I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now and today a number of tangentially related posts over on the excellent Pharyngula blog reminded me that I hadn’t, plus they also gave me some great up to date examples to use as ammunition when making my case. A few weeks ago now I had to attend a mandatory Equality and Diversity training course at the place where I work. Even before it started I knew that I was going to find some of the things they said objectionable. After all I live in the UK, that great fortress of “multiculturalism” and all the subtle racist undertones that idea incorporates. In this country we are told that outright de facto respect for all beliefs and opinions is more important than rationally evaluating those beliefs to see if they are beneficial or harmful to the society in which we live. As such I was not at all surprised when, early in the training, a slide was put up that gave the following description of how the company views diversity (emphasis original):
Diversity is about recognising, accepting and valuing difference. It is an appreciation that while we are all part of a single nation with shared rights and responsibilities we are also individuals with our own talents, ambitions and priorities.
Reading that my hand immediately went up with a question. Why, I asked, had they applied special emphasis to the word “valuing“? I continued by stating that I had no problem with recognising and even accepting the fact that other people hold different views and beliefs to me but why was I expect to value those different beliefs, especially if said beliefs were in direct opposition to beliefs I myself hold? A look of mild horror crossed the face of the lady doing the training and I got the feeling that no one had ever questioned her on this before. Somewhat reluctantly she explained that she didn’t know why the word “valuing” had been singled out like that and that they were not really expecting us to value beliefs that directly conflicted with our own. Now if she had left it there I might have, begrudgingly, let her get away with it. However she continued with this wonderful sentence.
“By valuing what we mean is that we expect you to be tolerant of the beliefs of others.”
You can bet my hand shot up with more questions about that one.
Tolerant is a word that they like to throw around a lot in UK politics and especially when it comes to subjects like equality and diversity. It is automatically viewed as a bad thing if you are not immediately tolerant of every contrary belief and opinion that you come across. But should this be the case? Here is the dictionary definition of the word tolerate:
‘¢ verb 1 allow (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) to exist or occur without interference. 2 patiently endure (something unpleasant). 3 be capable of continued exposure to (a drug, toxin, etc.) without adverse reaction.
Now straight away I can tell you that there are some things out there that I cannot, and will not, “allow to exist or occur without interference” and which I will most definitely not “patiently endure.” Something’s are so fundamentally wrong that to sit back silently and “tolerate” them is tantamount to giving them your endorsement. Sorry but that is not something I am willing, or able, to do.
I raised the point that default tolerance was a terrible idea and were they expecting us to be tolerance of the intolerant. She asked for an example of what I meant and I will admit that I let the side down on this one. Someone else in the room had already brought up the subject of the Muslim religion and with this still ringing in my ears my mind when for the easy option. I gave the example of Muslim extremists whose beliefs tell them that women are second-class citizens and that unbelievers don’t deserve to live. Was, I asked, I expected to be tolerant of this? She immediately shook her head and said that of course I wasn’t but that this was not at all what she was talking about. I immediately pointed out that she had just admitted that there existed a line, on one side of which where things we were expected to automatically tolerate and on the other things that could be readily rejected, but I had given her an out and she moved on and I was never able to get an answer as to what they were really expecting from us.
However now that I have had time to think about it a bit more I would like to take the opportunity to remake my case with better and right up to date examples. First let’s take a look at an article from this Thursday’s online edition of the Washington Post entitled Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum. Let’s look at a few choice bits shall we.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.
Man, this new bill must be truly terrible for the Catholic Church to make a threat like that. It must be making completely unreasonable demands upon them if they are willing to let tens of thousands of people suffer because of it. So what exactly is expected of them?
Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.
Er, ok then. Well that just makes it sound like they are being asked to treat people equally, but maybe I am just not getting it. Let’s hear what the problem is in their own words.
“Lets say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on top,’ said council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 6), the sponsor of the amendment. “Why can’t they say, based on their religious beliefs, ‘I can’t do something like that’?’
After the vote, the archdiocese sent out a statement accusing the council of ignoring the right of religious freedom. [Susan] Gibbs [spokeswoman for the archdiocese] said Wednesday that without Alexander’s amendment and other proposed changes, the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.
