Chapter 3, “Jottings on the History of Tolerance” (Loc. 538ff)
Carson begins by making some observations about the history of tolerance and intolerance. “Across the ages the best thinking on the subject, however diverse, displays a remarkable connection between one’s understanding of tolerance and one’s understanding of ‘natural law’ or ‘public moral law’” (Loc. 552). Carson considers that where this is lacking, “tolerance itself is distorted” (Loc. 552). In effect, tolerance which works for the common good is historically seen as positive while that which pursues individual freedom is negative.
Having observed that society mixes tolerance and intolerance, Carson goes on to discuss early Christian thought. The harshest criticisms lodged against Christians prior to AD 300 was their assertion of the exclusivity of this correct belief. Because they would not confess that other religions gained divine favor, cycles of persecution against Christians were accepted practice. The Christian community typically did not fight back. After the time of Constantine there was more of a temptation to use power and coercion, though use of torture and physical coercion was relatively rare.
As history continues, Carson observes that execution on religious grounds was unknown in Christendom until the 11th century. Yet Europe did move to physical force with greater frequency. This force was generally used only in cases of Christians of suspect doctrine, but did move to a broader cultural intolerance at times. As Carson moves to contemporary situations he observes that this older view of tolerance has been displaced by a relativism which allows or even encourages the kind of cultural intolerance seen in the massive genocidal efforts of the 20th century.