Intolerance: A Public Service Announcement

Normally, I don’t make public service announcements — mainly because serving the public is a pain in the ass.  (That’s why so many public servants are in it for the money.)  I say “normally” because sometimes there’s such an overwhelming need for the public to be informed that even guys like me have to step into the breach.  That time is now.

For the last several years, our society has been throwing around the words “tolerance” and ‘intolerant” as if they were rice at a redneck wedding.  This promiscuous overuse has turned them (and their various incarnations) into the conversational equivalent of an advertising slogan’s tagline.  Everybody recognizes the words, but nobody really gives a damn what they mean.  Or as Inigo Montoya observed in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

For the record, “tolerance” is a noun that comes from the verb “tolerate” which according to my Oxford Paperback Dictionary (1979 edition) means (without the blah, blah, blah) “to permit– without protest or interference.”  Are you with me so far?  The same dictionary defines “intolerant” as an adjective which means “unwilling to tolerate ideas or beliefs etc. that differ from one’s own.”  Are we still good?  These two are opposites.  If one does not “tolerate” another person’s viewpoint, they are, by definition, “intolerant.”  Questions?

In practical terms, this means that, as a tolerant society, we “permit — without protest or interference” other people’s points of view.  We can disagree with them all we want, but we do not swear at them or call them names or question their right to hold that point of view.  For example, there are people in our world who approve of gay marriage.  These are regular folks who put their pants on one leg at a time and don’t eat kittens for breakfast.  They may be part of the Mauve Mafia, but I doubt it — and even if they are, that’s no excuse for name calling or any other such nonsense.  As members of a tolerant society, we must respect their right to hold their stated opinion — even if we do not respect that opinion, itself.

However, tolerance is not that easy.  There’s more to it.

As another example, there are people in our world who disapprove of gay marriage.  These are regular folks who put their pants on one leg at a time and don’t eat kittens for breakfast.  They may be part of a Right Wing Conspiracy, but I doubt it — and even if they are, that’s no excuse for name calling or any other such nonsense.  As members of a tolerant society, we must respect their right to hold their stated opinion — even if we do not respect that opinion, itself.

That’s the way tolerance really works, folks: the bus goes all the way around the park.  And I’m not merely talking about gay marriage; that’s just an issue that is currently trending and screamingly obvious.  Honestly, I don’t care one way or the other.  Since I’m not getting any gay marriage proposal these days, it doesn’t affect me.

However, in the 21st century, there seems to be a quaint idea that tolerance is the exclusive property of the liberal left.  It’s the buzzword that’s code for a particular array of ideas.  The argument is that an enlightened society has certain values that are universally accepted and contradictions need not apply.  Liberal ideas like gay marriage, corporate greed, gender insensitivity and all the other usual suspects from the politically correct movement.  It’s amazing to me that reasonably intelligent people are wandering around this world, saying things like “I hate those bastards: they’re so intolerant.”  Or, my personal favourite: “We cannot allow that group to speak because they represent intolerance.”  Huh?  Of course, the great irony is, that in our society, the last batch of folks who were so arrogant about dictating the one and only path to human salvation was the Medieval Catholic Church — twenty minutes before da Vinci and his buddies turned on the Renaissance.

So this is a public service announcement:  Tolerance is a two-way street and if you don’t want history to judge you as a jackass, show a little tolerance when somebody expresses an opinion you don’t like.

Wrestling with the Anti-Christs

I’ve had enough!  The next person who gives me the anti-Christian tirade is going to get an earful – and beyond.  It’s getting so that you can’t go to any social function, no matter how innocuous, without some clown calling down Christianity.  I’m talking about everything from cocktail parties to backyard barbeques.  These anti-Christs are getting worse than the Jehovah Witnesses, for God’s sake!  And they won’t take yes for an answer.  They always have to tell you why Christianity is crap.  I’m not particularly religious; as a child of my generation, I was raised to believe in nothing, and I’ve still got most of that left.  However, the last time I looked, tolerance included all religions, not just the ones that don’t have Jesus in them.

It’s not that I mind people expressing their opinion about religion (or anything else for that matter.)  Knock yourself out!  However, there is a time and a place; not every Christian reference demands a pit bull response.  Sometimes, it’s not appropriate.  Besides, anybody with half a brain already realizes that Western spiritual values are based on mythology — Greek, Norse, Hebrew etc. etc.  They don’t need enlightenment.  Nor are they hearing your pronouncements for the first time.  It’s been open season on Christians since long before John Lennon imagined ten million dollars in record sales.

That’s the real problem.  Despite wholesale claims to the contrary, most anti-religious dissertations are not about religion at all: they’re about Christianity.  People tend to preface their remarks with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about organized religion, but in the end, it’s only Christians who get a kicking.  I have yet to hear anybody tie into Buddha, for example, or Guru Nanak or the thousand and one African gods.  The very same people who would blow a gasket if you so much as smirk at the pantheon of deities some religions have on offer think nothing of ridiculing Christians — to their face.  To hell with tolerance; that’s just bad manners.

I’m way out of my depth here, but for my money, if we’re going to give spiritual room to any religion, we should give it to them all – including the one our grandparents had.  That’s why we call it Freedom of Religion.  There are people in this world who worship trees (I don’t want to get into it, but if I was going to choose a God, I wouldn’t pick one who’s afraid of termites and tent caterpillars.) and they get way less trouble than your average “I’ll-go-to-church-when-I-get-there” Christian.

There is no particular insight involved in denying Noah’s Ark, the Virgin Birth or Moses parting the Red Sea.  These are allegories which all religions use to try to explain our human self-aware existence.  Nor does it take intellectual prowess to question what cannot be proven; sceptical doesn’t automatically mean smart.   Actually, I find most of the anti-Christs quite ignorant about the Christianity they so fervently decry.  But mostly there is no honour is attacking another person’s beliefs.  If we are comforted by what we know in our heart to be true (whether it be eternal salvation or Mother Nature’s bounty or multiple reincarnations until you get enough points to get into Nirvana) does it really matter if it is true or not?

The burning need to discredit Christianity is simply bigotry and intolerance dressed up as an intellectual exercise — and I can prove it.  You never hear these anti-religious people bad mouthing Muhammad.  Is that because Moslems bite back?