Tolerance and the search for truth

Published 11:06 pm Friday, November 22, 2013

By Chris Surber

Tolerance is a virtue of cowards.

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” Tolerance, at least as it is understood popularly today, is little more than self-important indifference. To say “I’m tolerant of such and such” is tantamount to saying “I don’t care.”

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Tolerance of the sort we find in the streets today is little more than a socially acceptable way of abrogating one’s social responsibility.

Forbearance, on the other hand, is the virtue of magnanimous men. Is it not far better to be generous in kindness to those with whom we disagree than it is to merely tolerate them? What woman feels loved by a husband who tolerates what he believes to be her foolish opinion of things? A man who is instead genuine in kindness to his wife, regardless of what he inwardly thinks of her intellectual ability or the virtue of her view of this thing or that, is likely to receive love and be esteemed by his treasured wife.

What man feels respected by a wife who tolerates what she believes to be his stupid opinion of things? What man feels less many than when his wife demeans him to her friends about how she must tolerate his ignorance of this and that? Rather, even if his wife is of a more keen intellect, if she respects his opinion, learning from his practical ways, she honors him and builds him up.

It is little different with a person’s public life and outward display of inward convictions. Today tolerance is touted as a virtue worthy of putting on.

I like the way William Maugham put it: “Tolerance is another word for indifference.” That’s the heart of what I’m driving at here. It is not virtuous to be indifferent.

It is virtuous to be kind to people who are different from us. Every man and woman should be on a quest to discover truth. That quest will necessarily lead us to different places as we wade through conjecture and ideas and facts on our truth quest. But when we become indifferent about the value of those different places, our own journey becomes invalid.

In other words, we should respect one another in fairness and kindness but not make the wrongheaded assumption that all ideas are equally true. When contradictory ideas are given equal standing as true, the very notion of truth becomes invalid. Today’s notion of tolerance is the knife in the hands of those who have decided that it is easier to murder truth than to do the difficult work of searching for it.

There is nothing more valuable than truth. There is no quest of more worth than the search for truth. “Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.” (Proverbs 23:23 NIV84)

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at