Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On tolerance: an essay

We are daily admonished that tolerance of opposing views is a virtue of the highest order.

If we are to get along in our society, we must practice tolerance. Tolerance of differing views, values and beliefs. Tolerance of another's religious beliefs, tolerance of another's political views, tolerance of another's social values.

If a person burns the flag and you revere that flag, you should practice tolerance and restraint even though the burner obviously doesn't care about respecting YOUR opposing views.

If you love and believe in Jesus Christ and an atheist activist artist creates a work of "art" consisting of a glass of urine with a crucifix in it, and calls it "Piss Christ", you must tolerate his views even though he insults your equally precious views.

Tolerance isn't a two-way street anymore, although it should be; tolerance isn't necessarily extended to opposing beliefs by the so-called activists of all stripes. People who hold beliefs and values contrary to certain minorities might, perhaps, often be ridiculed.

Do I not believe in tolerance? Sure. Whenever the situation calls for tolerance. I believe in the First Amendment. A person can say what he wants to say without fear of personal harm. On the other hand, just because a person has the right to spout off from the soapbox our ancestors and soldiers died to build for him does not mean I can't boo and hiss as I stand in front of him. He has the right to say outlandish things; he doesn't have the right to say them unrefuted. My opinion.

I think it was Hubert Humphrey who said, "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously."

I certainly am not the arbiter of what speech is rational and what is balderdash - only by my own standards - and it would be dangerous indeed for me or anyone else to start trying to define what is "acceptable" free speech. (Well, I guess that is not entirely true: the Supreme Court does that all the time. If you don't believe me, try screaming "FIRE" in a crowded theater sometime. Or try to run off some child pornography.) But, by and large, the First Amendment is respected. "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech...". [Okay, I just abridged the First Amendment.]

This blogger supports freedom of speech, whether or not such speech is congruent with this blogger's personal values, but I would raise in this post the question of where the line should be drawn between tolerance and confrontation.

For example, if a person is gay, should that not be tolerated by society, even if that lifestyle is a comparatively small minority? Of course it should, unless we change the form of our government to a theocracy or an absolute democracy. Our form of government in the U.S. is "republic", not "democracy." If it were a democracy, there would be no tolerance of gays or atheists or Socialists or pornography, or probably avant-garde art and a lot of other things. This is because the definition of a pure democracy is "majority rules." Period. We would vote each issue as a referendum, and, if the majority were as it is in the U.S. today, there would be no gay rights or accomodation for athiests, etc., etc., etc. Our society would be what the majority said they wanted it to be, case closed. No need for tolerance of people with differing values.

But our constitution doesn't say that. It says we don't rule by referendum but rather through representation. Debate. Give and take. Compromise. And it has rigid constraints in the form of The Bill of Rights.

I am glad we live in a society where there is room for more than just vanilla points of views, even though some of that tolerance has taken many years and much suffering to come about. But here I ask the question again, whether or not there is a "line" or "boundary" of tolerance. If I "tolerate" a person's "gayness" and he tolerates my "straightness" do I also have to tolerate "gay pride" parades which display behavior inconsiderate or intolerant of my own values and standards? If I "tolerate" an atheist to live in peace with his views, contrary to the vast majority, do I also have to "tolerate" that person's overt acts to disparage and limit my own religious views? (Make no mistake, atheism is a religion - a religion that is getting away with murder under the First Amendment.) The First Amendment implies "freedom of religion" not "freedom from religion". Should atheists be restricted the same way other religions are restricted? Just asking.

Where does an honest effort at tolerance end and the right of confrontation begin? Or is the majority simply expected to tolerate anything at all?

A lot of people have the mistaken impression that the great Martin Luther King preached a message of tolerance. A closer study of his life belies this. Dr. King's entire ministry was, instead, geared toward confrontation. His message was that evil must not be tolerated, it must be confronted. A line must be drawn and a commitment to purpose must be made in the face of that evil. True, he preached passive confrontation. He believed in shaming the evildoers until they could no longer live with the status quo, could no longer live with themselves in their hearts.

Finally, after the beatings, the bombings of the innocent, the police dogs and the fire hoses; after all the blocking of the schoolhouse doors and lunch counters; after all the degrading drinking fountains and no voting and sitting in the back of the bus, the evildoers were finally shamed by what they were doing, at least the quiet ones behind the scenes were. And change began to happen.

