What are we to make of tolerant people who become intolerant because they cannot tolerate the intolerance of others?
Consider the following article by Marilyn Sewell, “Saying Goodbye to Tolerance“. She expresses her intolerance of evangelical Christians, of which I am one example, and, for a number of reasons, she rejects the tradition for which conservative evangelical Christians stand.
For example, Sewell claims evangelical Christians are intolerant, broadly speaking, and so she herself has become intolerant of them. Or she claims that while evangelical Christians can be unfailingly polite and not confrontative in the least, yet they do not exhibit curiosity, passionate discussion or reasoned rejection of her position, and so, because they seem sure of their own position, she curiously has become intolerant of such people. As a final example, Sewell is intolerant of evangelical Christians because they form a very small minority of those who commit hate crimes, and yet, without evidence, she feels they perpetuate a climate of hate that influences all others to commit such crimes, and so she has become intolerant of evangelical Christians.
As I said, what are we to make of such a person? Curiously absent is any mention of truth, or concern for it, apart from a brief assertion that people like Sewell admit there is truth in every religious tradition. Perhaps she admits that evangelical Christians too have access to truth, but their supposed universal intolerance based on assurance of their religious convictions leaves her feeling intolerant.
What is “truth” for Sewell? I expect from her comments that truth is internal and lacks authority. She cannot endure the thought that truth can be external to any individual and possess authority over that person. But isn’t this the point of a religion, that its adherents submit themselves to the external truth claims of that religion?
She rejects that a religious claim can be singular, such as the claim that evangelical Christians make that there is but one way to salvation through faith in Jesus. But how is her rejection of such a claim any less singular?
Sewell’s article is a good example of how those who establish their own internal truth claims end up inevitably living inconsistently with their own self-proclaimed values. She rejects the tradition of evangelical Christianity, but I for one can tolerate such intolerance.