Tolerance vs. Acceptance


I’m having another word crisis, of sorts.

I continue to stand by my assertion that blasphemy isn’t a word that has any practical use or value in a secular society, so it is, therefore, one that we needn’t use any longer.

There have been a lot of editorials/opinion pieces/proclamations in the press since #jesuischarlie trended in the aftermath of the terror attack in Paris- and the aftermath of the aftermath. Il Papa weighed in- and got it completely wrong. As have a lot of people who are speaking out against the cartoons produced by Charlie Hebdo.

I’ve said before (in response to some of the wonderful comments I received on the ant-blasphemy post) that the humour- and even the satirical value- of the magazine is pretty much lost on me. It’s not my type of thing. I tend to be more thoughtful, less in-your-face about my satire/political commentary.

But. My impression of the humour- or lack thereof- in magazines like Charlie Hebdo– is not the point.

Personal preference isn’t remotely the point. Not even a little bit. Except in the fact that I can choose not to purchase said magazine if the images offend.

In free, democratic and secular societies we get to make such choices. And we get to challenge the ideas of those who set themselves against the values of our free, democratic and secular societies.

Failure to do so allows for the flourishing of things like totalitarianism. And for the ascension and maintenance of despotic regimes- political or religious- that seek to hold their power and control over the lives and freedoms of everyone else. That those living under such conditions continue to support that type of status quo… well, that’s more of a head-scratcher. We can talk about social conditioning, about Stockholm Syndrome, about not knowing anything else. We can take into account things like anomie and the inability of certain people to integrate into the norms of society. Those are some of the things we need to be looking into, certainly.

What it really comes down to is our idiotic human need to divide ourselves into two groups. Us and Them.

This particular idiocy may not have originated in the Big Book o’ Western Myths (since the concept pre-dates biblical times), but it certainly got a leg-up when one, then another, group of people began insisting on their chosenness- and their separation from and better-than-ness of others.

So. The newest words in question that are causing me trouble?

1) Tolerance. Right off the bat let me say that I’ve always felt that there was a definite underpinning of patronizing apology in the way in which this word is generally used. We ‘tolerate’ those things we must– even if we find them tiresome or uncomfortable. For example- I ‘tolerate’ the occasional Smiths song – when one is heard at a party- or the Monster Music my SO so enjoys- all in the name of friendship and/or fair-shakes in the compromising-department.

‘Tolerating’ someone’s beliefs? It’s so colonial. And politically correct. Like a pat on the head. Which isn’t something that most adults- whether or not they have given much thought and/or insight into those beliefs- are likely to appreciate all that much.

It’s irritating as hell, is what it is. I’d prefer that you tell me straight out that you think I’m completely wrong in my assessment of something than to passively ‘tolerate’ my opinion- and my right to hold said opinion. It’s such a reductive word. Perhaps it hasn’t always been so- but, honestly, I rarely hear it used without that distinctive note of begrudging obligation creeping in.

Most of the time, it makes my skin crawl. There is a perception of power inherent in the term- if one ‘grants’ that something is to be ‘tolerated’, the one doing the tolerating seems to have more authority than the one being tolerated. Stephen Colbert, in his satirical persona, ‘tolerates’ those of other races- by saying he ‘doesn’t see colour’.

Ick. Don’t like it. Never have. It’s one of those words that has ceased to mean what best intentions, once upon a time might have meant it to mean.

2) Acceptance. This one is more my style. There’s an evenness to the playing field when someone accepts what you are saying. Or doing. Or believing. There’s less resignation and imposed adherence to a perceived moral imperative.

One of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors has a line that describes the meeting of two old friends- a man and his dog, who had been separated by lifetimes- and, as they played together, wrestling in the snow, they offered little growls of reunion and “acceptance- as of like-to-like”. Much better word.

Acceptance suggests acknowledgment and thought given to opinions offered- even if that opinion is not, necessarily, shared. I, for example, can generally accept that others have beliefs that differ from my own, and that they participate in the sharing and/or furtherance of those beliefs in appropriate forums. Like in churches. Or synagogues. Or mosques. Or temples. Or in their own homes and family groups.

