In modern times and in liberal ideology, toleration has a positive valence, associated with open-mindedness and egalitarianism. It can be a valued character trait or a beneficial attribute of a group or state.
But toleration has also been considered a negative trait or attribute. It can be associated with laziness, carelessness, and slacking. While many moderns do not consider it lazy or careless to tolerate other religions, we can capture some of the force that this charge once had if we consider that doing nothing about cruelty or murder could be characterized as tolerating it. Then the tolerators would be tolerating something they should not, perhaps out of cowardice or carelessness.
Another negative valence of toleration can be found in the Marxist tradition, where tolerating something can be considered part of an oppressive regime. "Repressive tolerance" can include tolerating evil and oppressive people or activities. It can also mean tolerating a protesting group and thus depriving it of the importance it would have if it were taken seriously. In effect, this theory holds that in conditions of class inequality, both tolerance and intolerance are repressive.
Other modern groups have considered toleration condescending and ultimately affirmative of conditions of injustice. For example, T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) wrote that in the conditions of modern secularism "The Christian does not want to be tolerated" (Cranston, p. 101); rather, she wants to be respected. Similarly, spokespeople for ethnic groups, women, gays, and others have objected that simply being in a position of having to be tolerated is already unfair, reflecting power inequalities.
Perhaps because of its middle-way position, toleration is rarely likely to be stable over a long period. Rather, persons or states can become more or less tolerant or more or less tolerated as time goes by and opinions or conditions change. Since intolerance is often a response to a perceived threat, when the perception of threat increases or decreases, toleration may become less or more of an option. Individuals or groups that were once persecuted out of fear but are now perceived as harmless can become tolerated and eventually embraced. Vice versa, if people who were once considered innocuous become perceived as more of a threat, intolerance of them may increase.