Tolerance as a Defense Mechanism

Stanley Fish is always provocative and thoughtful in his New York Times blog. I presume his books bear the same qualities, though I’ve only ever picked up his most famous.

Gilbert Meilaender recently reviewed in First Things a new Fish book addressed to college professors: Save the World on Your Own Time.

Fish is on an admirable search for truth, according to Meilaender:

“You will never,” Fish writes, “hear in any of my classes the some-people-say-X-but-others-say-Y-and-who’s-to-judge dance. What I strive to determine, together with my students, is which of the competing accounts of a matter (an academic not a political matter) is the right one and which are wrong.”

But Meilaender has a helpful rejoinder which might give you insight into yourself, your students, or other college-age young people you know:

I do not disagree, but I think Fish . . . might ponder a bit more why it is that many students are drawn to the “who’s-to-judge dance.”

They are drawn to this position for the most understandable of reasons—and one for which we ought to have considerable sympathy. Theirs is, essentially, a posture of self-defense. Knowing that many of their beliefs are being deliberately undermined in their classes, and knowing also that (most of the time) they are not yet in a position to articulate a full defense of their views, they take refuge in tolerance. You are entitled to your opinion, which I ought not criticize. And, thankfully, this means that I am also entitled to my opinion, which you ought not criticize.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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