Before I go let me just say that while I completely disagree with what they are doing here there are parts I can get behind. If you run a private business and you decide that you don’t want to serve certain people then that is indeed your right to not do so, and loose business in the process. It is also my right to call you a bigot because of that choice and for the people you are discriminating against to sue your ass. That aside this article perfectly makes my point as to why the idea of automatically tolerating and valuing other beliefs is a foolish and ultimately untenable one. I’m using the Catholic Church as an example here but they are far from the only ones. Many religions view homosexuals as abominations and actively discriminate against them because of this. Now if I am expected to tolerate this belief then am I not, in an indirect way, lending my support to the discrimination of gays and lesbians? How can I be expected to tolerate homophobic belief systems while at the same time supporting complete and total equality for homosexuals? It simply is not possible. I must choose a side and in doing so I find myself labelled intolerant.
Here’s a different example taken from the pages of the Answers in Genesis website from an article regarding righteous lies. The author of the article is trying to explain why lying to the Nazis about the family of Jews you have hiding in your basement is a bad thing.
If we love God, we should obey Him (John 14:15). To love God first means to obey Him firstÃ¢â‚¬â€before looking at our neighbor. So, is the greater good trusting God when He says not to lie or trusting in our fallible, sinful minds about the uncertain future?
Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a lifeÃ¢â‚¬â€keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway.
As Christians, we need to keep in mind that Jesus Christ reigns. All authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and He sits on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 8:1). Nothing can happen without His say. Even Satan could not touch Peter without Christ’s approval (Luke 22:31). Regardless, if one were to lie or not, Jesus Christ is in control of timing every person’s life and able to discern our motives. It is not for us to worry over what might become, but rather to place our faith and obedience in Christ and to let Him do the reigning. For we do not know the future, whereas God has been telling the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
Now I know that not all Christians hold this point of view but once again this is another belief of which I find myself completely unable to be tolerant of. The idea that obeying the rules of some deity is of vastly greater importance than doing everything within your power to protect the lives of your fellow man is so completely beyond me to the point that I can barely wrap my mind around it. To my way of thinking any god who would view a righteous lie as a far greater crime than being an accessory to the murder of an entire family of Jews is one who has clearly demonstrated that he is far from worthy of my worship. Is it really intolerant of me to not value a belief system that views blind obedience to a set of rules as more important than human lives?
One final example, this time from the other side of the fence and that brings us right back to the original example I gave while on the course. This is taken from an article by Ibn Warraq over that the Centre for Inquiry website regarding the recent murder of 13 unarmed people at Fort Hood military base.
It is time to abandon apologetics, and political correctness. Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all Muslims are implicated in the horrendous events of September 11, 2001 — or of November 5, 2009. However, to pretend that Islam has nothing to do with 9/11 or the Fort Hood massacre is willfully to ignore the obvious. To leave Islam out of the equation means to forever misinterpret events. Without Islam, the long-term strategy and individual acts of violence by Osama bin Laden and his followers make little sense. Without Islam, the West will go on being incapable of understanding our terrorist enemies, and hence will be incapable to deal with them. Without Islam, neither is it possible to comprehend the barbarism of the Taliban, the position of women and non-Muslims in Islamic countries, or — now– the murders attributed to Major Hasan.
We are confronted, after all, with Islamic terrorists; and we must take the Islamic component seriously. Westerners in general and Americans in particular no longer seem able to grasp the passionate religious convictions of Islamic terrorists. It is this passionate conviction, directed against the West and against non-Muslims in general, that drives them. They are truly, and literally, God-intoxicated fanatics. If we refuse to understand that, we cannot understand them.
Is it intolerant of me to see the blinding, unmistakeable truth in these two paragraphs? Some beliefs, when taken to the extreme, should not be tolerated by any right thinking mind, in fact they should be directly opposed. But as the article says not all Muslims are terrorists, and this is completely true and should not be forgotten, but it does raise an interesting question. For while moderate Muslims do not tend to hold the beliefs of their extremist counter parts it could successfully be argued that the extremists do hold many of the same beliefs as the moderate Muslims. Without the moderate beliefs of Muslims, Christians, Hindus etc then the extremists of those religions have no foundation upon which to build. So where do you draw the line when it comes to being tolerant of a belief, especially when often the only difference between a moderate and an extremist is the degree to which they hold that belief to be true?
Anyway I have gone on way to long and for that I apologise. As always I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Am I overreacting or do you agree that this culture of automatic tolerance of others beliefs has gone to far. I am not suggesting that tolerance is a bad thing only that beliefs should be reviewed in the light of logic and reason and that acceptance for acceptance sakes is not necessarily the best way to go.