I can accept that these beliefs can live in concert with mine- and with the values of of our larger society- if they do not impact our educational, judiciary or political system. As long as they are not forced upon me- or anyone else- I can accept that they exist and that people find value and comfort and solace in them. As long as they are not used- overtly or covertly- to influence public policy or office, go ahead and keep your beliefs sacred in your own, individual sphere of existence.

I cannot- and will not, and SHOULD not- accept beliefs that DO, in any way, impact those things that impact our secular system of governance and community engagement.

Religions, it has to be remembered, are ideas. Some may argue that they are amalgams of good ideas. Others may disagree. We can, and should, demonstrate sensitivity and acceptance of the fact that one religion or another might well have things to say, or practices to enact, or things to ban and call blasphemous, with which we might disagree.

When those words or practices or calls of blasphemy run contrary to our larger freedoms as secular societies? Yeah no. That we don’t tolerate. We SHOULD NOT tolerate.

If a group happens to believe that polygamy and forced marriage of girls under the age of 15 is okay, we have larger, societal markers that dispute that. We have the legal recourse- and moral obligation- to put a stop to such things if we are made aware of them.

If an extreme segment of Islam calls for the murder of writers and artists over a perceived slight against the personification of an idea, we need be charged with ensuring that the same legality and obligation are upheld.

We must enact our righteous responsibility for the legitimate and logical protection of people– not ideas, actual human beings. There is no ‘fine line’ between free speech and the offence of ‘sensibilities’ that are associated with ideas. Especially if those ideas are patently and demonstrably wrong-footed and anachronistic. Some things may, admittedly, be relative. Violence and abuse of one another in the name of ideologies based in divisiveness are not.

It is not enough to condemn the actions of those who act out in purported defense of these ideas- whether the defense is supported by one or by many. If we do not actively demonstrate that these ideas must not be valued above our humanity and inherent connection to one another, then the terrorists and the power mongers will keep on winning.

That the terrorists and the right-wing power mongers are seeking the dissolution of consensus and direction from those of us who claim to be progressive is a given. Both extremes are manipulating our emotions and reactions to the suggested triumph of one idea over another. If we don’t cease the liberal knee-jerk ‘tolerance’ of all things and work toward true acceptance (and with it, understanding)- across the board and across the world- we will continue down the path of playing to the extremes- both those who claim to be Islamist and those who seek to eradicate all those who subscribe to or find connection with Islamic beliefs and practices.

Tolerance has become an ‘apologetic’ word. We tend to use it uniformly and unthinkingly to describe liberal feelings towards those things that we may have been less than nice about in the past. Things like race. Or difference in religion. Or gender.

We have misused it to such an extent that it is damaging us- and interfering with our real need to understand one another. If we manage to convince ourselves that we ‘tolerate’ something, we tend to figure that the thing in question requires no further thought or input on our parts. We dismiss it as ‘solved’, as ‘done’, and move on.

I’ve read a number of articles on both sides of the argument- those that advocated publishing the images from Charlie Hebdo and those that supported those publications that refused to do so. There are those who say that if we demonstrate our ‘tolerance’ by not insulting the ideas of more than a billion people we are doing the right thing.

That particular argument sounds a little too much like the comments that Francis made. Using as faulty an analogy as I’ve heard recently, he equated ‘faith’ to his mother- and noted that insulting Il Mama would end with a  ‘punch in the nose’. “One cannot make fun of faith” he said. To do so will inevitably incite violence. Even from the guy who is supposed to be the earthly mouthpiece of the Prince of Peace.

I’ve said before that this Pope keeps surprising me with his (relative) progressiveness. So I have to say that this reaction disappointed me terribly. Not only did he realize an intangible (faith) as something concrete, he placed its sacredness above the human that challenged the idea.

We MUST be free to make fun- of faith, of science-denying political ideology, of anti-vaccination nincompoops, of those who think that the earth is flat- of any and all ideas that can’t be supported through reasoned discussion and evidential proof. We have to be free to question and constantly challenge those ideas that threaten other humans.

People always trump ideas. Nothing can be more sacred than our shared humanity. NO-thing. So ‘cultural sensitivity’ and ‘tolerance’ don’t get to supersede the freedom to question and poke fun at human-created ideological constructs.

