I rate respect a damn sight more worthwhile than tolerance. Respect implies a generosity of spirit and a dignity of discourse that seem absent from public fora in this country. To state that you tolerate another man's opinion has an inevitable air of condescension. To say, agreement aside, that you respect another man's opinion implies a greater regard for the self-sufficiency of the truth, and for the right of the individual to seek that truth to the best of his ability. In Dignitatis Humanae, the document that formally established the Catholic Church's support of religious freedom, a related sentiment is expressed: "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entry into the mind at once quietly and with power."
I propose that tolerance be replaced with respect. Now, I can imagine that lots of people find this appealing on the face of it, but stop and consider that it will be hard work.
For atheists, agnostics, and so forth, it would mean abandoning -- categorically abandoning -- the vitriol and contempt of figures like Richard Dawkins or (requiescat in pace) Christopher Hitchens. Also it would mean admitting, first, that religious persons have a right to their convictions; and second, that those convictions stand or fall on their intellectual merits -- which must be examined before being dismissed or ridiculed; and that means doing the examining oneself. But equally, for believers of whatever variety, it would mean abandoning the belittlement and self-righteousness that have typified the response to atheism, past and present (Bill Donohue of the Catholic League being a disgraceful example of such bullying). It's high time those things were abandoned in any case; on their own premises, Christians have no business treating others arrogantly, and if Christianity is true, then we should have no need to get shocked and defensive when people question it.
For both sides, it means abandoning the childish and contemptible caricatures of people on The Other Side as idiots led only by what they want to think is true. Even of people of whom that evaluation is accurate, such caricatures are not made with legitimate argument in mind; supposing that the truth is rationally discoverable (as both the New Atheists and Christians do), that is the real business to be attended to, and disparaging people's character is beside the point. It smacks of preaching to the choir, something I for one can't stand -- whether the choir is singing Mozart or Muse is here irrelevant. No intellectual progress can be made except by considering ideas upon their internal merits. The motives of those who believe ideas are categorically irrelevant to that problem, even if they're terrible.
So, if you liked this post, or it made you think, I am going to suggest something. Before commenting on it, take one week, and seriously try to believe that people you disagree with are sincere and intelligent human beings. See what that does to your heart, to your speech, to your conduct.