Boy, there's a lot of confusion about what tolerance is.
Howard Dean's comments in Kansas this weekend demonstrate the confusion about what "tolerance" is. In Lawrence, Kansas, Dean said, "'Moderate Republicans can't stand these people (conservatives), because they're intolerant. They don't think tolerance is a virtue,' Dean said, adding: 'I'm not going to have these right-wingers throw away our right to be tolerant.'" (LJ World.com; HT: Hugh Hewitt)
How can someone prevent you from being tolerant? Tolerance, in the traditional and dictionary sense, is an attitude completely within the control of an individual, no one can take it away. Tolerance is putting up with something you don't approve of or agree with. I suppose the only way another person could take away your right to be tolerant is to agree with you. Then there's nothing to be tolerant of.
The modern version of tolerance birthed in relativism makes more sense of Dean's view, but it doesn't get him off the hook. Tolerance is often meant as an appeal to neutrality, of having no position, belief, or opinion. As soon as a Christian expresses a moral view, he's accused of being intolerant. But the accusation of being intolerant for holding a view is itself intolerant, in this use of the word. The problem with this new notion of tolerance is that it's self-refuting - and Dean's comments reek of intolerance. He's obviously not neutral in his views.
Christians are often accused of intolerance when it comes to two hot cultural issues: abortion and same-sex marriage. Taking the relativist version of tolerance, there's no way to be neutral about abortion. Either the government allows it or prevents it. Telling a pro-lifer not to have an abortion if they don't like it isn't a serious rejoinder because the pro-lifer isn't saying, "I don't like abortion;" he's saying that abortion kills an innocent human being no matter who has one. Innocent human life isn't an issue the government should be neutral on.
There's a lot of confusion about what constitutes tolerance with same-sex marriage, too. Proponents of legalizing this seem to think that is the neutral position. But neither proscribing or prescribing something is neutral. Government has an interest in marriage and favors this fundamental relationship because stable families are good for the society and produce the next generation. So if government treats same-sex marriage the same way as heterosexual marriage then it favors it, it's not neutral. True neutrality for government is to say nothing about same-sex unions, which is the current state of affairs.
There's a lot of confusion about tolerance that going back to the original definition would correct.