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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Bob Jones University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Bob Jones University

The Collegian

Column: True tolerance in intolerant times

Tolerance must be reclaimed from cancel culture and restored to its former meaning.
Zachary Edmondson

There was a time when people didn’t let their differences get in the way of good relationships. Friends could “agree to disagree” about any and every topic. Most beliefs could be discussed freely in the marketplace of ideas. Yes, there was controversy, but people handled it better than they do today. Sadly, the world has changed so much since then. With the rise of “cancel culture,” people all over the world—and especially in the United States—have become more polarized in recent years. 

Today, there are “right” and “wrong” beliefs, and disagreement is virtually forbidden. If someone’s beliefs don’t align with the “right” beliefs, they are labeled a bigot and canceled from society, forbidden to express their opinions in any way, shape or form. There are countless examples of relationships destroyed by cancel culture—stories of friendships that were ruined because a person was offended by his friend’s political views, or people fired from their jobs for no other reason than their religious beliefs, even children who stopped talking to their parents because they wouldn’t condone their lifestyle choices. I hear these stories and ask myself, “How did the world change so much?” 

I realized just how much things have changed several weeks ago when, for a class assignment, I watched the first 1960 presidential debate between Democratic Party nominee John F. Kennedy and Republican Party nominee Richard Nixon. It was the first debate to be broadcast on television. What stood out to me the most was how courteous the two candidates were to each other; while Kennedy and Nixon were by no means friends, they were civil toward each other throughout the entire debate. Instead of trying to “cancel” each other out, they focused on outlining their policies, explaining why their ideas were the best for the country. 

As I watched, I couldn’t help but compare their debate to the presidential debates between Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Party nominee Donald Trump in 2016, which I saw as a young teenager. What I remember the most about those debates is how the candidates made no attempt to hide their contempt for each other—it seemed they spent more time bashing each other than they spent outlining their campaign platforms. I began to wonder if the whole purpose of the debate was to see whose reputation could be destroyed the fastest. 

How did it come to this? How could the world change so quickly in such a short amount of time? The reason is that we’ve forgotten the true meaning of the word tolerance. We recognize it as a buzzword of the 21st century, but its definition has changed drastically in modern times. Tolerance once meant accepting people who hold different beliefs from your own, or who behave in ways you don’t like. You didn’t have to accept their ideas as your own or condone them in any way, but you could still accept the people who held those ideas as humans created in God’s image, or even as friends. Tolerance no longer means this—it is no longer enough to accept people who have different beliefs from your own while still disagreeing with them. Now you are pressured to accept their ideas and condone them, even if they go against your own beliefs. And if you refuse, you run the risk of being labeled a bigot. In the past, tolerance was about acceptance of people. Today, tolerance is about agreement with ideologies. This misconception about tolerance fuels modern cancel culture. 

I’m a Christian. As a Christian, I believe that there is a standard of truth for all people, and that standard is the Bible, the Word of God. Like it says in John 17:17, “Your word is truth.” Like every religion in the world—Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and even secular humanism—my beliefs are exclusive. I can’t accept that all beliefs are equally true like the modern definition of tolerance demands. But I can extend acceptance and love toward people I disagree with, without condoning their beliefs. That is true tolerance. Unfortunately, in this culture where to disagree with an idea is considered hatred, this is not enough. When people say that Christians like me are intolerant, they usually mean that we are intolerant by their definition—that we refuse to condone their beliefs because they conflict with our own. 

What many people don’t understand is that cancel culture, which claims to promote tolerance above all else, is intolerant by its own definition. People condoning cancel culture—on every side of the cultural, political, and religious spectrums—demand that others condone their beliefs, but they refuse to condone the beliefs of others with whom they disagree. Is this not cancel culture’s definition of intolerance? Yet many don’t seem to recognize the dichotomy.  

If cancel culture continues unchecked in its present course, it will eventually balkanize people into enemy groups, turning them from peaceful neighbors into militant zealots. Each group will assume that the other has nothing valuable to say, and they will viciously destroy any dissenters who dare to raise objections. Relationships of any kind will become harder to maintain, if not impossible, under cancel culture. There can be no meaningful debate or discussion about opposing beliefs because even holding an opposing belief is offensive to the other sides. And as people grow increasingly intolerant of each other, they will likely take violent action against those groups they disagree with. We have seen in the past decade that the result of unrest is anarchy and chaos—think of the riots that followed the presidential election of 2016 or the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.  

How do we stop the madness of cancel culture from spreading any further? The answer lies in rediscovering the true definition of tolerance. The term must be reclaimed from cancel culture and restored to its former meaning. True tolerance—the right to “agree to disagree”— will resolve the madness we face today. 

I can’t imagine such a large change happening within the next few years, but I do believe we have the power to start. We must give others the courtesy we want them to give us. We don’t have to cater to sin, but we can show others respect that every human being created in the image of God deserves. We can show that we care about others and want to understand them better. Jesus said it best: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We can give others the tolerance we want them to give us. Truth is the best response to a lie—the only way to defeat the false tolerance of cancel culture is to embrace and practice true tolerance in our dealings with others.  

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About the Contributor
Zachary Edmondson
Zachary Edmondson, Staff Writer
Zachary Edmondson is a sophomore multimedia journalism major at Bob Jones University. The former homeschooler dreams of working in mass communication after graduation and of becoming a novelist. This is his third semester with The Collegian. He is also a staff writer for Inkwell Literary Magazine.
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