Classical tolerance was birthed by a Christian worldview. It’s founded upon the notion that man is created in God’s image. As His image bearer, man is expected to act in accordance with God’s moral standards. Man is also expected to treat his fellows with respect, since they too bear God’s image.
Modern tolerance has no such foundation. Consequently, it’s very fickle, changing from person to person. Because of this, you can never tell how it’s going to cash out—it’s like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a living, highly agitated animal.
In the classical view, one shows tolerance even if the object of the tolerance is himself intolerant: I don’t have to tolerate someone who agrees with me. It’s only those with whom I don’t agree that I can show tolerance—this, of course, includes the intolerant.
The Intolerance of Tolerance
If I were to create a bumper sticker for the new-tolerance crowd it would read, “We don’t tolerate intolerance around here!” Reason being, those holding to modern tolerance have a tendency to vilify their detractors. For example, if you question the morality of homosexual behavior you run risk being labeled a “homophobe” or being accused of hating homosexuals.
True tolerance doesn’t name call, and it doesn’t cast aspersions upon the character of those on the other side. Even if the person is prejudiced in a bad way, or has an irrational hatred towards a person or group, the truly tolerant would respond with a well-reasoned argument, presented in a gracious, respectful manor. Of course, this is the difference between the classic definition and the new: the former, being founded upon a Christian ethic, has substance, while the later, having no foundation at all, is vacuous.