When in Rome….don’t tolerate the intolerant

Many people have blogged, spoken, or written about the intolerance of tolerance. D.A. Carson actually wrote a book titled The Intolerance of Tolerance. Now I’m not totally sure how Carson uses the phrase-though I’m inclined to agree with him since I love him as an author-but how I use it is as follows: all views are accepted as valid with the lone exception of a view that doesn’t recognize all views as equally valid. In other words, you can believe whatever you want on any issue, so long as you don’t consider your view as the exclusive correct, valid, moral, right, view. Practically speaking, if you hold to any exclusive view on Jesus, or marriage, you are not tolerated. Your voice is not a welcomed voice in the cultural, personal, facebook, or most any other kind of dialog. 

I first tasted this intolerance of tolerance while in college on foreign study in Italy in 1999. And it was the ironic juxtaposition, or maybe even overlap of the same worldview 2000 years apart that really opened my eyes. According to our professor Richard Prior (no relation to the comedian/actor), the Romans were a very religiously tolerant people. When they conquered folks, they brought with them some Roman decor like bathhouses and public amphitheaters to spruce up the place. Privately they  put Emperor “bobble-heads” in each home (ok I don’t have documentation on that one, but its possible…). But religiously, folks were allowed to worship their own personal gods. Maybe even their own personal Jesus too. Yet there was a limitation on this tolerance. They didn’t tolerate in the intolerant Christians when Jesus wasn’t so personal. Christians recognized the Emperor as the head of the government, but not Lord, and certainly not God. And that’s where they got into trouble. Many refused to offer this “emperor worship” or make a sacrifices to him. They would be tolerated if they went against their consciences and worshiped some yahoo one day a year.

The “intolerant” Christians were then persecuted for such “intolerance.” If they were tolerant like the rest of Roman society, then they too would be tolerated. Yet Dr. Prior never recognized his own hypocrisy, since he embraced the same view 2000 years later. If you claim to hold to an exclusive truth of any variety, you will not be welcomed ’round these parts. And we weren’t. And in Rome, 2000 years later, the attitude, at least among our group, hadn’t changed too much. What had changed instead was their opportunity and authority to act on such intolerance. 

Dr. Prior didn’t come up with this view, nor did it arise with post-modernity; he simply bought into the Roman view of tolerance and intolerance toward Christians or others with an exclusive truth claim. When in Rome….

There is nothing new, not even the intolerance of tolerance, under the sun.

2 thoughts on “When in Rome….don’t tolerate the intolerant

  1. Geoff, great post man. I am very interested in D.A. Carson's book now that you mention him in this post. It is almost comical to say, "The only thing that shall not be tolerated…is intolerance!". If people weren't so serious about this mindset, it would make a great laugh to us all.

  2. Well said Wilson. It would make us all laugh and allow more real dialog instead of the ad hominem attacks and name calling that end dialog and preclude relationships. But you make a good point. Hopefully I can make sure I do the same. The gospel really does free us to not take ourselves as seriously.

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