Hard Tolerance

At the Guardian today, Andrew Brown defines “hard tolerance,” a concept I’d never heard of before, but that I like:

After Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial Regensburg speech, the most notable response was the decision of 137 Muslim scholars to sign a declaration outlining what common values they shared with Christians.

This “common word” declaration is an example of “hard tolerance” – the increasing practice of making theological differences distinct and then talking about them, rather than trying to conceal them in a syrup of platitudes about love and mysticism. The aim is for priests, imams and rabbis to enter imaginatively into each other’s ideologies, rather than simply agreeing.

I suppose that’s what Jonathan Elliot and I are promoting with “Have a Meal with a Muslim Day 2011” (HMMD 2011): can Muslims and non-Muslims talk with imaginative sympathy across the lines that divide them even as they maintain the integrity of their respective positions?

And do they even really want to?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Hard Tolerance

  1. Hi Santi

    Yesterday I came across the book “Tolerant Oppression” http://www.amazon.com/Tolerant-Oppression-promoting-tolerance-undermines/dp/1608446271
    It suggests that by promoting ‘tolerance’ we are actually going backwards. The author suggests ‘acceptance’ and affirmation of difference is what our societies should be aiming for.

    “Tolerance, are you kidding? It’s an insult! It’s how white people feel better about themselves while continuing to hate Blacks.”
    – Study participant

    “Of course tolerance is awful. I’m just afraid that that is the best we can hope for.”
    – Holocaust survivor

    One reviewer writes “tolerance is just a way to keep on hating while feeling OK about ourselves. Better to look beyond only tolerating someone to actually accepting, understanding and appreciating others”

    I’d like to read this at some point.

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia 🙂

    • santitafarella says:


      I support the idea that we should work at being accepting of others, but the truth also matters, as does justice. I, for example, cannot celebrate religious fundamentalists who homeschool their children and teach them young earth creationism. I cannot celebrate Islamic attitudes toward women, or their covering in public. I cannot celebrate neo-Nazis and skinheads who tattoo swastikas on their bodies.

      But I place parental rights, religious freedom, and freedom of expression very high in my hierarchy of values. And that means I need a category for enduring those things that I regard as repugnant but within the bounds of otherwise desirable laws. That category is tolerance.

      We can live in a good and decent society if we will all agree, at minimum, not to breach one another’s liberty and freedom of peacable assembly and speech. I don’t care, for example, whether gays and Christian fundamentalists like each other, so long as they tolerate one another’s existence.

      The step backward, then, is not tolerance, but the aspiration of full emotional acceptance of every ideology, cultural form, and lifestyle, for this suggests to people (unrealistically) that they never have to grow up or live with real democratic compromises. In fact, accepting less than idealistic and utopian social conditions is part of being an adult.


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