So it was also with the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was their George Washington, or at least their rallying point, but it was the nameless women on the picket lines that was the true backbone of the revolution. The endless line of protesters, so many poor women who, when beaten down by the white police were instantly replaced by another. And another. And another. Flesh against clubs. Right against injustice. Until the white police realized that "You strike a woman, you strike a rock." And shame happened, and spread across the world. And then change happened.

There is need for tolerance in this country, in this world. But there is also a time for the confrontation of evil. I don't think anyone really needs a Mighty Arbiter to tell us where that line is; humans are born with that knowledge in our hearts.

 I want to clarify that I don't consider everything I don't agree with to be "evil", or that it needs to be confronted. Certainly I don't think gays are evil. Atheists? Probably not. Nazis? I think yes. And certainly racists who would dominate another group of people if they could.

Here are some points I would like my readers to help me clarify in my own mind by giving their opinions in comment. Of course the following is not meant to restrict comments only to these points:

1. What do you think the point of a "Gay Pride Parade" is? Do the actions of many of the parade's participants show tolerance and respect for non-gays?

2. What do you think the purpose of a parade of uniformed Nazis in Skokie, Illinois (a largely Jewish community in the U.S.A.) is? Should the Jews along the parade route be restrained from verbal invective? From throwing objects at the marchers?

3. Should people in a cemetery in the act of burying their son who was recently killed in Iraq be forced to listen to the chants of anti-war demonstrators gathered in the cemetery, calling their son a baby killer? If not, why should they not be required to be tolerant of the demonstrators?

4. Should christian worshipers walking to their church have to tolerate walking though pickets shouting degrading statements about their religion? Is this the place for picketers to protest the result of a democratic election whose result did not legally extend desired rights of gay people?

5. Gays are (rightfully, I think) finally confronting rather than accepting subjugation. But they are never going to win at the ballot box due to their minority status. At least probably not. Assuming you believe that Americans prefer for the people to decide such issues rather than judges, what options are available to such a minority?

6. Americans historically believe in the accommodation of disparate beliefs rather than in strict democratic "majority rule." But does there come a time or a place where not all desires of minority groups can be so accommodated?


  1. I hope I say this right. What choice do I have on any of those questions? I have my beliefs and my strong feelings, but do they matter? No one in time of grief should have to listen to a bunch of what is my opinion ignorant assholes spouting "baby killer." Tolerance for a Christian, Jew or Muslim should be able to practice thier religion with out being harrassed. But can they?

  2. Volumes and volumes have been written on this subject, and yet you expect us to answer in a comment. Sigh.

    My view is that we should be tolerant of any behaviour that does us no real harm. It doesn't mean we have to agree with or approve of it. We may even wish it didn't happen. Of course you then get into the debate of what is real harm. Everyone will see it differently.

    I've always thought there is room in the world for some forms of extremism. People who will go beyond the normal limits, just to waken the rest of us up. Maybe the Gay Pride parades are doing just that, in a similar way to the women in South Africa. Sadly, people do need to be shocked into thinking, never mind taking action. If issues aren't shoved into people's faces, they just don't care enough to change the status quo.

    And sometimes the status quo does need to changed. We live in a constantly changing world, and with rigid attitudes we are not going to be able to evolve with it.

    There we go and I haven't answered your questions. So, what's new?

  3. I'm going to have to think about these for awhile. I sort of know what I think (and you could probably guess what I think), but I'm not sure I can phrase it intelligently. Back later.

  4. 1. I don't see the point of a Gay parade, so they are Gay....get on with it and live their life without brandishing it in the rest of the world's faces.
    2.I must say I always wonder why people want to parade for their cause, does it work, does it send the right message? I am so glad we do not have Nazi parades here!
    3.There is a time and a place for everything and no one should have to go through that whilst burying a loved one.
    4.Anyone acting in this way towards fellow human beings are not right in the head, what purpose does it serve. Very weird!
    5.I do not see why a distinction should be made whether you are Gay, white,Black, etc all should be treated equally, but if you live in a country where God's laws are subscribed to in the law books then the Gay's must live by that because how can you say "God bless America" if you go against God's law which is also the country's law? (my personal opinion)

    Finally there is tolerance..... and then there is compromise....

