting that view as at least as valid as your own.  Objective right and wrong are stripped of their meaning.  Ironically, the only thing that those espousing the new tolerance are willing to be intolerant of is intolerance or absolutist thinking.  Carson says it this way, "under the aegis of this new tolerance, no absolutism is permitted, except for the absolute prohibition of absolutism" (p. 13).

After briefly establishing his line of reasoning, Carson provides numerous examples of how this new tolerance plays out in society. Often, the targets are Christians, though not always.  He does demonstrate rather convincingly that Christians are most often the focus of these inquiries by the tolerance police though many groups (e.g., Orthodox Jews, Muslims) may hold to equally "intolerant" views. 

Though many compelling examples were shared, one I found particularly incredulous was found on page 41. He wrote, "In 2004, in the Russian city of Beslan, Islamic terrorists took 1200 people hostage in a public school. They ultimately slaughtered 344 people, 186 of them students. On a smaller scale, but still horrific, two disturbed students massacred 13 people at Columbine High School. [One could certainly add the more recent episodes of violence that have occurred as well]. In the wake of such events, it is not surprising that many schools have run drills so that teachers and students alike will have some idea how to react if such violence breaks out in their schools--locking classroom doors, staying below window level, and so forth while coordinating the work of police and other public safety officials. In New Jersey in April 2007, one such drill was run by the Burlington Police Department. And who were the mock terrorists supposed to be? Homeschooling Christian fundamentalists. Three years earlier, a similar drill in Muskegon County, Michigan, featured homeschooling wackos who detonate a bomb on a school bus. 

"Some local exasperation followed. But can you imaging what would have happened if the mock terrorists had been depicted as turban-wearing Islamic jihadists? Can one think of a single instance of organized Christian homeschoolers threatening, let alone carrying out, terrorist violence?"

As I was pondering this book, I wonder if or when we will return to a society where true and real debate is encouraged.  I wonder if rising generations will be well enough informed of the realities of society, morality, and truth to be able to put forward a cogent argument while still respecting the other with whom you disagree rather than merely insisting the other to be intolerant, hateful, or bigoted when they share an alternative viewpoint.

Highly recommended.

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