October/November 2013 - Vol. 70

Love and Tolerance Decoded 
How their original meaning has been altered by relativistic thinking
by Bobby Maddex

n. tender, passionate affection for another person
v. to have love or affection for

History: “Love” is one of the oldest words in the English language, dating back to the eighth century. Its meaning was derived from the ancient Greek philosophers, who went to great pains to examine each of the term’s dimensions. Interestingly, not a single one of the Greek types of love correlates with the commonly held modern view that emphasizes love as a feeling. For example, the Greek word eros, which is now associated with sensual desire and longing, was actually thought to involve an active contemplation of the beauty within a person, as well as an appreciation of beauty itself. The other types of Greek love—agape, philia, and storge—have even less of a “feeling” component, instead emphasizing reciprocal actions of caring, protection, and enjoyment. In the Middle Ages, the concept of “romantic” love took root, and while courtly poetry often expressed love as an irresistible urge that defied everything from the boundaries of social class to the bonds of marriage, it also saw true love as a lofty and transcendent thing. With the rise of Darwinism and Freudian psychoanalysis in the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the understanding of love was debased in two ways: the former saw it as merely a function of biological survival, and the latter dismissed it as an illusion of the mind.

Etymology: The word “love” comes from the Old Frisian term luve, which meant “affection and friendliness toward another person.” As time went on, its definition became increasingly ambiguous, as it was used to refer to an ever-widening range of phenomena. Beginning in 1225, for instance, “love” came to likewise mean “a beloved person.” The phrase “in love” dates back to 1580 and marks the first time that the word described an emotion rather than an action. In 1919, the term “love life,” meaning “one’s collective amorous activities,” was coined, and in 1950, the phrase “make love,” which had previously meant “to pay amorous attention to,” changed into a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Thus, by the middle of the twentieth century, “love” had devolved from a precise and virtuous act of devotion into a nebulous concept that could be applied to any number of behaviors, sentiments, and things. Occasionally, a philosopher, such as Thomas Jay Oord, has tried to salvage its original definition—Oord says that to love is to “act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others, to promote overall well-being”—but it is too late to call back the word from its indiscriminate application throughout English-speaking society.

Effect: Today we profess love for everything, whether it be our pets, our favorite foods, or our cars, and we do so at the slightest provocation. This haphazard ascription of love to any sort of warm feeling, however trivial, has, in many cases, made love itself disposable. We are as quick to stop loving as we are to love; and science is ready to back us up in this regard, teaching us not only that love is no longer an action, but that it is completely out of our control—a neurological drive that cannot be resisted and that alters its focus on a biological whim. Alas, many of us these days are either in love or out of love but never actively loving—never contemplating or caring or committing—and the cumulative result is a culture largely captive to its transitory passions. • 

n. A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.

History: The first use of the word “tolerance” dates back to 1412, and it originally meant “endurance” or “fortitude.” Thus, to “tolerate” something (the verb form became an acceptable variation in 1531) was originally to survive or remain unaffected by an unpleasant or unwanted phenomenon. By 1539, however, “tolerance” was likewise associated with permissiveness, particularly on the part of government officials or others in authority, and by 1868, the word came to mean “an allowance of variation.” Note that in all three cases “tolerance” did not suggest an acceptance of that which was being tolerated. On the contrary, if one was “permissive” or “allowing,” it was always in spite of how one actually felt (usually negatively) about what was being permitted or allowed. This held true all the way through the end of the 19th century, when “tolerance” was first used to describe an acquired physical resistance to poisons, viruses, or other potentially harmful toxins. Indeed, it wasn’t until the late 1950s that users of the term started to insist that it also implied the supporting of ideas, values, and practices that differed from one’s own.

Etymology: “Tolerance” is derived from the Latin tolerantia, which means “putting up with something that is undesirable.” Consequently, inherent in its origins is the notion that the tolerant individual believes that his beliefs, practices, and behaviors are superior to those that he tolerates—that he has graciously refrained from deporting, imprisoning, executing, or otherwise humiliating those whose beliefs, practices, and behaviors are inferior to his own. It’s not surprising, then, that with the emergence of moral relativism in the early 20th century—and, later, the American political radicalism of the 1960s—came an intolerance of tolerance as it was originally defined. In other words, the idea that some people were merely tolerating the beliefs and actions of others was unacceptable in light of the “fact” that all beliefs and actions were equally legitimate. To remedy this situation, tolerance itself was reconceived as a rejection of moral absolutes in favor of an ethical framework that respected all viewpoints, no matter how ludicrous. Of course, the one viewpoint excluded from this scheme was that which opposed its central premise.

Effect: While it is definitely true that the U.S. was in part established as a haven of tolerance, it is also true that the type of tolerance that it has historically implemented is the “endurance” variety. That is, America has always tended to put up with a broad assortment of religions, lifestyles, and perspectives, allowing for their expression without threat of punishment, but it has also typically protected those who object to such diversity, and it certainly hasn’t insisted that all opinions are equally valid. Unfortunately, this situation has changed. By conflating the concept of equal rights—a foundational American premise that, admittedly, has not always been put into practice—with a relativistic stance toward truth, culturally liberal activists have managed to make sheer disapproval, whether public or private, anathema, if not criminal. These days, it is no longer acceptable to just live and let live; one must also internally suppress any form of moral opprobrium toward so-called alternative ways of life or else stand accused of bigotry and hatred. •

[Bobby Maddex  is senior editor of Salvo Magazine. The article on Love is from Salvo Magazine, Issue 9, Summer 2009. The article on Tolerance is from Salvo Magazine, Issue 10, Autumn 2009. Used with permission.] 

(c) copyright 2013  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: living.bulwark@yahoo.com