    I say be tolerant until it clashes with you belief...do not then compromise your belief because someone says you must be tolerant

  5. I heard somewhere the phrase, "My rights end where yours begin."
    Therefore, I don't try to hurt you or take your stuff or interfere in your activities, unless of course your activities involve hurting someone or taking their stuff. It's a very fine line.

    In general, I say live and let live, but in the case of those awful people at the funeral of that soldier, no they should no be allowed to intrude on a family's grief. A funeral is for the mourners, and those people definitely were not mourners.

    As to the picketers outside the church - I think it ought to be like the voting booth - no campaigning within a certain distance. (And I'm not a churchgoer.) I think if you took a poll of the voting practices within churches, you'd find for and against gay people just like you would within other groups.

    I've never seen a Gay pride parade, but I have many gay friends whom I believe deserve the same rights and privileges, including marriage and spouse insurance coverage, as everyone else. I'm sure some of those folks go over the top when demonstrating. You'll find over-the-top demonstrators no matter what it is (for example, those people at the funeral). If they are hurting people, or defacing property, no they should not be allowed to do that, but if they're just obnoxious, I don't know there's much to be done except ignore them.

    Well, so much for attempting to phrase anything intelligently. But after awhile you just realize you only have so much smart.

  6. I didn't know you were this deep!

    I'm going to have to think about your questions, though, and get back to you with the respect and reflection that they deserve.

  7. @Ettarose - I don't have those answers. All I can tell you is that your beliefs and feelings count as much as anyone else's. And I don't know why a group of people would feel the need to disrupt a sad funeral; that they would think their message was more important than a grieving family's feelings. Worse, if you remember the case, the people taunting the grieving family were members of some fundamentalist church. I forget their point. "Where do you draw the line at tolerance?" In my mind, that was a time for confrontation, not tolerance. I may be wrong.

    @A. - I don't expect you to have the definitive or authoritative answer. I only hope you will tell me your opinions, so I can add them to the mix that is already in my mind. The only real points I think I am already convinced of is that (a) tolerance should be a two-way street, and (b) some things should be confronted rather than tolerated. You know I always respect your views. Thank you for your input. :)

    @Frostygirl - I think the Nazi parade and the gay pride have the same goal, even though I hardly equate gays with Nazis, and even though I am sympathetic to gays and not sympathetic to Nazis. And that is to rub something in the faces of some other group. Jews and straights in these cases. Because neither is going to garner support for their cause and, in the case of radical gays shoving their lifestyle in the faces of voters who could possibly help them, it actually loses them support. People who are gay and live according to the same values as the rest of us, more or less, who just get up and go to work everyday and have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else, despise gay pride parades. Precisely because they know from experience that they push their cause backwards. Myself? I don't know if that is true or not. I do know that any revulsion is not due to homophobia, but a general disgust at the paraders' lack of respect and common politeness for people who don't think like they do. Precisely what they accuse others of doing to them.

    As to your last point, I think America is still changing from a country that was grounded in a Judeo-Christian ethic, into a much more secular one. Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far. I don't know that. But when you hear someone say "God bless America" you may be sure they are acting from the old set of values, the ones that prevailed in America until the 1967 revolution. Since then, America has been traveling on two separate paths. I don't think America has yet found it's real new single path, but is still searching for the ingredients that new path will have. Many things are a heck of a lot better than they were before 1967 but many are also not working and need more evaluation and correction. As is usually the case, the result will be a compromise of things from both eras, I think. Generations must past first. Some wheels just turn very slowly. 1967 was like that gay pride parade or the protest marches. The country was knocked perhaps a bit too far in the opposite direction and has yet to swing back to a centrist course again. But I think the new values will be absorbed and perhaps may yet drink some water of compromise, and then continue on eventually on a less extreme, more even keel. Only our grandchildren will know for sure. (My opinion.)

    @Janet - I think that is a very good rule, and it works both ways - the other person's rights end where yours begin.

    I think you are VERY smart Janet.

    @Angelika - I'm not deep. If I knew anything, I would be teaching instead of asking so many questions. :) And you'd better come back!

  8. 1. That they aren't going to hide who they are any more as they've done for centuries to avoid persecution (as they have been for centuries). They are celebrating their right to exist.

