Atheist Tuesday: The Intolerance of Tolerance


Note: Sound and Fury Pt. 2 will be posted next Tuesday.

The Intolerance of Tolerance by Gregory Koukl

Probably no concept has more currency in our politically correct culture than the notion of tolerance. Unfortunately, one of America’s noblest virtues has been so distorted it’s become a vice.


There is a modern myth that holds that true tolerance consists of neutrality. It is one of the most entrenched assumptions of a society committed to relativism.

The tolerant person occupies neutral ground, a place of complete impartiality where each person is permitted to decide for himself. No judgments allowed. No “forcing” personal views. Each takes a neutral posture towards another’s convictions.

This approach is very popular with post-modernists, that breed of radical skeptics whose ideas command unwarranted respect in the university today. Their rallying cry, “There is no truth,” is often followed by an appeal for tolerance.

For all their confident bluster, the relativists’ appeal actually asserts two truths, one rational and one moral. The first is the “truth” that there is no truth. The second is the moral truth that one ought to tolerate other people’s viewpoints. Their stand, contradictory on at least two counts, serves as a warning that the modern notion of tolerance is seriously misguided. Read the rest by clicking here.


  1. Yes, we’re aware that fundamentalists have a very warped idea of what “tolerance” is.

    What’s new about that? Fred Clark, on his blog, makes this point often (and well).

    That article, by the way, was hilarious in a “my goodness, Greg, you really have a massive persecution complex” kind of way.

    My favorite hypocritical quote in it was, of course: “Unwilling to be challenged by alternate points of view, they don’t engage contrary opinions or even consider them.

    Uh huh. Because, like, you do… right?


    Greg Koukl is a funny guy. Granted, this article wasn’t anywhere as awful as his one on “evolution” (I put it in scare quotes because I’m talking about his made-up description of the theory).

    Seriously, show me an example of someone saying “there is no truth”. Making stuff up is lying, right? Right?

  2. All this writer did was pick a definition (of many) for tolerate and erect a giant strawman out of it.


    To justify his hate.

    We have analyzed homosexuality and found the Bible’s warnings to be too vague if not wholly incorrect. Being tolerant does not be accepting everything: it means scrutinizing ideas and seeing how should react to things.

    I am accepting of homosexuality: by itself, it does nobody any harm. I tolerate fundamentalism Christianity: I believe it is not good for our country, but not a directly nor overly harmful thing. I am intolerant of murder: it would be a threat to everyone’s well-being and security should murder be allowed.

    You are a bigot Steve: a member of a thankfully dying mentality. You preach against a way of life and yet, when faces with our reasoning to support homosexuality, turn away and run. All you have is an old book that doesn’t even tell you why something is an abomination. It just is.

    And yes: society is starting to turn on you. One day you will only have misogynists and racists to keep you company in the cold fringes of civilization. Bitter hangers-on to the mistakes of our past. I hope you can tolerate it.

  3. So the point of the article is?

    To be intolerant and dismissive of other people’s points of view? Or to believe in absolutes or universal truth? Black and White are nice colors, but Gray still exists. Good people are capable of doing evil things, and even evil people are capable of doing good things on occasion, take Jim Jones for instance, he tried to uplift poor minorities out of poverty through faith, in the end they all had to drink the Kool Aid, and the only truth is that almost all of them died. No one, not even the ‘intellectual elite’ can deny that truth.

    But why, Steve, do you believe tolerance and understanding are bad? Do you long for the days when homosexuals had to be quiet about their preference for risk of being fired, beaten, or killed? Do you long for the days where people of a different faith could be persecuted, imprisoned or killed for practicing it or speaking about it? What about blacks attending white churches, or using separate bathrooms, of eating only at the back of restaurants? Should we be forced to tolerate all those people, when its so much easier to exclude, persecute or exterminate them?

  4. “Seriously, show me an example of someone saying “there is no truth”. Making stuff up is lying, right? Right?”

    Actually, lying is more broad than that, and can be good in certain circumstances (like the old classic of lying to the Nazi’s to protect a family in your care). Making stuff up about people (as in this example) falls into a narrower, more consistantly malicious category: Bearing False Witness.*

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that that was wrong…

    *The distinction between lying and bearing false witness is part of the reason the Good Person Test fails so miserably, from a scriptural as well as a rational standpoint.

  5. I read the argument and yes it does raise up plenty of strawmen to try and knock down, and I know it feeds your persecution complex, but honestly, the opposite of tolerating homosexuality is not tolerating homosexuality, meaning you actively try and stamp it out where ever it constantly manifests itself. I will say this though Steve, when your views are intolerant, it makes it hard for others with opposing views to tolerate you. Hitler and the Nazis loved to stereotype the Jew as subhuman to the point of being worthy of extermination, when you hold views that some might view as hateful, ie. you are a homosexual, a wicked sinner, who will burn forever in a lake of fire, some MIGHT, just might take offense to that. You can claim being shut up or silenced but Christians are the majority in this country, homosexuals are a minority.

  6. Koukl went as the Straw Man for Halloween?

    Koukl starts with an absurd rendering of tolerance and makes the claim that it is what the ‘post-modernists’ and ‘radical skeptics’ mean by tolerance. I’m not sure who he means by these labels or who uses ‘tolerance’ that way. To any theist, what defines a post-modernist and what defines a radical skeptic? Who are these people and what do you mean by these terms?

