Thursday, February 07, 2013

Book Review: The Intolerance of Tolerance

I've heard Don Carson speak a few times, and either during the session, or else during the question time after, modern culture has inevitably raised its head. On the past few occasions, he mentioned about the intolerance or the new tolerance, and how there was probably a book in it. And now, here it is: 'The Intolerance of Tolerance.'

Carson traces the development our culture which has led to a disappointing redefinition of tolerance. Originally, it meant that you would accept and tolerate the existence of other views - rival truth claims, defending their right to believe such. Nowadays, though, the new tolerance is rather 'intrinsically intolerant' - that all views are equally correct, and to challenge this is 'intolerant.' With a generous portion of contemporary examples from America, Britain and further afield, the intolerance of tolerance is exposed - often in ridiculous and what would be funny ways - if it all wasn't so serious.

Having introduced his theme, given a survey of the current state of play, traced the history of tolerance, Carson then asserts that what is happening is worse than inconsistency - it is inconsistency with an agenda. As he states, 'It is in fact smuggling into the culture massive structures of thought and imposing them on others who disagree, while insisting that the others are the intolerant people.' Inclusion, used to force Christian student groups to include non-Christians on their committees, is not universally applied to also force Christians onto the atheist group committee, or Jews onto the Muslim committee or so on... 'They appeal to tolerance selectively in order to promote their own selective values.'

The centre of the book is a reiteration of the Church and Christian truth claims, as well as morality. Rather than God being tolerant in the modern (or postmodern) sense, God is patient, not wanting any to perish, but judgement will come. 'His love is better than tolerance; his wrath guarantees justice that mere tolerance can never imagine.'

On discussing inter-faith dialogue, he writes of three religious ladies, a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim, who meet together to share together. They have a happy unity, but as Carson points out, 'Interfaith dialog... will likely come to this sort of happy friendship provided no participant believes very much to be true within his or her respective traditions.'

At times when reading Carson, my head begins to hurt because his material is so heavy (or else above me), but even in this, it's clear to follow his thought and to sense the urgency in his message. The chapter on 'Tolerance, Democracy and Majoritarianism' appears to be mostly concentrating on the American system, with American history sampled and American concerns. The final chapter, however, is relevant for everyone, as he gives ten words, ten action points to seek to change the culture, based on the observation of the book. While all are worth taking on board, the stand-out ones for me were to 'practice civility' (by commending the Lord Jesus through our actions and interactions, rather than sounding off and turning people away); and being prepared to suffer - which appears to be the trajectory we are on.

The Intolerance of Toleranceis a good read to get a sense of our bearings in the current climate, and to prepare us for what may eventually come our way in this part of the United Kingdom.

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