I recently had cause to watch an interview of Sargon of Akkad, a YouTuber who describes himself as a “classical liberal” (i.e. in the mould of John Locke et al). I enjoy listening to him as he makes clear arguments (though that does not entail that I agree with him on all points). He made the comment in this interview that whereas “tolerance” is a goal for socialists, it is a by-product for classical liberals, and, I must say, I found this aphorism rather pleasing.
Christians are admonished to bear with others and to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39; Prov 19:11; Eccl 7:8; Col 3:12). The reason why Christians are to do this is not because Christians believe all views are equally valid. Rather, Christians are to show tolerance because if they fail to do so, they will be hypocrites. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23): if God can forgive our sins, and we wish to be like Him, we must forgive the sins of others (see the parable of the unmerciful servant: Matt 18:21 ff).
This posture of humility does not entail that we should pretend all things that people believe and do are good. If we held this view, Christianity would be self-contradictory and thus invalid. The doctrine of repentance is at the core of the Gospel message: repentance presupposes an inferior state from which one turns in order to grasp a better one.
The current tolerance malaise that grips the West is a product of nihilism, post-modernism, and post-colonial guilt. Each of these issues must be addressed, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so without exposing oneself to the risk of abuse and prosecution. To some extent it is productive to speak of these things in the echo-chamber, but the mission-field, to change metaphor, is not in the midst of us but outside.
Nihilism springs from crooked Enlightenment thinking. In challenging nihilism, we must be careful not to attack the good things that come through and out of the Enlightenment. Nor should we conceive of the Enlightenment as a clear break from medieval and early modern thinking: it was not. Kuhn’s doctrine of paradigm shifts must be rejected in its extreme form. Rather, a careful examination of history reveals a series of overlapping paradigms.
Post-modernism similarly springs from a misuse of philosophical scepticism and received great impetus from the horrors of WWI and WWII. It was further strengthened as a consequence of experimentation with altered states of consciousness in the 1960s and 1970s (although it must be stressed that not all people who had such experiences drew this interpretation from them: a possible interpretation is not necessarily the only interpretation).
As for post-colonial guilt, the impact of the European empires on other parts of the world has yet to be fully evaluated. The fact that there were many bad consequences does not entail that all the consequences were bad. Furthermore, when a person makes a value judgment about the behaviour of these empires and the consequences of their acts, that person is in fact impliedly rejecting relativism. One cannot make a judgment of the British Raj without presupposing an objective standard – at least if one wants to persuade others to share his view.