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The issue of tolerance featured strongly in the survey and showed that most of the students valued it. What was not addressed (and was a failing in the survey) was the meaning of the word ‘tolerance’. Frequently it is used in the media to imply no disagreement at all. Even tolerance will not be tolerated by our ‘thought police’.

For example someone who says they do not agree with another person’s worldview is now in danger of being branded as ‘intolerant’. Even the most opinionated of us now feel intimidated into being grotesquely agreeable in conversation. Witness and yawn at the ‘yes, yes’ head-nodding in conversations with strangers at parties.

But tolerance was never about thought control, it has always been about the freedom of an individual to hold whatever beliefs they like, provided they express those beliefs in a courteous manner towards those who disagree with them. How then can my agreeing with another’s beliefs be described as tolerant behaviour?

Not that we were ever supposed to stop at tolerance. Love goes even further than just being patient and putting up with what it doesn’t like, it gets involved. It brings an olive branch; it ‘loves even its enemies’, as Jesus said. It puts itself out for others not because it is driven by guilt (as many snide commentators would have you believe and in so saying tell you more about themselves than anything else) but because love is a living being who’s nature longs to make its home in our very soul, and once there, it simply cannot help itself. In other words, as love grows in a human soul, it becomes intolerant of tolerance, not in the aforementioned ‘thought police’ manner, but in the way a nine month old becomes impatient with not being able to walk.

‘Love … looks for a way of being constructive,’ 1st Corinthinas 13 says. ‘It is is not touchy, it does not keep an account of evil, nor gloat over the wickedness of others.’ In the same way that an embryo, having enjoyed the comfort of an eggshell, must break out, love finds that the longer tolerance stays as just that, it begins to look suspiciously like apathy and must be broken through. George MacDonald makes a telling comment on apathy when he says, ‘Only good in the place of evil is evil dead.’

Paradoxically, the followers of Jesus have not always shown much appreciation of his teachings on love and tolerance. There are many in our society for example, who—having heard a preacher lay out a message laden with strange jargon words like ‘created’, ‘cross’, ‘sinner’ and ‘blood’—have concluded that this Christian God has a deep dislike of people and is even intolerant of them, so much so, that rather than getting close to us, has handled the problem like a grumpy school teacher and left us with a complicated theological vocabulary test, as if to say: ‘Look! Get these words right or you will all go to hell.’ ):

 

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