“You can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to demand that I tolerate your views when you have no tolerance for mine. That’s hypocritical.”
I’ve heard various iterations of this seemingly reasonable statement, usually vomited from the mouths of conservative religious dogmatists attempting to defend bigoted bullshit.
But… don’t they have a point? Shouldn’t tolerance be reciprocal? If I’m going to ask someone to respect my beliefs, shouldn’t I in turn respect theirs, no matter how much it tears at the thread of my moral fabric? Am I not a hypocrite if I refuse to accept viewpoints that differ from my own?
Absolutely not. And here’s why:
To start with, absolute and unconditional tolerance is not a thing that can exist in reality. It is logically unsustainable—it’s a paradox. An unconditionally tolerant society would eventually destroy itself. That’s because a society which requires tolerance of every belief system would, by definition, obligate tolerance of even the most dangerous (and deadly) belief systems, including the kind that condone or encourage destructive human behaviors.
The Holocaust happened because dangerous and deadly beliefs were allowed to fester unchecked—and millions of innocent people were murdered because of it. Unconditional tolerance enables those with the most dangerous beliefs to manifest their beliefs as action. A “perfectly tolerant” society would eventually develop within it a faction that valued its beliefs over all others to the extent that those not sharing in said beliefs would either be denied rights or killed.
All this is to say: Intolerance should not be tolerated, yet neither should absolute tolerance. It sounds illogical, but all it means is that though tolerance is important, it can’t—and shouldn’t—be limitless. You can be a tolerant person—and a person who demands tolerance of others—while still having zero tolerance for dangerous and destructive belief systems. In fact, we are all obligated to limit our tolerance.
It might be paradoxical, but it doesn’t have to be confusing. The line where tolerance breaks down is really very clear: The moment someone’s belief system dehumanizes a person, others them, erases them, makes them feel less than, makes them unsafe, or aims to strip them of basic human rights, no one is under any obligation to tolerate that belief system.
So you can believe what you want about being gay, as long as that belief does not turn into action that harms another. When you vote or influence others to vote in a way that aims to remove the civil rights of citizens in the LGBTQ community, you are doing other humans harm, and that is where I stop tolerating your differing viewpoint. That is the point at which I am allowed—obligated, actually—to say: I will not tolerate your beliefs, but you must tolerate mine.
Why is it not hypocritical for members of the LGBTQ community to ask you to tolerate their “lifestyle”? (In quotes because being gay isn’t a lifestyle.) It’s because their presence denies you nothing. Their presence causes neither you nor your loved ones one single shred of suffering. For these people, your fellow human beings, tolerance is the bare minimum they ask for. Literally the request is simply that you not hurt them, either via emotional or physical abuse or by the denial of their basic human rights. Acceptance and validation would be appropriate, but for Christ’s sake, we are just asking for tolerance.
Beliefs influence action. Believe whatever you want as long as you’re not causing harm to others or influencing others to cause harm. You can be of the opinion that black people are not victims of racial bias from law enforcement and the criminal justice system—despite ample statistics demonstrating otherwise—but if your influence or your vote hinders vital progress in this area, I do not have to tolerate your opinion. You’re hurting people with your ongoing willful ignorance, I’m calling bullshit, and I’m not sorry.
I once had a pastor tell me that tolerance “is a word liberals throw around so they don’t have to obey the word of God.” This is a guy who prides himself in believing that his beliefs are the only beliefs and who would not hesitate for one second to deny basic human rights to entire groups of people because they don’t conform to his homogenous idea of how to live life. This mindset is incredibly dangerous and nearly impossible to debate—if his way is the only way, what need does he have for tolerance? None whatsoever. The goal then becomes to either convert or erase those who refuse to conform. This kind of thinking, to me, is the most terrifying and the most intolerable.
We should never tolerate belief systems that limit the basic human rights and dignity of someone else.
So, yes, it is entirely possible to be a tolerant person, to demand tolerance of others, and yet still draw a clear line where your tolerance ends. Not only is it not hypocritical to do this—it is necessary.