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the States. I’m a little unclear as to whether or not it’s a statutory holiday (SNL had a satirical sketch about this very question on the weekend), but, regardless, it’s a day that people can use to demonstrate their ‘tolerance’ of the ideas that this great man- and proponent of peaceful action toward social justice- expressed decades ago.

Of the many pieces of quotable wisdom he left as part of his legacy, the one up there ^^^^ certainly applies to this discussion. There may be some irony, perhaps, in bringing Dr. King into a rant about doing away with the concept of tolerance. I’d argue that he wouldn’t recognize the uses to which we put the word these days- and the lackadaisical definition that now represents a once-proud concept.

I accept that his beliefs about religion- and the existence of and need for a god- differ from mine. I accept that his beliefs- and his cultural and temporal and geographical context- shaped his wisdom and provided a great deal of its continuing resonance. I also accept that his life experience was very different from my own- and that his ability to express his ideas about inequality and injustice have been pivotal in the shaping of changing political and social mores South of the Border (and, arguably, North of the Border, as well).

He is, deservedly, oft-cited. My very faves?

This one is also, actually, quite appropriate to this discussion. Different innocents, same concerns regarding the murderers.

We can’t possibly begin to do that if we ignore the reality that there are systems, in this world of ours, that are fostering the growth of philosophies- of ideas- that suggest that murder is an acceptable reaction to hurt sensibilities and offence taken when mythological figureheads are held up to criticism and satirical examination.

As a race, we humans are a pretty creative bunch. We industriously come up with ideas and theories- to which we grow attached and cling. It has been part of our continuing evolution as we seek to understand ourselves and our world. Our ideas define us- and some of them have, historically and practically, been pretty great.

Those ideas worth sharing, discussing and adopting are the ideas on which we should be focused. The ideas that are worthy of acceptance are those that speak to the fact that we are all the same. Playing at superficial tolerance, however sincere- without any attempt at real understanding- will only increase the body count and lessen our humanity.


33 comments on “Tolerance vs. Acceptance

  1. So much comes down to the “Us” and “Them.”

  2. Doobster418 says:

    “People always trump ideas.” You bet. Great post.

  3. bethbyrnes says:

    I have been saying for years that our problem is this adolescent Hatfields vs McCoys. People here in the US are unhappy and angry. They are not really sure who is to blame so they readily accept the powers that be identifying a group on whom to focus their anomie, as you so aptly put it. Then they are easily manipulated and lied into doing non-accepting, intolerant things to punish that concocted group. It shows a lack of reasoning and intellect, in my opinion. People here are being taught to think less and react and believe more. Dangerous.

    For whatever reason the Pope’s statement didn’t bother me. I took his meaning to be something akin to when you know someone has a weakness, don’t taunt and provoke that weakness. Take the higher ground.

    Would a better idea for ‘tolerance’ be flexibility in the face of controversy? I am not sure. Certainly acceptance is a preferable word when it comes to the issue of other people’s rights of expression. We have laws to tell us what is and is not societally acceptable. Naturally, a lot of people don’t know (never study) the law or chafe against it. That is why we still have racism in the US, especially in the Deep South, shockingly, in 2015.

    MLK day is a legal holiday here. I noted yesterday that Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) was among those who voted against its being a national/legal holiday. I find that curious.

    • colemining says:

      This is it, exactly, Beth. We are being manipulated (or ‘hosed’ as I like to say- it’s a Canadian thing) through the encouragement of institutionalized credulity.

      I think that there is a lot of validity to your interpretation of Francis’ message- I have to admit that the faulty analogy sort of stuck in my craw and I remained focused on that aspect of it. If he had said, straight out, ‘take the higher ground’ then I might have had less of an issue with his comments. I certainly don’t advocate provocation for the sake of provocation.

      Flexibility is certainly something we are sorely lacking. If we use that, in concert with acceptance and understanding, we might be getting somewhere. ‘Tolerance’ has maxed out its usefulness in light of its misuse by those who mistake extremities of liberalism as means to further progress and change.

