A Conversation About Tolerance - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity

Tolerance & Bigotry

A Conversation About Tolerance

I once had a fascinating e-mail conversation with a gentleman who took issue with me for the lack of tolerance of people like myself. In the course of the conversation he brought up a number of interesting points, and I thought others might be interested in some of the give and take. I'm not going to repeat the entire conversation here -- it was long and meandering -- but here are some of the more interesting excerpts.

He signed his letters simply "E", so that's what I'll call him.

E began the conversation by sending me an e-mail that centered on this comment about my personal web site:

Wow, such an ego that you opine on almost any topic -- that takes an inordinate amount of chutzpah! ... The pictures -- wow -- Jay and his family at home -- I couldn't figure out why?
At the time I replied:
You were looking at my family pictures? Whatever for? As I wrote in the very first line on that page, "Unless you're a personal friend, I don't know why you'd even care about these pictures, but, hey, if it amuses you, fine with me."

On the bizarre chance that you actually would want to know why I posted those pictures: It's because my girlfriend asked to see pictures of my parents before meeting them, so rather than mail pictures to her -- how archaic! -- I scanned a couple in and tried to email them to her. We had a problem with email compatibility, so I put them on my web site. I didn't see any point in going to the trouble to remove them afterward. ...

But I am left wondering: What arrogance on your part to presume to tell me what I should or should not have opinions about! :-)

E took strong exception to my final statement. In his next e-mail he wrote:

It's interesting that you would refer to my reference to your web page and my questioning of it as "arrogance" -- isn't that analogous to name calling -- and isn't that quite ung-dly, or to put in your lexicon, unchristian. I find that quite sad.
This reply left me absolutely baffled. He had begun the conversation by accusing me of showing "chutzpah", which my dictionary defines as "impudence" or "brazen rudeness". If taken literally, that's a pretty nasty thing to say to someone. But I assumed it was meant in a light-hearted way, and I was not particularly offended by it. And so I replied similarly. I thought that "arrogance" was very similar in meaning to "chutzpah", and so the point of my reply was to point out that by the very act of accusing me of chutzpah, he was demonstrating the same quality in himself. For surely if it is a sign of an inflated ego to express opinions on a variety of topics, it is a sign of an even more inflated ego to tell someone else that he has no right to express opinions on these topics. The clear implication is that only your own opinions are of value, and the other person's are not.

It struck me that this exchange is a classic example of the paradox of the modern liberal: E criticizes me for "name calling", despite the fact that he called me a very similar name first. Why is it okay for a liberal to use nasty names to describe a conservative, but it is not okay for a conservative to use nasty names to describe a liberal? Liberals routine describe conservatives in all sorts of extreme language -- "racist" and "mean-spirited" are among their favorites lately -- but when conservatives do the same, they suddenly cry foul, and cry about how offended they are, and that this demonstrates "intolerance".

In that same e-mail, E made a vauge reference to "folks like you". I replied asking him what "folks" he was lumping me in with. Was this some sort of stereotype that he was trying to apply to me? I thought stereotyping led to prejudice, and was therefore wrong?

He replied:

As for my remark re: you folks ... it was to contextualize the holier than thou attitude of [your] tone. Something I find quite common among bible quoting folk--there is in the attempt to "witness" or to "teach" an inherent arrogance--it must be so settling to know that those who live between the pages of the bible have found the word, have realized truth--have found the one true way--while the rest of us just struggle in the muck attempting to make sense out of the nuances of life. ...

I prefer to live with paradox--attempting to find meaning b/w the lines--something I believe that you folks can't live with or accept--ambiguity.

I am not writing this out of humor--or frustration--or disbelief--but out of an inordinate sense of sadness--because i beleive that most of the bible spouting preachers really don't believe what they preach nor live a life that exemplifies Christliness ( Rev. Phelps the homophobe; Benny Hinn? He has more diamonds per finger than Librace; Paul and Jan Crouch? Why they are self promoters--pulling $ from those who can ill afford; the Southern Baptists who encouraged their followers to convert Jews during the holidays? The latter is an example of unmitigated arrogance!!!)

I found this reply to be full of curious paradoxes and double-standards, and again, typical of modern liberalism.

Note that in the very same e-mail in which he talks about how hurt and offended he is because I "called him names", he calls me "arrogant" several times. Okay, maybe he thinks he's being clever, throwing the same word back at me that I threw at him. But then, he just attacked me for calling him "arrogant" in response to his saying I showed "chutzpah": I thought I was being clever by tossing back a nearly-synonymous word. (Okay, this is starting to sound like a juvenile, "But mommy, he called me bad names first!") But he goes on to refer to someone else as a "homophobe" and another person as a "self-promoter". He ridicules both Benny Hinn and Liberace for their taste in jewelry. (And it just hit me as I write this: I've heard people say that they think the way Liberace dresses indicates that he is a homosexual. If E is making fun of such a style of dress, does this mean that he is making fun of homosexuals? In the very sentence after he criticizes someone else for being a "homophobe"?) He whines about someone else calling him nasty names, but he throws out the insults left and right.

