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"The Beauty of Intolerance" Author Discusses Modern View of Tolerance

Sean McDowell talks about our culture’s view of tolerance, detects its inaccuracies and offers insights in how to live out a biblical view of tolerance. Read Transcript


Most of us cringe at that label.

But intolerance can be a beautiful thing.

Take a look.

NARRATOR: Controversial subjects like abortion, homosexuality,

and racial equality have created a great divide in our culture.

Many people think everyone should be accepted no matter

what they believe or do, while others resist friendships

with people they view as different or immoral.

Sean McDowell, a former high school teacher, and his dad,

Josh, a bestselling author, address these complex issues

in their book, "The Beauty of Intolerance."

Today Sean gives insight on building

relationships with others who hold completely different world


Well, we welcome the author of "The Beauty of Intolerance"--

one of the authors, Shawn McDowell.

You wrote this with your dad, Josh.

I did.

What an insightful book I think.

A lot of us have been looking at what's going on in the culture

today and saying, what in the world is happening?

Where did we lose the game here?

Your dad has defended faith for us

and helped us work through that maze for many, many years.

Has it always been easy for you to define what you believe

and articulate it?

My parents did a good job of not just telling me

what to believe growing up but helping

me learn how to discover truth.

For example, my dad would ask us a lot of questions

instead of give simple answers, which

I think is the way we need to parent today

because there's endless information out there.

We need to help young people learn how to think.

So it's been a process for me as much as anybody else.

Well, the book is entitled "The Beauty of Intolerance"

with the "In" in a different color.

Just define the title and why you chose that.

Well, a while ago my dad made a shirt and the front of it

said, "intolerance is a beautiful idea".

And, of course, when I wear that shirt around people

see that and get offended and give you stark looks.

But then the back says, Mother Teresa

was intolerant of poverty, Bono was intolerant of AIDS,

Gandhi of classism, and Jesus of hypocrisy.

And the point is that there are certain things we

should be tolerant of, certain things

we should be intolerant of.

But the problem is we live in a society

where these labels-- like, you're exclusivistic,

you're bigoted, you're intolerant-- are just

thrown out there.

We need to take the time to think through

what is tolerance, how do we really

live in conversation in a culture respectfully

with people that have very, very different beliefs.

Can I just say, your book came out in the right year.

Well, thank you.

I mean, really.

Exactly what you're talking about

is what seems to be missing in our culture today.

And how confusing to young people is that?

Because the grownups, the adults,

the leaders are setting this example

of-- if I don't like something that you believe or something,

or you stand for then I can't be civil with you.

How do we get our young people back on track with this?

Well, I think part of the difficulty

is we're using the same words, like respect, dignity,

tolerance, diversity.

But they mean very, very different things

to different generations.

So say millennials and even above

millennials-- tolerance essentially

meant I disagree with you but I still respect you.

You're right to believe something different

and I will treat you with dignity

and honor even though we differ.

Now tolerance means I can't even--

if I say you're wrong in your core beliefs and lifestyle

then I am bigoted and I'm hateful.

In fact, to be tolerant means I have to praise

beliefs of somebody else.

And if I just say they're wrong then I'm labeled intolerant.

So this idea where we use different terms

creates a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

So "The Beauty of Intolerance"-- we just take a step back

and say, OK, what is true tolerance?

What's the biblical basis for it?

What's the philosophical basis for it?

What's the historical basis?

Where have we gone wrong?

And how can we get back on the right track?

Will you define what-- well, you've

talked a little bit about it-- but traditional tolerance,

I think, was something that we used to see in Washington, D.C.

I mean, we could vote differently

but we could reach across the aisle when that vote was done,

and shake hands and leave.

Today I was watching a television program

where the expression of someone's opinion

was so obnoxious because they were saying

anybody who's not standing on the turf that I'm standing on

is exactly what you're saying.

And that's the-- you know?

Yeah, yeah.

I can't even see you as a valuable human being.

How do we begin to change that dialogue, Sean?

How do we begin to change the thought process

that you're either with me or you're against me

and I can't even see your merit?

The first thing as Christians-- we

need to really know what we believe

and why we believe it-- about tolerance,

about truth, about all issues.

Then we can speak with confidence

to people with a different belief system.

But second, probably most important,

is that we need to step outside of our comfort zones.

Because the narrative is that anybody who-- if you

are an American you loved apple pie, baseball,

and you were a Christian.

Now if you're Christian, you're intolerant and bigoted.

So the way to counter this narrative

is if we step out and build relationships

with people, very different belief systems,

and they see our lifestyle, they see our love, even amidst


When the voice comes in that Christians

are bigoted and intolerant, their first reaction will be,

I know Christians and they're not that way.

So each of us have to just step out and build

loving, gracious relationships with people

of very different backgrounds, different races,

different belief systems.

And then they can hopefully see the love of Christ

through us to know what real tolerance is.

Well, the kind of cultural intolerance

that we're living in today has even

crept into the church, which is sad.

I think it has.

In fact, really cultural tolerance

is this idea that rather than truth is something

in God's character that he has expressed

and we are to mold our ideas to God's truth,

cultural tolerance says, I am the source of truth myself.

We increasingly see this on moral issues

where people think, if I believe something

you have no right to criticize me

and I can read my truth into the Bible

rather than conform my life to what the Bible really teaches.

Well, it certainly is an interesting thought

to really examine what is intolerance to me

and how do I, through relationship,

make a difference.

What advice would you give to parents?

Probably exactly what your dad did for you, huh?

Well, yeah.

I would say, number one, you've got to really build

relationships with your kids.

Excuse me.

Reach out, build a relationship with your kids.

But also understand the world that kids

are growing up in today.

What tolerance means, what respect

means, what diversity means.

And then, when we really understand

how those terms are understood by a younger generation,

I think we can communicate much more effectively and lovingly.

Well, I want to say, whether you're

the parent trying to figure that out for yourself

or someone wanting to lead your children through the maze,

"The Beauty of Intolerance" is a great book to start with.

Josh co-wrote-- or I mean Sean co-wrote this

with his dad, Josh McDowell.

We've all been reading his books for years.

And Sean, you did a great job on this.

It's a wonderful book.

Oh, thanks for that.

Highly recommend it.


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