      I watched Huckabee on the Daily Show last night. Not a good thing to do before bed. Made me agitated and unable to sleep. He was talking about his theory- as laid out in his new book- of “bubbles” vs “bubbas” (the ‘outliers’ on the coasts- NYC, LA, DC etc. as opposed to the ‘real’ people in the rest of the country). Jon schooled him on a number of things, but the scary reality is that too many people do think like him. Reasoning and intellect keep losing in favour of things like ‘traditional values’- even when those ‘values’ encourage social injustices that should have been eradicated ages ago.

      I had always assumed (my bad) that MLK Day was a National holiday. Interesting.

      Thank you, as always, for your insights and perspectives. I have to admit that the sensory overload- and our politics of knee-jerk reaction and response are overwhelming me a little right now. xo

      • bethbyrnes says:

        OMG, you are brave to listen to Huckabee. What a fraud. Some pastor. And he has the temerity to think he could be President. The ‘bumpkinification’ of America personified. I agree about Francis. His statement, at least in English, was inartful.

      • colemining says:

        Lol. Really I was listening to Jon take him down. I do enjoy it when the two of them get together. Demonstrates that Huckabee has no rational leg upon which to stand. It seems like his book is, essentially, about the fact that the majority of the US is made up of ‘bumpkins’- and that those bumpkins are more than proud to name themselves such. The ‘outlying coastal intellectuals’ are the ones who aren’t representative of ‘real’ America. We hear something of the same from some of our politicians, now and again, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced.

        I have a soft spot for Francis- so I took a bit of personal offence at the wrongness of his reply.

  4. Interesting dichotomy between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance is a word which I attach to putting up with something I don’t like: someone’s misbehaving dogs, rude drivers, snippy coworkers, etc. These are things which I can’t do much about, or it’s usually not worth the fight to try to change. Sometimes it is, but often not.

    Acceptance is often dealing with the fact that something or someone may be different, but that doesn’t make it or them wrong, bad, etc. To say you “tolerate” someone else’s religion or politics is condescending. I may believe that my brand of both is closer to the truth but to see the other person as completely misguided and therefore simply worthy of “tolerance” is ridiculous and presumptuous.

    On the other hand, I don’t have to accept individuals who practice a faith or espouse politics that endanger lives or the common welfare. That is worth taking a stand against.

    • colemining says:

      Yes, CBC. And we need to avoid the patronizing ‘putting up with’ entire groups or demographics of people. It’s reductive and patronizing- when it isn’t completely dehumanizing.

      I like your take on acceptance- difference isn’t, after all, inherently wrong. Although that isn’t a message that gets a whole lot of airtime these days. And yes, certain things are never acceptable- including the ‘justification’ that random people should be punished for critiquing an idea.

      Thanks, as always, for the visit and the thoughtful comment.

  5. lennymaysay says:

    I think you may have just explained why that term “religious tolerance” always bothered me.

    • colemining says:

      Yeah- it’s one of those insidious terms that seems like it should be a good thing, but really isn’t, when we look at it closely.

      Thanks for the visit- and for reblogging!

  6. lennymaysay says:

    Reblogged this on Lenny Says and commented:
    Explains why that term “religious tolerance” always troubled me.

  7. Agree with you on all points here. I especially get concerned when fundamentalist Christians, in the guise of being “tolerant,” use phrases like, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” which couches their intolerance for “certain” groups of people. That phrase causes me to throw up in my mouth. And you know I follow Jesus, so I’m not coming at this as an outsider, here.

    I tend to agree with Beth; not enough people do their own research. The tendency is to listen to yellow journalism and swallow it whole, never considering the option of weighing both sides in an intelligent manner. It’s easier, safer to find the talking heads who already espouse one’s own beliefs and nod along with them – conservative and liberal – and remain stuck, right or wrong. Much more difficult to seek actual facts and compare them to the words coming out of the mouths of “journalists” and politicians.

    The continued assumption that you’re right and everyone else is wrong is, unfortunately, the true blasphemy.

    • colemining says:

      Hi Susan! Happy New Year!

      Thank you for weighing in- as an ‘insider’, as it were. Seriously, I think the term has become politicized in such a way that it has become meaningless- when it isn’t offensive- and we need to set it aside as yet another example of words that have become ‘loaded’ beyond all recognition.