I have to wonder: Are liberals really so sensitive, that the mildest criticism, or even expression of disagreement, just hurts their feelings so badly that they are totally devastated, reduced to running to a corner to whine and cry? Or is this just a propaganda tactic: When your opponent says, "No, I believe you are poorly informed on that point, because I have research here that shows ...", if you can't refute the facts, instead you can confuse the issue by crying, "Mommy!! He called me stupid ...". If it works, you get the audience thinking about how rude and nasty your opponent was rather than thinking about the fact that your original argument was not supported by the facts.

Anyway, I replied to his e-mail with the following:

You criticize "Bible-quoting folk" because they attempt to persuade others that their ideas are right? Tell me, suppose I said that I was just shocked and outraged to hear that the Democratic party was attempting to persuade Republicans to vote for the Democratic candidate. How would you respond to such a statement? Or if I said that I was just horrified to learn that an environmentalist group was attempting to persuade politicians and business leaders to support the goals of their organization, perhaps even -- gasp! -- to join. Surely you would think I was a total nut case (or an even bigger nut case than you already think I am). OF COURSE people try to persuade others that their ideas are correct and contradictory ideas are wrong. That's what free speech, democracy, and public debate are all about. Are you actually saying that you think that Bible believers do not or should not have the right to talk about their ideas and beliefs and to attempt to persuade others to adopt them? Should only ideas that you personally agree with be permitted to be spoken in public?

A little later I referred to his sarcastic remarks about "those who live between the pages of the Bible ... have found the one true way, while the rest of us just struggle in the muck" and commented:

Hmm. Do you believe that that idea is true? That belief in paradox and "meaning between the lines" is the one true way and that competing beliefs are, therefore, wrong? Do you think that you have realized truth here, while others -- such as Bible-quoting folk -- are still struggling in the muck?
For here again is a classic paradox of liberalism. They ridicule conservatives for claiming that our ideas are right and others are wrong. What chutzpah! they cry, to think that you know the truth and others do not. But ... don't they claim that their ideas are right, and the conservatives are wrong? I have never once heard a liberal say, "Well, I think tolerance is a good idea, but you know, most cultures in the world do not practice tolerance, so maybe we should listen to the racists and the Nazis, and try to understand their point of view ..." No, they believe that their point of view is the one and only true way, and everyone else is wrong. So if this sort of self-confidence is okay when it comes from a liberal, why is it wrong when it comes from a conservative?

Finally, I mentioned his assertion that "most of the bible-spouting preachers really don't belive what they preach nor live a life that exemplifies Christliness". For me, this was way over the line, and I replied more strongly than, in retrospect, was truly appropriate:

Wow, so you understand Christianity so well that you are prepared to declare that you have determined what Christianity really means and that these people do not live up to your standards? Isn't there any ambiguity here, any room for reading between the lines? Perhaps their understanding of "Christliness" is different from yours. For example, perhaps they do not define Christianity in terms of the type of jewelry a person wears or his methods of fund-raising. You do not call yourself a Christian, yet you believe that you have the authority to define Christianity? Personally, I couldn't imagine myself presuming to tell a Moslem what "true Islam" is, or declaring that some prominent African-American leader is not "really black" in his beliefs. Of course, you are not arrogant, oh no, that would be name-calling for me to say that.

But indeed, you don't stop there. You go on to explain that you know what these people you mention "really believe". So you also know what is in other people's hearts and minds? You are not only the world's authority on religion, you are also a psychic?

(For the record: I've never heard of this Rev Phelps or Paul and Jan Crouch you mention. I've heard of Benny Hinn, but all I've heard of him has been other people's criticisms of him, I've never heard what the man has to say for himself. And I've long since figured out that it's unreliable to draw conclusions about someone based solely on what his enemies say about him. So I can't say what my opinion of any of these people is or would be.)

It saddens me to see that people can be so filled with the rightness of their own beliefs that they fall into the trap of thinking that this gives them the right to ridicule all those who disagree with them, and indeed to say that anyone who disagrees with them has no right to speak, that the very notion of someone who is so obviously wrong attempting to express his opinions is "arrogant", "intolerant", etc. Can't we engage in discourse based on mutual respect? Instead of attacking each other's motives or "real beliefs" or right to speak, why can't we talk about the issues themselves? Let's discuss the historical or scientific or philosophical arguments for different religious beliefs, rather than just calling each other "Bible thumpers" or such. Let's discuss the practical consequences of social policies, rather than calling each other "communists", "intolerant", etc.

© 2001 by Jay Johansen


Inayat Jul 23, 2014

"Usually in the past when I have recieved Christmas cards...."I guess she didn't read them berfoe. I have recieved one every year that Bush has been President and they ALL have been religious.In fact this years is very similar to last years. So she not only does not know what she is talking about, ( so what's new here ?), but she is trying to spark a scandal where none exists.BTW, HOW do you stomach watching the view enough to regularly find these clips ? You must use a lot of Tums to make it through thr programs ! LOL

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