TOLERANCE: VICE OR VIRTUE?
Is tolerance the road to peace? That depends on one's definition of tolerance and peace. If such are subject to individualistic interpretation, then no--as one's peace and tolerance may be another's idea of intolerance and torment. However, if these terms are empirically defined by objective criteria--then yes--peace is possible. Paul certainly thought so, at least in the context of practical Christian living. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle describes the dynamics of tolerance, self-determination, and judgment for believers living in a land ideologically opposed to Christianity. He instructs the Church to "[...] live peaceably with all [people] [...]," (Rom 12.18) going on to say,
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If [he or she] is thirsty, give [him or her] a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on [his or her] head 'Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good (19-21)."
This passage captures the ethos of the Christian faith: a religious revolution fueled by love and self-sacrifice. It challenges the classical model of retribution theology--the never-ending, non-zero sum game addressed by Jesus in his"Sermon on the Mount," where he instructs his followers to end evil by overcoming it with good (Miriam n.p.; Matt 5.1-8.1). This, in fact, is how Christianity conquered the world--through sacrifice--not sword. Yet absolute power, corrupts absolutely--and the Church is no exception.
After Christianity gained prominence following Constantine's conversion, church wedded state, and the persecuted became the persecutor. Like the Caesars--who rejected Cicero's political ideals of freedom and peace, the Church rejected Jesus' teaching about love and mercy. For well over the next thousand years, the Church converted by conquest through imperial church-state hegemony, as if to establish a Christian Caliphate. People were persecuted--even tortured and killed--for the slightest of so-called "heresies." This period of church history is marked by intolerance and bloodshed--a church-wide abuse denounced by Christian scholars like Erasmus (Powell).
Is there then a place for intolerance? Absolutely. Tolerance, if it is to be tolerated, must be bridled by peace. In other words, if somebody's behavior is measurably affecting another's well being--then he or she is effectively disturbing the peace. Again, such offenses must be judged by objective criteria, where rights are held in check by responsibilities--and social irresponsibility ends in a revocation of rights. And being responsible--meaning "able to respond"--is the irrevocable right given to every human being, to choose between good or evil, life or death (Deut 30.19; Gen 2-4). Therefore, in any society predicated on peace--sin will bare its own punishment. This is the judgment of God.
Therefore, while it is a believer's duty to inform people's decisions, it is not his or her duty to enforce them (Rom 12.19-21). Tolerance makes space for self-determination, and self-determination gives way to grace, especially in the pain of judgment as a result of self-determination. This is true agape love. Unconditional and unconventional. As Dillard puts it, "[it] was as if God had said, 'I am here, but not as you have known me'" (481). Christians must love sinners despite their sin--as did their namesake (Lewis 624; Rom 5.8). Therefore, "as much as it is in your power to do" let people make their own choices, and reap their own rewards (Rom 12.18; Rev 22.11).
Epperson, William, and Mark Hall, eds. Encounters: Readings for Advanced Composition. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2001. Dillard, Annie. "A Field of Silence." Epperson and Hall 619-625.
Lewis, C.S., “The Weight of Glory.” Epperson and Hall 619-625.
Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. 2003: n.p. Print.
Powell, Jim. “Marcus Tullius Cicero, Who Gave Natural Law to the Modern World” FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, 1 Jan. 1997, fee.org/articles/marcus-tullius-cicero-who-gave-natural-law-to-the-modern-world/.
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.