top of page

Beyond Tolerance


Romans 14:1

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Today I want to speak about a virtue that is the cornerstone of developing peace and unity, and that is tolerance. I tend to bandy the word about, but I want to delve into its meaning a little more.

The word ‘tolerance’ does not appear in the Bible, but it is alluded to many times. Tolerance, as we understand it, means a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, lifestyles, racial or ethnic origins differ from our own. It means having interest in and concern for concepts that are foreign to us; a broad-minded, undogmatic viewpoint. American author Robert G. Ingersoll described the word in this way: “Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.” Tolerance carries a positive welcoming feeling: although we may disagree, we lean openly toward accepting another’s viewpoint. That’s a good thing.

The word ‘tolerate’, however, has a slightly different definition: It means to allow the existence, presence, practice, or an act without prohibition or hindrance. It means to permit without repugnance; to put up with. This sounds less welcoming, less accepting, less of a good thing and more just of neutral value.

I think I would be happy where people have tolerance toward me. They accept me. But I don’t know that I would be happy where people only tolerated me; they just put up with me. Like a wart: I don’t really like it, but it’s there, so I tolerate it. If it gives me any problems, I’ll have it removed. That is toleration, not tolerance. There is a difference. I would rather be celebrated than tolerated.

Some people confuse the word tolerance and toleration. When they hear the word tolerance, “We need to show more tolerance toward people who are dissimilar to us,” what they hear is “We have to put up with those people.” This is not what tolerance means. Again, tolerance is a positive virtue of accepting, respecting, allowing, and the welcoming of foreign ideas, people, and circumstances.

To tolerate is only a small increment above hatred, disrespect, or rejection. It is not a spiritual virtue. Christ did not say, “Patrick, tolerate your neighbor. Just put up with them.” No, he said to love your neighbor.

Tolerance is the starting point of that command, the bare minimum. I would submit that to love your neighbor involves a step beyond tolerance; love involves active care, consideration, and concern. Love extends the unconditional hand of friendship although friendship is not reciprocated. Love gives without receiving and looks for the best in everyone. Love is the power that transforms us and enables us to accept and join with another soul’s presence through which we transcend our normal human state.

Arthur Brooks, a social scientist and the head of the think tank: American Enterprise Institute says, “It’s not enough to tolerate people; it’s not even enough to help people. We need to need people who are not like us. Only when we can do that do we have a kind of unity that we really crave.”

He is right. Toleration is insufficient. To claim that we tolerate something or someone, is hardly more than saying that we won’t totally reject them, dismiss them, or even actively seek to demolish them and their ideas at some point. They are warts to put up with.

Brooks’ idea that we must need people who are not like us is a profound concept that moves even beyond tolerance and into the love domain. To need our neighbor, the people who don’t think or act or look like us, to need our opponents and enemies, is the daring willingness to love them. It is moving past differences and seeing their value at the spiritual level. This requires that we see differently, perceiving through the eyes of Christ instead of our earthly eyes. To see differently requires that we release our old ways of thinking and responding.

I don’t like speaking about politics, but this serves a point. Psychologists have identified a phenomenon called Political Motive Asymmetry. This is when a person believes that their ideology is based on love and their opponent’s ideological views are based upon hatred.

This is rampant among people today. I have read articles from both sides of the political spectrum that accuse the other of being hate-based. In our own minds, we may have thought things like, “How can they believe such destructive things? Why can’t they be more like me, loving, kind, and wanting the best for everyone?”

The irony is that many people from the total political spectrum are thinking the same things about the people who they see as the opposition. Political Motive Asymmetry is just another mental error, another cognitive bias that assails our thinking. It is our ego determined to be right by making everyone else wrong.

We cannot deny the ideological differences between the right and the left: Conservatives think a lot about free markets, capitalism, and that free enterprise is the solution to our problems; the Liberals, or Progressives, think much about social issues such as poverty and hunger. Two diametrically opposed ideas, and both sides believe their solutions are best. But neither ideology is based upon hatred; it is just two disparate perspectives on how to make things better.

Our challenge, as Children of God, is to rise above the Child of the World status by moving beyond mere tolerance to a point of mutual respect born of love, acceptance, and a willingness to unite our passions and perspectives toward a common solution. This applies to all areas of our lives: politically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. While walking this earth we are constantly engaging the challenge of combining our spiritual and human natures in a balanced mature fashion.

For instance, here is a quote: “Free markets have created more wealth than any system in history. They have lifted billions out of poverty.” It is the truth, and yet many will dismiss it as conservative rhetoric. It sounds like it could have been said by Warren Buffet or someone in the Reagan administration. But it was spoken by President Obama.

The Left’s concerns combined with the Right’s methods are what finds solutions and attain common goals. We need each other. We need each other’s differences, diversity, and unique perspectives across the entire spectrum of thought.

To move beyond tolerance, by calling upon Love, we can release our habitual responses and thoughts about anyone we see as the opposition … anyone who threatens us or offers a different view on anything. Through Love, we can hear and absorb threatening ideas and not react with fear, anger, resistance and dismissiveness, but rather, express the truth: “I don’t really consider it in those terms. Tell me how you see it from your perspective.”

We each believe what we believe because that is what we know; it is the sum of what we have learned from our life sources. Our beliefs are our conclusions to the physical, emotional, and spiritual data that we have accumulated on our life journey.

Upon hearing a contrary opinion, we can either move into intolerance and refute their conclusions, or we can offer our perspective in a calm and dispassionate manner. Passion, improperly offered, will thwart any attempt to find common ground. “Oh, I see what you are saying. Here is how I see it, and what I see as important.” If we offer our ideas with a calm and unthreatening approach, we might be adding to the database from which they form their beliefs.

Helen Keller said, “The highest result of education is tolerance.” Ideas conveyed with love can move people to release their engrained responses; those ideas can become part of their educational resource. Reasonable people are looking for information and answers, but if they feel threatened or attacked, they resort to their well-established reactions and tune us out.

Part of what can help us find common ground with someone is to keep telling ourselves until we believe it, that we need people who disagree with us; we need their opposing perspective, because it is one that we never consider. Somewhere hidden within our belief and their belief is a solution. If we can calmly consider ideas that provoke us, Spirit will reveal the Truth. When we allow our human reactions to become imbalanced, we block God’s Light and Love. When we allow God’s Love to flow through us, we have no enemies because we are not an enemy.

This applies to all differences we perceive. If we find ourselves in a situation where we want to oppose, criticize, or resent, then we can be sure that we are struggling with tolerance. Those feelings are Spirit’s cues for us to bring love to the situation and seek similarities, not differences. We are being given Divine guidance to listen without judgment or resistance. We are being directed by Christ to ignite the Love within us and let it burn brightly.

Toleration says, “I am just going to put up with your right to be different. If you disappear from this Earth, I am no better or worse off.” Tolerance says, “I accept you, and your difference. If you were to disappear, I would be sad.” But love says, “You are different and of equal value, and I respect that difference; in fact, I need the difference that you bring. If you were to disappear, I and the entire Earth, would be diminished by the loss.”

Ephesians 2:19 states: You are fellow citizens and members of the household of God. My prayer is that as we watch television, read media reports, or personally witness acts of intolerance, we remember that we are all Children of God, all citizens of God’s world. We can bless the situation knowing that there is a divine power in charge.

We are here to love each other: to move beyond mere toleration and beyond tolerance. Although a diverse family, God loves each of his children equally. We are one with God and one with each other, sharing the same innate spirituality. From 1 John 3:1 – “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” May we bring love to our thoughts and actions throughout the day, seeking beauty in everything and everyone.


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page