Tolerance is Tricky

[Originally printed in the Loudoun Times Mirror]

Tolerance requires that one disagrees with what one is tolerating. There is no need — indeed it is not possible — to tolerate something one agrees with.

But it can get confusing, lately. For instance, a CEO of a California tech firm is shown the door because he supported a state referendum against gay marriage — a referendum that passed, apparently making the majority of the people in California who voted for it unemployable.

A Colorado baker has been forced to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and made to go through “sensitivity training.” No rehabilitation required for those doing the forcing.

There’s a reality TV show, whose producers simply hoped they could make money laughing at rednecks every week until some viewers actually started to identify with the rednecks. A sports team owner is brought down not by his actions, but by a private phone conversation with his mistress — and not because he has a mistress.

And it seems everyone is now terminally “offended”. College professors routinely protest speakers coming to their campuses with views they disagree with. The latest example involved blocking a speech by an African American woman with an undeniably impressive resume, because, of course, her opinions are “offensive.” The Federal Government recently decided a particular brand was offensive, so they eliminated it. It is unclear from either of these examples who is helped or protected by these reductions in offensiveness.

Yet there is little concern about whether those with religious views are offended (I’ll stand corrected when the Saints lose their branding rights). There hasn’t been for a while, since offending the devout — through art, music, dance, drugs, sex…you name it — has been part and parcel of American “culture” for decades. But now it seems that pride and liberty are out the window, and victimization is the rule of the day, closely followed by seeking to make those who object, not only accept a particular point of view, but to change their own point of view. It would be like Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose, winning the right to dance, but then the whole lot of anti-dancing prudes are forced by the courts to take dance lessons and go through sensitivity training. This isn’t liberty — it is license.

But maybe we are now forced to enter a world where nothing is allowed to offend — unless approved by a government as unoffensive. Nothing is allowed that makes anyone uncomfortable — unless those in power want to be “on the right side of history (aka: popular)”. Maybe many take the view that the devout should be simply encouraged to operate in little ghettos where they can run their businesses exclusively for those of their own faith. “Good riddance” I heard someone express a few months back regarding at least a BILLION people who had a point of view differing from his. Assuming genocide was not implied, “separate but equal” is the way to go, then? It beats the alternative, because the distance, historically, between “sensitivity training” and jail is…short.

It has been said that, “bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions.” The point being that true bigotry is the dishonesty inherent in claiming that we are objective, and that we are not picking a side, therefore we are on the side of justice and righteousness. But amongst all the fervor over tolerance, a side is being picked. Someone is deciding what is tolerable and what is not. As long as someone filing a suit, creating a law, or making certain points of view illegal are honest about their desire to be our high priests, then fine. But let us not kid ourselves by calling it tolerance or fighting bigotry.

It is important to glean from this that the real — and I would describe as quite legitimate — fear of the “religious right” is not only that the government might violate the “free exercise” clause, but that it is clearly violating the “establishment” clause. And if speech in all its forms — even our businesses — is chiefly judged based on its potential to offend or discriminate we not only have ditched religious freedom, but we have sacrificed the entirety of the First Amendment on an altar of faux tolerance, and have turned to the idol of a state religion. In this world that is being forged, there is no job, no brand, no idea, no speech, no transaction, that is safe from the thought police. Sooner or later the “prevailing view” will contradict your views or will affect someone or something you hold dear.

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