Tolerance vs. Acceptance

Tolerance is defined by Dictionary.com as

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

Acceptance is defined as

2. favorable reception; approval; favor.

I don’t like the word tolerance. There’s something about it that makes me think “putting up with” or “dealing with.” Saying, “I’m tolerant of Islam,” is like saying, “I put up with Muslims.” I know that this is probably not what most people mean when they say they’re tolerant of religious people, but that’s what it sounds like to me. We tolerate the heat here in Oklahoma. We tolerate our neighbors who like to fight in the street every weekend. We tolerate things that are irksome, but that we must suffer through because we live on this planet.

And, acceptance, while a bit more favorable, is still a fine line. I don’t agree with Christians, but I accept them as human beings and I realize they have a valid opinion. I don’t accept when they try to force their beliefs on me or force their arcane laws into government, but I understand why they want to live their own lives the way they do. I don’t accept (or approve of) their religion. But I do accept them as people, and there are many Christians I love. I teach my children that religious people have a set of beliefs by which they live their lives, and that ours are different, but I make sure my kids know that loving people is the most important thing they can do in this world to show acceptance.

Tolerance, with it’s inclusion of permissive, says “I’m allowing this to occur.” Acceptance, with its inclusion of approval, says “I approve of this.” So, am I tolerating Christianity or accepting it? I’m tolerating the religion while accepting the person as equal. That’s the only definition that makes sense to me. I would never treat a Christian as lower than myself. I would never try to take away their basic rights (to marry whomever they please, to pray where and when they want, to worship). But because their beliefs pretty much require them to force their religion upon other people, I cannot approve of it. I believe it’s dangerous to do so and it goes against the reason and logic I’ve used to get to where I am now.

Christians, on the other hand, don’t tolerate or accept. Now, there are some exceptions in Christians who believe in equal rights, but many in my neck of the woods believe other religions (or lack thereof) are Satan’s way of stealing god’s flock. They believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that bad people make. They refuse to tolerate it, and many refuse to accept them as equal people. This, to me, is where Christianity is failing.

Webster’s online also defines acceptance as: “to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable […]” This is the definition I like. Christianity is inevitable, and atheists tend to treat it as such. However, we watch out for our freedoms. We watch out for those whose lot in life is not as easy as others. We stand up for the basic rights of those who are being oppressed by particular groups. We don’t accept Christianity in terms of approving of it, but we know it’s not going away. We know we must keep a watchful eye.

Christians – homosexuality and other religions are inevitable. Not everyone believes as you do, and thinking everyone eventually will is silly. You can be a watchdog, but you can’t force people to live by your beliefs. Attempting to do so makes you a bigot. You think you’re not a bigot, but you are, no matter what your motivation.

What are your thoughts on tolerance vs. acceptance? Are they different? What are your feelings toward religion? Do you accept it, or tolerate it, or a combination of both?

5 Thoughts on “Tolerance vs. Acceptance

  1. referencegirl on December 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm said:

    I’m trying to figure out the tolerance vs acceptance thing right now and I appreciate your delineation and questions. I live in the mid-west and am single so I am trying to figure out if I can handle dating a Christian or not (I am leaning towards not). I have lots of friends who are religious but being friends and dating someone are two different things. The question of homosexuality and how it is treated by Christians is such a difficult one for me. Those same good friends who are Christian don’t believe that homosexuals choose to be gay and they don’t think that gay people should have their freedoms limited in anyway – they believe in legalizing gay marriage – and yet… they still believe it is a sin to act on being gay because that is what is says in the bible. It is an incongruity that I simply do not understand and that, unfortunately, I cannot accept and am not entirely sure I can tolerate. Tolerating it feels like I am not supporting my gay friends as much as they deserve.

  2. Acceptance = Approval

  3. blondein_tokyo on March 16, 2014 at 10:07 pm said:

    Recently, many Christians are willing to tolerate gay people and their quest for equal rights. It’s usually only the hard-liners and evangalists who are truely bigots. However, it’s rare for any Christians to actually accept that the “gay lifestyle” is valid. It goes directly against what their most scared text says, so this line is going to a very difficult one for most of them to cross.
    Personally, I think it’s enough to ask for tolerance from the general publlic. It says that they are willing to allow us equal rights, even if they personally disapprove. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for acceptance. On the contrary – tolerance is the first step to acceptance, and that’s precisely why so many Christian hard-liners are pushing back so hard against even basic rights, such as seen in the segregation bills that were attempted in Arizona and Kansas. This is what they like to label “The Gay Agenda”. They are, to put it mildly, rabidly against any kinds of gay rights because they know that eventually it will lead to wider acceptance.
    On the other hand, when it comes to my personal friends or family, I demand acceptance. I can’t have a personal relationship with anyone who doesn’t accept me for who I am; and as being gay is integral to my identity, if they can’t accept it then they can’t accept ME. I very recently fell out with a close friend due exactly to this issue. He’s for gay marriage because he believes in equal rights and tolerance; on the other hand, he also thinks gay relatoniships are “abnormal” and that gay pride parades and other activist tactics to make gays more visable is akin to pushing gay sex in people’s faces and telling they should be gay, too. He’s not intolerant or anti-gay; he just wishes we would stop “demanding acceptance” and “be grateful for the allowacnces people like him are willing to give”. (his words).
    After finding this out, I realized I can’t have a real open or honest friendship with him any longer. Being that I’m an activist for gay rights, our principals are in direct conflict, and talking about anything related to homosexual relationships is going to cause conflict. Considering that my gay friends, my gay brother, and my gay partner are a large part of my life, avoiding the issue just won’t be possible. I will continue an aquaintenceship with him, and will continue to, just by my presence in his life, make him aware that gay people are just people and our relationshps are just relatoniships. But a friendship? That is off the books.

  4. Jeroen Au on April 3, 2014 at 3:59 am said:

    OK, this site has a technology issue: I posted a long post here, but I was not registered. So when I clicked ‘post’, I registered, and then my post was gone, and I had to type it again..

    Thank you for your post. I agree with your definition of ‘tolerance’, ‘acceptance’, and ‘agreement’. I accept religion: I think it is OK to believe in a religion; but I don’t agree with religion: of some religions I think they are false. Acceptance goes farther than tolerance. If you tolerate something, you think something is not OK, but you don’t fight against it. For example domestic violence. I think it is not OK to be violent against your spouse. But for different reasons I would perhaps not interfere, in other words I would tolerate it. But this is a bit confusing. Can it really be valid that you chose not to fight against something immoral? Indeed, you at least tolerate things that you think you can not do anything against.
    The most tricky thing I think is whether acceptance means the same as agreement after all. If I say: ‘I accept the position that homosexual behavior is immoral’, is that the same as to say: ‘I agree with the position that homosexual behavior is immoral?’

  5. Jay Carney on November 9, 2014 at 1:41 pm said:

    I’ve come to like the definition of tolerance as acceptance without approval!

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