Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Tolerance Buzz Saw

Wow.  Quite the firestorm brewing about Dan Cathy's recent statements in favor of a "traditional" view of marriage, thereby denouncing homosexual marriage.  A lot of it took place while I was on vacation, but people all over the country are still up in arms (on both sides of the argument - today was Chick Fil A Wednesday, when supporters of the restaurant were encouraged to eat their), and mayors are refusing to allow Chick Fil A to come into their cities.  Quite the hubub!  I've eaten at Chick Fil A only twice in my life during a trip to Atlanta.  I've got no personal connection to the restaurant or reason to defend it (in fact, I remember being a bit let down when I learned they only served chicken!).  My opinion has to do with the way people present and respond to the arguments and views of those they disagree with.

This whole controversy just goes to show the lunacy of the "intolerance" position that people take against others who oppose their views.  It's like a trump card: don't like what someone is saying about you?  Just label them as being intolerant, and you're automatically the one whose rights are being infringed.  I always chuckle when people pull out the "tolerance buzz saw" as Dough Wilson calls it.  "We support your right to free speech.  Now shut up," Wilson says of the sentiment of the tolerance crowd.

The ironic thing about tolerance and intolerance, as the words are used in common speech in english, is that anyone who vilifies someone else by labeling them as "intolerant" doesn't realize that they themselves are actually intolerant of at least one thing: those whom they have deemed intolerant.  In other words, those who hate intolerance are intolerant of intolerance.  The sad thing is that people don't realize this when they pull out their own personal tolerance buzz saw.

What is also interesting is that those on the conservative side of the aisle are constantly accused of forcing their values on other people.  What is the criticism of Chick Fil A for expressing their views, if not forcing values (the value of homosexuality) on those who disagree with the homosexual agenda?  It's just goofy, and it's sad to see people put aside reason and logic and instead embrace emotion and hate mongering in the public square.

Furthermore, by what standard do people label others "intolerant?"  Who gets to decide what behaviors and attitudes are tolerant, and which aren't?  Clearly, as the terms are used in our society, the standard by which we judge tolerance and intolerance in others is subjective, and moreover, based upon personal preferences.  There is no tolerance scale by which we can judge who or what is intolerant.  It simply boils down to a person's preferences.  If you don't like what I'm doing, you can call me intolerant.  That's all you need for cutting someone up with the tolerance buzz saw: just disagree with them.  That's it.  That's the standard.  The problem with this word and its use in the public square is that it carries significant overtones of discriminatory ideas.  That is, when you call someone intolerant, you're not just stating disagreement with them - you're accusing them of discrimination against a group of people or set of ideas.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Can't we just disagree?  Do we have to be accusing each other of hate when we disagree?

Christians, however, do have a standard to which they can appeal: scripture.  We can say that things are right or wrong not because we personally prefer them, but because the Bible says so.  You may disagree with it in public or private discourse on the issues, but at least you're not disagreeing with my own personal preferences - you're disagreeing with the Bible.  Here are some examples of people judging from the subjective standards of personal preferences, taken from the Chick Fil A controversy:

1. The mayor of Boston wrote a letter to the local newspaper in which he urged Chick Fil A to "back out of your plans to locate in Boston."  He went on, "You can't have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population."  Discriminates?  Really?  What gives him the authority to deem Dan Cathy's affirmation of the biblical view of marriage as discriminatory?  Who made him the judge of what is or is not discrimination?  Isn't it just his opinion that Chick Fil A is discriminating?  Can he prove it?  No.  It simply comes down to the fact that, according to him, those who do not affirm the homosexual agenda are bigots.  There's no other standard being applied here but his own.

2. A Philadelphia city council member actually wrote a personal letter to Dan Cathy, president of Chick Fil A saying, "Take a hike, and take your intolerance with you."  He plans to condemn the company openly at the next city council meeting.  Again, why does this guy get to decide that Cathy is being intolerant?  Answer: he doesn't.  He only gets to express his feelings and his personal preferences.  But as soon as you tack the "intolerance" label onto someone, it's taken to a whole new level.  Also, as stated above, it's laughable that this guy, telling people to "take their intolerance with them," doesn't realize that - by his own standard - he needs to leave town too, as he is likewise intolerant.

3. The final, and what I consider to be the most ridiculous response to the Chick Fil A controversy comes from Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago.  He said, "Chick Fil A's values are not Chicago's values."  Oh really?  And just what are Chicago's values?  Quite obviously, Mayor Emanuel believes that his values are also Chicago's values.  To make such a broad, overarching statement is absolutely ludicrous.  Allow me to explain.  Two or three years ago my wife and I drove down to Charleston, South Carolina for a friend's wedding.  Our route took us right through Chicago.  As we drove through the city I was horrified at how literally every other billboard on the highway was an advertisement either for a strip club or adult video store.  I vowed at that time to never drive through Chicago with my kids - at least not during daylight.  Given my propensity to believe that strip clubs and pornography tend to denigrate our society, destroy marriages, and hurt families, would it be right of me to say that Chicago's values are not my values?  Yes indeed.  But that's based on my own values - my own preferences.  Mayor Emanuel's statement is likewise based on his values.  And who is he, and what are his values that give him the right to make such a statement?  Nobody.  He's a nobody.  Why does he get to force his values on others?  Do I have the right to purge Chicago of strip clubs and adult video stores based on my values?  Certainly not.  And neither does Rahm Emanuel or anyone else have the right to condemn Chick Fil A based upon his or her own personal set of values.  How do people not see the subjectivity of this line of thinking?  It's sad, really.

The difference between my values and Emanuel's values is significant.  If we just debate our values, we'll find ourselves in a never-ending circular argument, since I can always appeal to what I like, and someone else can always disagree by appealing to what they like.  Neither of us has an objective standard to which we can appeal.  As a Christian, however, I can trace my values to scripture to show how and why God says certain things are right or wrong.  They aren't just my values - they're God's.  This changes the argument completely, and it is why Christians must stop entering into the public square quoting statistics, social science studies, and promoting conservative, traditional values.  Instead, we must enter the public square by saying "This is what God says."  I don't care what statistics you have, or how many social studies you have.  This is what God says.  Statistics and studies can be and are always based on a particular presupposition.  The word of God is not.  Appeal to that.  We can disagree, but at least I have an objective standard to which I can appeal.  The only standard that these guys listed above can appeal to is themselves, which is not a very persuasive or weighty authority.

Here's another interesting thing to think about: would each of these men be willing to admit that for the first three and a half years of his presidency (not including his presidential campaign before his first term in office) President Obama was an anti-homosexual, discriminating bigot?  After all, he didn't come out in support of gay marriage until very recently.  In fact, he seemed to have been adamantly opposed to it, especially during his campaign.  Couldn't we say that President Obama's values, until very recently, "are not Chicago's values" (which screams with even more irony, considering Rahm Emanuel was on Obama's staff during his presidency)?  Would these same guys be willing to describe Obama's supposedly newly found support of gay marriage to be a process of overcoming his own demons of anti-gay discrimination and bigotry?  Don't hold your breath.

My point in this whole post is that I'd like to see people elevate the intellectual level of the public discourse when it comes to these serious issues.  Throwing out subject accusations that are based on personal preferences are neither persuasive nor helpful in the conversation.  Let's talk.  Let's just do it with civility and with our brains.  We can do better than simply leveling a trump card of intolerance, or chopping people up with our tolerance buzz saws.

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