Dr. Boli has long believed that many of our conflicts today come from a misunderstanding of the difference between approval and tolerance. They are nearly opposite. It is possible for a Baptist to tolerate a Mormon: that is, to welcome him as a neighbor, to vote for him as a candidate for city council, to patronize his business, and to leave him alone to worship as he chooses. But do not ask the Baptist to approve of Mormonism. The Baptist must condemn Mormonism as fiction and heresy, or he ceases to be a Baptist. Likewise, the Baptist has every right to expect tolerance from the Mormon, but it would be shameful indeed if the Mormon were to approve of the Baptist’s religious doctrines: it would be an admission, in fact, that the Mormon’s supposedly fundamental beliefs are nothing more than a sham.

When advocates of a religious system or an alternative family arrangement demand our tolerance, they have Dr. Boli’s heartfelt support. When they demand our approval, however, they are asking for something to which they have no right. Dr. Boli has lived a long life, and he has seen many changes in the world, but he has still not been able to bring himself to approve of Presbyterians.

We all need a basic lesson in tolerance, and fortunately it is given very succinctly here, in a short passage from a very sensible etiquette guide published in 1855.

Every denial of, or interference with, the personal freedom or absolute rights of another, is a violation of good manners. He who presumes to censure me for my religious belief, or want of belief; who makes it a matter of criticism or reproach, that I am a Theist or Atheist, Trinitarian or Unitarian, Catholic or Protestant, Pagan or Christian, Jew, Mohamedan, or Mormon, is guilty of rudeness and insult. If any of these modes of belief make me intolerant or intrusive, he may resent such intolerance, or repel such intrusion; but the basis of all true politeness, and social enjoyment, is the mutual tolerance of personal rights. And every one who wishes to see the world anything but a scene of conflict and a prison house, must be willing to give this toleration themselves, and to demand it of all others, and for all others. Admirable was the answer of a friend of ours to some one who came to him with a complaint of what he thought the improper conduct of a neighbor: “I may not approve this man’s acts,” he said; “they may be contrary to my judgment, and offend my taste, but I would shoulder a musket to-morrow in defense of his right to do as he pleases in a matter that infringes upon the rights of no other person.”

No doubt there is a criticism which is proper and useful in society. There is no objection to very free criticism, when made in the spirit of toleration. The critic who says: “Neighbor, I understand that you ate cabbage for dinner to-day. I consider eating cabbage immoral, and opposed to the best interests of society.” This may pass, and I may thank my friend for the suggestion, and engage to take it into respectful consideration. But if he adds, “You have no right to eat cabbages, and if you persist we intend to pull your house down,” I should be apt to buy a revolver and try the issue.

It may be known, as a matter of fact, and innocently related, that such a man is a fire-worshiper; that such a woman knits on Sunday; that another eats his Welsh rarebit with mustard; that Miss Jones has the misfortune to be devotedly in love with her friend’s husband; or that Mrs. Thompson accepts the free-love theories of the Fourierists. But when such matters, the love or the mustard, become causes of persecution, there is a very gross violation of the first principles of good manners.

——The Illustrated Manners Book, 1855.

As to the author, “We have solemnly pledged to keep his incognito sacred,” says the publisher.


  1. I think I recall C. S. Lewis’s writing, somewhere, some thing like this:

    Tolerance is an attitude towards an evil one has not the right to attack; approval is an attitude toward a good one wishes to strengthen.

    . Is that what Dr Boli means by saying they are (almost) opposites?


    • Dr. Boli says:

      That seems to sum it up. To tolerate other people is to grant them the right to be wrong, which is the price we pay for their granting us the right to be right. Tolerance presupposes disagreement; approval presupposes agreement.

      • Sean says:

        “To tolerate other people is to grant them the right to be wrong”

        Would it be, perhaps, better to phrase this as “…to not infringe on their right to be wrong.”?

        If there is a fundamental, God-given right, this is certainly it.

  2. “He who presumes to censure me for my religious belief, or want of belief; who makes it a matter of criticism or reproach, that I am a Theist or Atheist, Trinitarian or Unitarian, Catholic or Protestant, Pagan or Christian, Jew, Mohamedan, or Mormon, is guilty of rudeness and insult.”

    This position is based on the premise that religious views are purely private beliefs and have no influence upon behavior. Islamist groups living in the West, but demonstrating in support of the Islamic State as the revived caliphate and calling for sharia to be imposed worldwide, push against the limits of tolerance.

    Some views are so egregious that they deserve open criticism. One can, of course, strive for courtesy even then, principally by criticizing the views rather than the person holding them. Even so, the one holding those views will feel insulted.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • Dr. Boli says:

      It seems to Dr. Boli that the anonymous author foresaw that objection and handled it neatly: “If any of these modes of belief make me intolerant or intrusive, he may resent such intolerance, or repel such intrusion; but the basis of all true politeness, and social enjoyment, is the mutual tolerance of personal rights.” Tolerance does not mean meekly refraining from stating or defending our beliefs, and it certainly does not mean accepting the imposition of another’s lunatic beliefs. Quite the opposite: it means that we allow anyone to proclaim any lunatic theory he likes, with the understanding that he will allow us to argue loudly on the side of sanity. If he cannot accept that condition, then he may go off and fume privately; but if he threatens violence, he is committing a crime, and—far worse than that—an unforgivable breach of etiquette.

  3. Dr. Doug says:

    Surely, Dr. Boli, you are too modest! Are you not yourself the anonymous author?

    • Dr. Boli says:

      It is difficult to remember what one was doing in 1855. It is claimed, however, that the book began as installments in a magazine called The Dime. If Dr. Boli had written them, they would probably have appeared in Boli’s.

