Tolerance is one of the iconic ‘must have’ virtues that define 21st century western society. It is widely assumed that tolerance is unquestionably right, and that society is indisputably better for the liberal tendencies it encourages.
This modern passion for tolerance led, in Britain, to the Human Rights Act 1998, which gave legal effect to the unenforceable European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, statute books throughout western Europe were being filled with a wide range of anti-discrimination legislation – all aimed to support the interests and protection of individuals, rather than to establish values for societies and communities as a whole.
The problem with any icon is that it becomes increasingly difficult to challenge, and anyone attempting to do so is branded a mean-minded bigot, out to restrict legitimate individual rights and freedoms.
This lack of challenge is precisely what British social life has suffered over the past ten years, and has inevitably led to the culture of political correctness – which everyone jokes about but no one can resist. Stephen McQuoid’s book provides a much needed challenge.
After tracing the history of the current understanding of tolerance, he identifies and analyses eleven problems connected with the definition and practice of tolerance in today’s society. He then sets out to explore eight characteristics of true tolerance. Next he studies the implications of the tolerance issue for three important areas of current social life – tolerance and science (the creation-evolution debate); tolerance and other religions (the issues surrounding pluralism); and, tolerance and social ethics (the problem of establishing effective ethical systems in a society without a moral basis).
His treatment is peppered with apt illustrations and helpful examples from recent much-publicised controversies and incidents. He presents the issues with lightness of style, but without compromising the weight of the substance.
He acknowledges that many Evangelicals have been confused by the ‘tolerance’ issue, and that this has led to a lack of biblical clarity in the way they have responded to it. The book will rescue readers from this confusion, and will therefore help to reduce the risk of compromise in the stances Evangelicals take on ‘tolerance’ issues.
The author does not dodge the difficult areas. For instance, he carefully examines the dilemma of passionately believing in biblical truth, while having even-handedly to accept the liberty of false religions to advance their own causes. He sets out appropriate ways in which Christians should show true tolerance towards other faiths.
Since we all live in the same world of people, media, institutions and assumptions, Christians at all levels of experience would benefit from reading this book. While calling a spade a spade, he adopts an objective rather than a polemical approach. As a result, thoughtful non-Christians can also read this book with profit.