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Tolerance is the Virtue of the Man Without Convictions


That was said by G. K. Chesterton.  He was an English writer whose book The Everlasting Man set atheist C.S. Lewis on the path to Christianity.  This post isn’t do discuss G. K. Chesterton, however, (worthy topic though that would be), but to discuss tolerance.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I hate that word.  We are told to “tolerate” those who are different from us, usually while not being tolerated ourselves.

“Tolerate” is the word I use for uncomfortable, annoying, or unpleasant circumstances I am forced to bear.  Believe me, if I am ever moved to say I “tolerate” you, you can be sure that I do not like you one bit.

Being a conservative Christian living a a very liberal state, I am frequently surrounded by people with very different opinions from mine.  Often, I am diametrically opposed to the the politics and morality of people around me, even people who are my friends.

Agreeing with me on politics is not part of my criteria for who I am friends with and who I respect (thankfully, else I probably wouldn’t have many friends!).  I can respect those who disagree with me if they take a principled stand.

It drives me crazy when I see individuals or companies just going with the majority.  The character Truly on ABCFamily’s show “Bunheads” (really cute show, by the way) sums up this way of life nicely.  To paraphrase: she is never a tie-breaker; she always votes with the majority.  Actually, she waits until everyone else votes, that way she can then vote with the majority.

Flip-flopping is a side effect of just going with the majority.  Now, this is not to be confused with changing your mind.  Flip-flopping means you just say whatever you think will be the most popular in that particular time and circumstances, usually going back and forth between the same positions multiple times.

I have no problem with someone who admits they were wrong in the past or, after receiving new information, reviews their opinions and arrives at a new one.  Being able to evaluate your conclusions and discard false ones shows maturity, and is an integral part of science and learning.

G. K. Chesterton was talking about something a little different when he said this.  It’s easy to be tolerant of things if you have no principles.

For example, if you think sex is just about biology, and is perfectly fine if it’s consensual, you probably won’t mind casual sex, lots of sexual content in the media, and schools handing out condoms to minors.  On the other hand, if you believe sex is only for marriage, those things probably bother you a lot.  You might even want to do something about them to prevent them.

Our lives don’t improve if we “tolerate” things.  You’ll fail in school if you just tolerate it and don’t make an effort to do well.  You’ll never move out of your mom’s house if you tolerate being dependent and don’t go out and get a job.  You’ll be stuck in a job you hate if you tolerate low wages and poor working conditions and don’t try to improve your job or find a new one.  Your kids will be disrespectful and irresponsible if you tolerate poor behavior.

Don’t tolerate things you believe are wrong.  Act on your principles.  If you don’t have any, find some.



  1. Mikey G says:

    Far be it from me to dispute the writer who influenced the writer who most influenced me and I agree tolerance is the virtue of a person with no convictions (meaning it is a virtue as some people without principles are still intolerant and those who are tolerant deserve praise for it). But I would respond though it is true that tolerance is the virtue of those without principles but that intolerance is the vice of those who imagine themselves a god. We who believe in the Bible get it from both barrels with the “thou shalt not judge” quotation that we sometimes forget that this command actually comes from Jesus Christ and not our pot smoking neighbor.

    We do have commandments to separate ourselves from evil, flee the Bible commands, to speak the truth, with love the Bible commands, and to be pure, because God is pure. We also have commandments to not judge, unless we want to be judged by the same standard the Bible warns, to bear with eachother’s weaknesses, love bears all things the Bible teaches, and to confess our own sins, the Bible says those who say they do not sin call God a liar. So we have a balancing act which I fear we all have a tendency to error on one particular excess.

    I think, strangely enough, South Park said it best in an episode examining the town’s insistence of tolerating Mr. Garison’s homosexuality as he continually pushed the limits (with the hopes he could get fired and sue the school). He said tolerance is what we do with stuff we don’t like not what we celebrate. We tolerate crying babies on an airplane but we all agree it is obnoxious. I tolerate toothaches in the same way.

    Probably in California there is a common mistake to insist that people celebrate what they must tolerate. I mean I tolerate that some people practice a sexual life I know separates them from God. I tolerate it excuse I know I still struggle with all kinds of sins (including sexual ones) and just as God is gracious with me I am obligated (commanded even) to be gracious with others. But the trend is to scorn mercy and insist that I say there is no need for mercy, to say that sin is not sin. To which I will not do but speak the truth with love.

  2. B-Ro says:

    “If you don’t have any [principles], find some.”

    If, as you imply, thinking that “sex is just about biology, and is perfectly fine if it’s consensual” is unprincipled, then:


    • I certainly did not imply that about sex. I was pretty explicit. If that wasn’t explicit enough for you, then I’ll say this: casual sex is unprincipled.

      What exactly was you point in commenting? Do you just want to point out that there are lots of people who don’t share my principles? I’m already well familiar with that.

      If you want to engage in an actual debate, I would love to hear from you. If you just want to point and mock, go troll somewhere else.

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