    2. The distinction between Nazis and gays is Nazis felt other didn't have the right to exist. The distinction is important.

    3. No, if for no other reason than common decency. Nor should they have to put up with demonstrators exulting in the death as just because we have tolerated gays.

    4. Should women getting abortions have to go through picket lines where they are defiled and manufactured pictures and horror stories are thrown at them. The common decency thing applies as in 3? Sorry, Christians are not innocent on this front. They also apply to 3. (And, no, I don't agree they should be picketed at church. I don't think that's the appropriate place to address that particular injustice - which I do think it was. I also don't think churches should be able to pour untold millions into political campaigns and retain their tax-free status.)

    5. Education, encouraging people to treat people as individuals rather than labels. It's a lot easier to hate people when you've depersonalized them via labels. Harder (though not impossible for some) to do so in person.

    6. No.

    Confusing the shock value behavior of a few radical atheists with ALL who aren't Christian makes as much sense as assuming PETA represents all environmental concerns. And forced beliefs is much more a Christian thing than any other religion in this country. You all stop first, then I'll start feeling sympathy. I don't tell anyone what to believe. I only ask the same for myself.

  9. Gee. I had ONE picture of a jamaican cat on my site and nearly got nailed to the cross and here I am, getting ready to voice my opinion; but on YOUR blog, not MINE. Bwaaahahahaha

    The pendulum always has to swing in the opposite direction before it can swing to the middle, but life's pendulum has gotten stuck in the extreme and won't swing down.

    Equal rights will exist the day that there is a:

    white museum
    white history month
    white televison channel
    white pride
    heterosexual parades
    Native American President and
    the ACLU sues itself for stupidity

    *stepping down from soap box*

  10. I won't answer the questions, because really, there are so many answers for them. Some right, some wrong. All depending on the individuals views and whatnot's. I will say this was a very interesting article to read.

  11. 1. I think the point of the parade is more to accept their own sexuality and be proud of who they are AND get the homophobes to realize that the "Gays" aren't bad people just because of their sexuality. Too many people instantly jump to "pedophile" or "sicko" as soon as you mention the word "Gay". Sexuality is a very small part of the makeup of a person. When a lot of people think "Gay" they think of the "flamboyant" RuPaul type of gay. I'm sure WE ALL know someone who is gay, we just might not know it because they aren't "obviously" gay. It takes all types.

    I don't think that having a "Gay Pride" parade means that they don't tolerate people who don't agree with their beliefs. They have to accept that there are people who don't share their beliefs, obviously. What they don't have to accept is people treating them like second class citizens because of their sexuality.

    2. I think the purpose of a Nazi uniformed parade is to incite anger. I don't think the Jews (or anyone else) should be restrained from yelling "You're a fucking idiot!" or something similar, but they shouldn't be allowed to physically assault the dumbass motherfuckers wearing Nazi uniforms.

    3. No. People who are anti-war are understandable. People who are anti-soldier are not. They should not be allowed to disrupt a very painful time in a family's life with their agenda.

    Soldiers have a job to do. If it weren't for them, we'd be living in a dictatorship unable to even express our dissatisfaction with the way things are.

    There is a time and a place for everything, and a funeral is NOT the place. I can tolerate idiots on a day like any other, I cannot tolerate idiots on the day I bury my child who died serving his/her country.

    4. I see everything through brown tinted glasses. Does anyone else remember when George Wallace stood in front of the University of Alabama to try to stop black students from enrolling? Does anyone remember all the white people yelling hateful things at the black people just trying to get an education?

    It didn't stop blacks from enrolling or getting their education there.

    The picketers in the Mormon case haven't (yet) changed the rights of gay people to get married. Do Mormons even vote? I don't know. I know that Jehovah's Witnesses don't vote, so it seems like a stupid place to launch a protest.

    It got them news coverage and might have encouraged people who don't agree with the discrimination against gays to become more active...

    This is a hard question to answer.

    5. Again, Brown Tinted Glasses.

    I would not be free right now were it not for all the white people who stood up for my ancestors. I would not be able to vote right now were it not for all the white people who joined our cause.

    There are plenty of "straight" people who cannot sit idly by while gay people are discriminated against. It will happen because of people like that joining the fight for the rights of gays.

    6. Theoretically, yes. But we haven't reached that point yet.



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