  4. “If any of these modes of belief make me intolerant or intrusive, he may resent such intolerance, or repel such intrusion; but the basis of all true politeness, and social enjoyment, is the mutual tolerance of personal rights.”

    Yes, that would allow open criticism of the openly intolerant.

    Let me offer a case in which a person’s belief system includes intolerant points but the person doesn’t express these openly and also appears to tolerate others and their views.

    For example, suppose an Islamist in America who seems personally tolerant expresses the hope that America will one day be ruled by sharia but says so politely and does not specify what this means other than to say it means rule by perfectly just laws.

    This Islamist’s unspoken views are so egregious that they deserve open criticism despite the man’s courtesy and seemingly personal tolerance, and one would be justified, though rude, to point out through specific, concrete examples that sharia is a dreadfully unjust system of laws.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    • Okay, then explain to me the difference between him, and a Christian who expresses the belief, politely, that our government and laws should be based on “Biblical Principles”. The Old Testament and New both have many of the same, and far worse, unjust concepts of law and justice as the Koran. One need only compare and contrast the First Commandment with the First Amendment to see what a fundamental re-writing of our Constitution and Laws it would take to have true “Biblical” principles of law and justice. An avowed secularist like myself might see a difference of degree of injustice and wrongness, but not type, and well I might tolerate them both so long as they remain, as you say, polite, if either of them seriously seems to be about to be in a position to put their desires into action, I would be very worried indeed.

  5. To reply to the original article rather than to a comment thereon, a good present-day example of the difference between tolerance and approval would be gay marriage.

    Many, even most, among those who consider Homosexual behavior itself to be sinful or otherwise wrong, are nonetheless willing to tolerate it in society, so long as it’s tolerated in the same way we tolerate, say, adultery. Pretty much everyone, whatever their opinion on gay marriage, agrees that sex outside of marriage is in some sense wrong and no one should ever do it. Far fewer would get so worked up about sex before marriage, but once in a formalized, long-term, committed relationship, cheating on one’s spouse or even significant other is generally frowned upon, at least in principle. Yet an awful lot of people do it, and pretty much everyone agrees that they should not be investigated, arrested, or jailed by the government as if they’ve committed a crime. Nor, so long as they’re reasonably discreet about the matter and don’t flaunt their adultery, nor insist that society at large bless and celebrate their adulterous relationship, should they necessarily even be socially sanctioned in any significant way.

    For those anti-gay-marriage people, legally recognizing gay marriage is akin to legally recognizing a married man’s mistress as coequal with his legal spouse. Gay people should be free from government censure or oppression, provided they’re as reasonably discreet about the matter as the typical cheating heterosexual spouse, but recognizing their marriage is to say that a gay relationship as proper, even laudable, as a normal heterosexual one. They may tolerate homosexuality, but they do not approve of it.

    Others among those objecting to gay marriage, however, refuse to tolerate homosexual behavior in general, because they regard it as akin, not to adultery, but to pedophilia. Even those willing to tolerate or even approve of a sexual/romantic relationship between two people of the same gender, so long as they’re both consenting adults, may balk at tolerating such a relationship if one of the participants is an adult while the other is, not even a hormone-addled teenager with an inappropriate crush, but a pre-pubescent child. No matter how sincerely the adult may love/lust for the child, no matter what degree of sexual precociousness leads the child to in some sense return those feelings, that relationship is almost universally considered inappropriate to the point that the government SHOULD intervene and arrest one participant and send the other for serious counseling. Such relationships are considered akin to rape, both legally and morally, to the point that children are not legally allowed to consent to such a relationship, and adults face stiff prison sentences for even proposing one. Almost no one approves of such relationships, and hardly any more will even tolerate them.

    Advocates of Gay rights have, by advocating legalized gay marriage, gone beyond asking society for tolerance, and begun asking society for approval of their lifestyle and romantic/sexual relationships. Even many people willing to tolerate homosexuals and homosexual behavior, balk at going all the way to approval. Personally, I think that, despite a few personal reservations, I agree that marriage and/or civil unions are a reasonable thing for them to demand of the government, in its role of impartial keeper of records and mediator of disputes in that area. The fact that this also implies societal approval over and above tolerance for the relationship in question may disturb some, but the need to have laws universally applicable to all regardless of religion or lifestyle trumps one group of people’s right to impose their codes of behavior on another who are neither directly nor indirectly harming them.

  6. Nesta Stubbs says:

    Mr. The Mess,

    Your argument is tortured. Although it claims to be a reply to the original article, it reveals a lack of comprehension of the first example. Mormon/Baptist metaphysical conflict starts with the worshipping of false gods on one side, and eternal damnation on both sides. In this material world it manifested as persecution, mass migration, and polygamy.

    Tolerance is not measured. It does not stop when it makes you *really* mad, or you ground it out in some gross secularization of a metaphysical concern — like the continuation of the species or the preservation of an orderly society in the eyes of god and Mammon.

    Nor does tolerance mutate into approval when other people refuse to hide their own joys and refrain from letting their little light shine in public.

  7. We are looking at dates to plan the very first “Bolicon”. The place where you can meet and mingle with your favorite Boli-fans. How does April sound?

    • I can only assume such a gathering would be in or around Pittsburgh, which would be difficult but not impossible for me to attend. But I doubt the mere lure of my more certain presence would get the rest of you to make the trip over to Chicago, so I’ll just have to start looking for cheap train/bus fares to steeltown….

  1. […] this time, with a snippet from a 1855 book on manners, explaining tolerance as opposed to approval. Read the whole thing there – here’s a snippet of a […]

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