Today I saw this news story of a Christian couple not being allowed to be foster parents because “they could not tell a child a homosexual lifestyle was acceptable”. I guess as a society we are grappling with what to tolerate.
Christians will feel persecuted as a result of this court decision, as well as the other case earlier this year where a gay couple sued the Christian B&B owners who refused them a double room. They will probably feel society is intolerant of Christianity and therefore hypocritical to speak of tolerance. I’m not convinced the outcome of the fostering case was right. But here’s the thing: sometimes you have to be intolerant of intolerance. You can’t just live and let live if it means letting people do things which are contrary to that principle as you understand it. No matter how tolerant you might want to be.
Religious believers usually want to live and let live. If you decide God has revealed that homosexuality is wrong, you may still accept people’s right to have gay relationships and not want to impinge on that right. But if your child is gay, your view on it will nevertheless make their life very hard. It is sort of a contradiction really.
In the same way, as a secular or liberal person you may want to be universally tolerant of religious beliefs, but it is a contradiction to tolerate a belief that homosexuality is wrong – and tolerate the effects that belief produces on people’s lives – when you yourself fully approve of people being gay.
It would be nice if we could all just get along and agree to disagree and it pains me that it is not that simple. I get frustrated when people think it is. Ultimate example is religions or philosophies that endorse all other religions as divine revelations. (I was at a Multifaith Conversation this evening and the Baha’i representative put forth this view.) It is a very nice, lovely, tolerant view. What a beautiful idea – all those differences are merely superficial and all religions say the same thing. Except they really don’t. The central message of mainstream Christianity is that Jesus is the son of God and saviour of the world. The central message of mainstream Islam is the unity of God, and that associating others with God (Christians are explicitly named in this practice) is the biggest sin. The only way these belong to a common divine revelation is if God is severely schizophrenic.
It would be nice if only dogmatic religions need be intolerant and those of us who reject dogma could somehow rise above that and tolerate everything. But how can I not feel uneasy at dogmas which exclude me, as a non-member, from the loyalty members are expected to uncritically extend to each other? How could I, in tolerance of my husband’s beliefs, allow those beliefs to effectively wipe out the freedom of any children I might have had? What kind of weak, pathetic tolerance would that be? As the Hindu speaker tonight put it, the “more muscular” religions dominate and it seems to me that universal tolerance just rolls out the red carpet for them.
It is obviously a sensitive personal issue for me and one that brings up a lot of emotions. It is hopefully clear from my previous posts that I am not anti-religion in a blanket way, I believe religion has benefits, and I don’t believe that the eradication of religion would automatically create a better world. But for all of us, it has to be OK to think that someone’s view is wrong, either because it makes no sense to you or because it would seem to be harmful (or both). It has to be OK to speak out against it. It has to be OK to want to steer your children away from it. I don’t see any other way. Maybe this makes me every bit as intolerant as a dogmatic religious person. But maybe what’s needed in the world is constructive confrontation, not meaningless blanket tolerance.