Some contemporary philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and even theologians have tried to argue that in our postmodern relativistic age nothing is truly right and wrong, purely true or false, or absolutely good or evil. These realities, nevertheless, always have a way of pushing themselves up when the things that really matter are at stake.
If recent reactions to the latest US presidential election tell us anything, they “demonstrate” that people are still far more concerned about what they believe is right and wrong than they are about “tolerating” those with whom they strongly disagree. An inevitable corollary of moral dispute is that some things really do matter more (or less) than others, and some things really are better (or worse) than others.
Passing judgment is a good thing.
People in our postmodern relativistic era pretend—and sometimes even try very hard—to be genuinely tolerant of alternative viewpoints. At the end of the day, however, when something we really care about comes to the fore, we are just as judgmental as we’ve always been. And passing this kind of judgment is actually a good thing.
I have no problem at all with people speaking out for the things they care about and against the things they find “deplorable.” In fact, I would encourage it. But one thing is certain: postmodernists need to stop pretending that they don’t really stand for anything or judge anyone—that whatever works for you is fine so long as you don’t tell me how to live my life or what I should or shouldn’t believe. That statement itself is a value judgment in favor of an attitude of “live and let live” which stands against making “intrusive” laws and social standards against the things postmodern thinkers find acceptable and/or desirable.
Tolerance Defined Rightly
Tolerance is not the absence of discernment, but the decision to permit those with differing views to express themselves without assuming their expression—simply because it is expressed—therefore constitutes a valid way of life.
As John Lennox writes (Against the Flow, 104-05), “We do not tolerate people with whom we agree—the word itself indicates that it is people with whom we disagree. But we support their right to hold and express their worldview, provided it is without threat or incitement to violence. However, in many countries tolerance has degenerated into a simplistic, all-affirming political correctness: a debilitating and very dangerous attitude that prevents people saying what they believe in case anyone should take offense. It is the very antithesis of free speech, and it is having a paralysing effect on public discourse.”
We can shout our value of tolerance up to the heavens and down to the earth as long and loud as we want. We will never escape both the necessity and propriety of passing moral and epistemological judgments upon one another. The issue is never a question of whether there are rights and wrongs, goods and ills, truths and falsehoods. The only real issue is this: What things are right and wrong, true and false, good and evil, and how do we know and decide? Who gets the final say in these matters and why?
I’ll say more about this in parts two and three of this series, beginning in part two which takes a deeper look at the notion of tolerance.