The Intolerance of Tolerance and A Queer Thing Happened to America

from Feb 08, 2013 Category: Book Reviews

Eye-openers. Startling, even shocking eye-openers. Both books reviewed in this article proved to be that for me, as they demonstrated where the culture I live in has been, where it is now, and where it seems to be going. The Intolerance of Tolerance, by D. A. Carson, discusses postmodern ideas on truth claims, demonstrating, with many real-life examples, that the one thing absolutely not tolerated any longer is the stance that a particular belief might be wrong. Carson’s book is larger in scope than Brown’s. The Intolerance of Tolerance surveys the West in general, examining many different areas where the new tolerance is required. As the title suggests, A Queer Thing Happened in America, by Michael L. Brown, looks only at American culture and deals exclusively with issues of homosexuality and gender preference. While I would differ with Brown theologically on a number of issues, those issues were not the subject of this book. In this book, I was struck by the calm, rational, even compassionate tone he consistently takes on what is often a highly inflammatory subject.

D. A. Carson begins The Intolerance of Tolerance with definitions. Citing multiple dictionary examples, he demonstrates that “tolerate” has traditionally meant “to recognize other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices without an attempt to suppress them.” Later, Carson elaborates on how this kind of tolerance is right and good. It is right for the law to permit and protect an individual’s freedom to believe as he chooses, and it is right for a person to be able to live and interact with others with no abuse or slur for beliefs he holds. In recent years, however, the noun form of the word, “tolerance,” has come to mean not merely allowance for other beliefs, but, as in the Encarta example Carson cites, “acceptance of different views.” It is no longer enough to accept a person and his right to believe as he wishes; the “new tolerance” requires that we accept his viewpoint as well.

What shocked me in both books were the examples, case after case, every one well-documented, wherein “tolerance” demands acceptance, and even promotion, of actual beliefs. Simply making allowance for people to hold those beliefs no longer qualifies as tolerance. Here my naiveté became apparent; I always thought “diversity” had to do with disabilities, different ethnicities, etc. Evidently, it has come to mean actively promoting the LBGT—lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender—lifestyle: to be diverse, a company must fly the rainbow on gay pride day and sponsor drag queen events. Brown lists many businesses, banks, and corporations in America—and I guarantee that you do business with at least one, probably several of these, every day—who actively and purposefully pursue “diversity” in these ways. Carson, too, cites numerous examples of the new tolerance. One such instance was that of an adjunct university professor who engaged students on campus at a table representing Students for Justice in Palestine. The professor disagreed with the students’ claims that the Israelis treat Palestinians just like Hitler treated Jews. The discussion grew heated (but not violent), and the professor was suspended in spite of his excellent teaching record. His offense: he had argued with students’ opinions, and the students—and evidently the university—took that to mean he had insulted and demeaned the students themselves.

Both books describe the history of their subjects. Carson surveys the history of tolerance (tolerance in the old sense) through the centuries, admitting that Christians themselves have sometimes practiced harsh intolerance. He demonstrates, however, that, when that has happened, it has been contrary to what Scripture actually teaches. Western civilization eventually separated church and state, and came to respect an individual’s right to his belief. This was a direct result of thinking from a biblical perspective, while the idea of church and state as separate would be completely foreign to a religion such as Islam as it is taught in the Koran. In Brown’s historical survey, he chronicles the movement of homosexuality and sexual deviancy in the United States from being unacceptable to being, first, acceptable, then trendy, and now promoted. (Brown describes the day in recent history when 300 LBGT activists were welcomed by the President to the White House expressly to celebrate the progress the movement has made. He tells how Frank Kameny, who has advocated the most extreme forms of sexual perversions and who has described the God of the Bible as a “sinful, homophobic bigot” was singled out by the President with the words, “And we are so proud of you, Frank, and we are grateful to you for your leadership.”)

Both books make the point that only biblical Christianity, with its insistence upon right and wrong and truth and falsehood, is not to be tolerated under the new tolerance. The many instances both books provide to back up their points are sobering indeed. From blasts in the media and on social networks over the simple statement of biblical opinions to legal battles against medical personnel refusing to facilitate abortion and photographers refusing to film gay marriages, it is biblical Christians of whom the new tolerance is so intolerant. The new tolerance increasingly denies those holding Bible-based opinions the right to say, “I believe that is wrong,”

Both books also issue a clarion call to the church to be the church in the midst of these cataclysmic shifts in our culture’s thinking. Carson reminds us that Christianity is, by definition, a religion built on truth claims. He writes that it is tragic when “many Christians, cowed perhaps by such presentations, are tempted to depict their faith in similarly secular terms. The substance of what the Bible says becomes domesticated. Instead of bearing witness to the gospel, which joyfully announces God’s rescue plan and shows how it is intimately tied to the person and work of Jesus Christ, we begin to feel it is more important to show we are nice and compassionate. What is lost, of course, is the simple truth. All of this springs from a widespread cultural intoxication with the new tolerance.” If Christians and churches succumb to the culture on these issues, accepting its consensus and refusing to make waves, we do ourselves no favor, we deprive the culture of what only we can give it, and we prove unfaithful to our holy God of truth. As for Brown, he concludes his book (except for the almost 100 pages of source documentation) with these words: “We need to recover scriptural truth in our houses of worship and win the battle of semantics—indeed, the battle for sanity—in the marketplace of ideas. And we need to do all this while walking in genuine love towards GLBT individuals, who will certainly view us as villains out to destroy their lives and steal their rights. Let us persevere through the inevitable vilification and misunderstanding that will be heaped upon us, and let us stand tall and unashamed. History is awaiting our move.”

While these two books provide an unsettling view of our nation and its future, Christians who want to be prepared to provide a faithful witness when it is difficult and who are in places of responsibility for preparing others to face the future would do well to read one or both.


Starr Meade teaches high school classes for home school students and is the author of several books for families of children and teens.

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