    “Notice that we can’t tolerate someone unless we disagree with him. This is critical. We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views. They’re on our side. There’s nothing to put up with. Tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong.”

    I don’t quite agree with this as it sets up an Us v Them mentality. Are the only two options ‘they’re on my side’ and ‘they’re not on my side’? Can’t people have other customs or opinions that are different but not wrong? Like wearing “Mohammed” clothes?

    “Historically, our culture has emphasized tolerance of all persons, but never tolerance of all behavior.”

    Is this true? Has our culture historically emphasized tolerance of all persons? Native Americans during America’s expansion? Blacks during Jim Crow? Japanese during WWII? Quakers in the Puritan colonies? Hispanics in Arizona?

    “This is a critical distinction because, in the current rhetoric of relativism, the concept of tolerance is most frequently advocated for behavior: premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality, use of pornography, etc. People ought to be able to behave the way they want within broad moral limits, the argument goes.”

    Koukl earlier mentions that some behavior is restricted by law and states that this behavior is either immoral or a threat to the common good. This is where it gets sticky. What one labels as immoral may not show a threat to the common good. What one group labels as immoral might not be considered immoral by another group. If there is no evidence to show that the behavior is a threat to the common good, and there is controversy over whether the action is immoral or not, should the State restrict it? Sodomy laws are an example of this. Should the State determine how a husband and wife make love?

    Also, the threat to homosexuals is not restricted to ‘behavior.’ The intolerance is also for celibate gays and straight people that others perceive as gay. (Apparently, homophobic hate messages were left on a memorial page set up for a boy who committed suicide. The suicide was a result of bullying because he was perceived to be gay.) The message of love the sinner, hate the sin doesn’t seem to work. It appears to be fostering an environment of ‘this particular sinner is worse than any other sinner and his/her sin is worse than yours and it’s okay to hate them.’

    “…Finally, tolerate (i.e., embrace and believe) ideas that are sound. This is still a good guideline.”

    I thought tolerance was for people we disagree with.

  7. “I also appreciate your calm, measured demeanor.”

    I can change that! 🙂

    Steve – I don’t get the connection between Koukl’s article, Teddy Roosevelt, the Panama Canal and Columbia.

  8. Hi Steve,

    For the record, I have no problems with you telling me that I’m a sinner or that I’m going to Hell.

    The times that I have problems is when you, or someone like Greg Koukl, tries to mind-read or tell me what/how I think.

    Because it seems like you guys are always very wrong when you do that.


  9. (sorry for spamming. Too much caffeine and my thoughts get posted before I’m done with them). If you chose the image for it’s grotesque depiction of Columbia and Columbians – I get that. I’m just wondering if there’s something else that I’m missing.

  10. Still waiting on that pie Perdita, I’m starving. =P I’d ask you to e-mail it to me but consuming something that’s digital is pretty tricky.

  11. What!?! You didn’t get your piece?

  12. Nope, sorry Perdita no pie for me, I’m sad now.

  13. Perhaps it’s because I’ve actually read through a lot of Christian apologetics, but I can’t help but notice that this article shares a lot in common with that genre.

    Which, of course, is why you agree with it, Steve. It’s a style that you’re very familiar with.

    Unfortunately, if you read it critically, it’s a tangled mass of logical fallacies and intentional misperceptions.

    “The tolerant person occupies neutral ground, a place of complete impartiality where each person is permitted to decide for himself. No judgments allowed. No “forcing” personal views. Each takes a neutral posture towards another’s convictions.”

    No. Bad definition. You tolerate other people’s views; that doesn’t mean you don’t judge them or take a neutral postition – you simply allow someone else to believe in their ridiculous nonsense. You know, like most people’s attitudes towards fundamentalists handing out tracts.

    “Their rallying cry, “There is no truth,” is often followed by an appeal for tolerance.”

    What? Who says that? This is what everybody up above means when they say “strawman.”

    “the relativists’ appeal actually asserts two truths… The first is the “truth” that there is no truth. The second is the moral truth that one ought to tolerate other people’s viewpoints. Their stand, contradictory on at least two counts…”

    Now, see? That’s where a study of apologetics sheds light on this for me, because this is a common tactic. Since the “first truth” doesn’t exist, to then base an argument of self-contradiction on that nonexistent “truth” is fundamentally (heh) dishonest.

    Now, I don’t have a copy of the Webster’s New World Dictionary here, but I find that definition suspicious. Now, the Merriam-Webster website tells us that the appropriate definition for this argument is:
    “a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own
    b : the act of allowing something : TOLERATION

    See? The definition he uses seems unneccessarily wordy. (This is a related apologetic’s tactic – altering what something says slightly, to change the meaning enough that you can wail on it.)

    “This essential element of tolerance–disagreement–has been completely lost in the modern distortion of the concept. Nowadays, if you think someone is wrong, you’re called intolerant.”

    That’s a fine example of the “intentional misperception” I mentioned. You’re called intolerant if, not only do you disagree, but you get noisy and contentious, and… well, if you don’t tolerate it.

    And it goes on in that vein. This whole transcript (it was apparently originally on this guy’s radio show) would fail a basic Logic course. Which, of course, might be why you guys tend to be intolerant of Higher Education.

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