The word tolerance is an oft thrown about word these days. It’s rather easy for us to be tolerant of like-minded people or ideas, but becomes increasing difficult when people differ.

The dictionary definition (according to Merriam-Webster) is “willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own.” The secondary definition is a bit more interesting: “the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant.”

Pope Francis this past week, very eloquently spoke about religious tolerance and that sometimes folks need to tone it down a bit. Not through censorship but of a show of tolerance and respect for the feelings of others.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

His pretend punch aside, Francis by no means said the violent attack on Charlie Hebdo was justified. Quite the opposite: He said such horrific violence in God’s name couldn’t be justified and was an “aberration.” But he said a reaction of some sort was to be expected.

“There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said. “They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.” (KSL)

The very liberal or progressive seek tolerance for those whose lifestyles, ideas, politics and way of life may not be mainstream. The very conservative, on the other hand, seek tolerance for the religious views, political positions, ideas and way of life could also be deemed untypical of the majority. Yet, it seems in those quests for tolerance of their points of view comes a general lack of tolerance for the opposing points of view.

Think of the first definition of tolerance and then the second. Does that not cover the situation completely?

Tolerance for something different, even if you deem it harmful or unpleasant?

A poster at the rally in Paris last Saturday contained this famous quote from Voltaire:

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
(BrainyQuote.com)

How many of us take the right of free speech so seriously that we would be willing to defend it to the death? Very few, I think.

And yet, as Christians, we read this:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

And this:

“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47)

I was also dismayed somewhat over the brouhaha about the TV show, “My Husband’s Not Gay” shown on TLC this past Sunday. I did not see the show, but did read about it and saw the trailer. And while I understand that TV shows are produced, shot and edited with a particular point of view, it is hard to be critical of something one hasn’t seen.

I also understand the consternation about what message might be sent by the show regarding advocacy of mixed-orientation marriages particularly in light of societal and Church views of the past and controversial sexual orientation change methods and practices.

Knowing all this, where was the tolerance for people who may have made a decision for themselves and were showing it on a TV show? Having not seen the show, how can people make such harsh judgments about others even if they vehemently disagreed with the other’s choice?

I saw it as a complete lack of tolerance. I know others may disagree. But, to be tolerant is to accept those ideas that you not only disagree with, but find harmful or unpleasant.

The world would be much better off with a lot more tolerance and charity than we see, as a people, we are willing or able to muster.