      Unfortunately, like you and Beth said, there don’t seem to be all that many people- at all- who are willing to do their research. We are intellectually lazy- and encouraged in this laziness by our social, political and religious institutions, since an un/misinformed population is more easily malleable. And you’re very right in suggesting that people cling to their ‘designation’ without thought given to how that ‘designation’ might have changed over time- or be dependent on specificity of issue.

      I read a blog post the other day by a left-leaning individual (not unlike myself) who was called out for supporting the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons by all of her left-leaning friends- in the name of ‘cultural tolerance’. She doesn’t know where she ‘fits’, politically, any more. I can empathize- especially given my particular academic background. I’ve fielded some criticism from former colleagues who think it’s wrong of me to advocate for the freedom to publish things that challenge or provoke ideas that differ from mine.

      If we don’t continually examine our perspectives- and why we believe what we believe- we really can’t be presenting those perspectives as legitimate. Again, this is part of my own, personal existential crisis. I’ve always considered myself an avid proponent of the dialectic- yet I seem to be becoming a polemicist in my old age.

      Thanks for dropping by and for your thoughtful comment! xo

      • I can empathize – I don’t seem to “fit in” with most Christians, either. I admit I am left-leaning, yet take issue when so-called progressive Christians denigrate and vilify those on the right when they supposedly espouse love, inclusion and acceptance.

        Along with research, we need to examine ourselves, so I agree with your statement about examining our own perspectives from time to time. I think it’s called maturing. How else can we hope to have intelligent and respectful communication with each other?

        Thank YOU for your thoughtful post. And Happy New Year to you, too. 🙂

      • colemining says:

        We have begun to take the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality so far that we are dividing lines within the groups to which we have always claimed adherence. It’s ridiculous.

        Self-examination is vital to the continuance of effective communication. I’m somewhat locked in that cycle right now- examining my reactions to things and the reasoning behind such reactions. A New Year tune-up, of sorts.

  8. Wow. Brilliant Cole. You should be teaching. Your thoughtful analysis (and “understanding”) is to me the true purpose of higher learning. Today we see polarized opinions getting all the attention. Education is the only way to save the world. I believe, anyway.

    (Another academic friend of mine stated that the poison pen is equal to murder. I just can’t get my head around it, and has left me rather verklempt).

    • colemining says:

      Ack. I’ll say it again. I don’t agree, necessarily, with the way in which many people choose to voice their opposition to systems/worldviews/ideas that need challenging, but we absolutely MUST uphold our responsibility to critique those ideas that need to be critiqued. ‘Poison pen’ as equal to murder? I can’t even. I’m not suggesting that we should sit around flinging names and nasty sentiments back and forth. I’d very much prefer if we could raise the level of our discussions, somewhat, but that doesn’t mean that the ‘baser’ criticisms are fair game for violent reactions.

      Charlie Hebdo was not attacking people– religious or otherwise. They produce commentaries (however crass and unappealing as it may have been) about elements of a worldview that are unacceptable. And that people were killed for them for doing so? There can be no justification for that. None. If someone objects to the way(s) in which their ideas have been portrayed, they have the opportunity to present counter-arguments in acceptable forums- and, perhaps, even raising the bar on the sophistication level of the discussion.

      Academic apologists are becoming as illogical as religious apologists. Which is another reason- to add to the already-significant number- why I am not an academic. I’m not sure that those institutions (any of them- universities, political bodies, religious groups) would welcome my message(s). Everyone is more than happy paying lip-service to the fact that they want change, yet remaining completely unwilling to make any changes in themselves. That’s too hard- and something that requires too much individual evaluation. Let ‘them’ be the ones who are always in the wrong. It’s always best if we have someone else to blame.


      Sorry about the rant, Booksy. The last part of your comment really got my back up. Verklempt indeed.

      Thanks for reading- and for the support. Need to have a cup of tea and a bit of quiet time now, I think 😉

  9. Ste J says:

    I think this is the most comprehensive and sensible piece of writing that has been written in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

  10. […] the values of “mutual tolerance (although I’ve noted my concerns with that term, previously) and respect for each other’s dignity and humanity”, as Edward Keenan so wisely stated […]

  11. […] about why we, as humans, continue to do these things to each other. This blog is full of posts (here’s one), and my life is full of ghosts of discussions-past, that strive to address underlying causes and […]

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