Tolerance vs. Approval

American Digest's Vanderleun addresses a distinction I've often struggled to make between the desirability of tolerance and the dangers of abject moral relativism:

In essence we agree that I tolerate your worship of a moon god and you tolerate my worship of a tree. . . . If, on the other hand, you decide that I have to make continuous noises of "approval" of the moon god in order for you to grant me the right to worship the tree god in peace, we are headed towards an argument that ends in guns. . . . "Toleration does not require approval." It really is the simplest of social compacts and like all great and simple ideas bringing in nuance and qualifiers doesn't strengthen our common bonds as society but weakens it. This is well-known to those that seek to create a climate of continual upheaval in the mistaken belief that, in the end, the fire will not consume them. Civil war consumes all. . . . In the spirit of America, I am prepared to tolerate a vast and unfettered range of religions, beliefs, lifestyles, and other things that my fellow citizens may wish to don in order to decorate their lives and souls. But if they come to me and seek my unfettered approval for this or that hobby-horse they have chosen to ride I shall reserve my approval according to my judgment. Should they then, like piqued children, insist on my approval of this or my disapproval of that as a requirement in custom or in law for my continued full citizenship in this nation, we will find ourselves at daggers drawn.

It's still not easy to draw the line between tolerance and approval, whatever Vanderleun may say, whenever actions move beyond the largely symbolic and private. I won't be drawing my dagger over monotheism, but I'm not likely to tolerate theft and murder in my immediate vicinity no matter what its multicultural basis.

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