The intolerance I would advocate does not mean persecution; it is directed, not at the mistaken individual, but at the wrong idea; not at the heretic, but at the heresy. It does not involve burning people at the stake or shutting them up in prison; that is a stupid and futile way to combat error — though I sometimes wish people were enough in earnest to find these courses tempting. No, I can smoke a pipe of tobacco in all friendliness with a man whose opinions I abhor and detest. I can even understand those damnable heresies of his, while still detesting; for an intolerant mind need not be a narrow mind. Indeed, a narrow mind cannot in the best sense of the word be intolerant at all. To fight an enemy, one has to reconnoitre his positions and form a just estimate of his strength; one must have the imagination to see the situation as he sees it. Intolerance militant must organize its service of intelligence. Broad-minded intolerance, moreover, will discriminate its hostilities. It will carry no dogmatic chip on its shoulder, nor seek a quarrel over every trifle. Where the broad mind is intolerant, the narrow mind will achieve nothing but bigotry; and bigotry — obstinate, unreasonable, unenlightened — is but a base caricature of fine intolerance. It is bigotry, not intolerance, that draws the sword of persecution, or scornfully declines the pleasant dinner-party at the house of publican and sinner. The bigot may in his blind and stubborn fashion hold fast that which is good; he is forever incapable of obeying the other half of the apostolic counsel, — to make trial of all things, — because he has quenched the light of his own spirit.
They tell a story of two army chaplains, a Roman Catholic and a Methodist, who were assigned to the same regiment. The two soon became inseparable cronies; they were quartered together in one partitioned-off cubicle of an Adrian barracks; they were unwearied in good works and spiritual ministrations to the regiment, each after his kind, and shared, with never a trace of friction, the limited facilities which the camp offered for their work. The chief recreation of their rare leisure was theological discussion, hotly urged on either side, but resulting in no diminution of good-fellowship. Then one day came orders transferring the Methodist to another unit, and he sought out his Roman colleague to bid him good-bye. “It has been a real privilege,” he said, “to be associated with you. I have never before been thrown much with preachers of your church. In spite of all our arguments, I want you to know that I honor and respect you, and that I believe you are serving God in your way, just as I am trying to serve Him in his way.”
There you have the spirit of true intolerance — abundant charity, but no compromise.
(Robert Kilburn Root, “The Virtue of Intolerance,” The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. CXXV, 1920, pp. 389–390).