February 04, 2011

Genuine Tolerance

I have a cousin who is gay. When I was in the Army there was a member of our unit who was gay and on many occasions I defended him against cruelty and homophobia. I still believe homosexuality is a sin. For some reason people cannot understand how I can defend the rights of homosexuals to their lifestyle while pointing out that according to the Bible, it is a sin. Many people feel I am contradicting myself and betraying an internal ambivalence toward homosexuals. I can deny it, of course, but if you are predisposed to believe I am being inconsistent then you will say I am lying and we will be at a complete impasse.

Believe it or not, it is not Christians who give me the most grief over my defense of any individual homosexual's right to their lifestyle. It is atheists and homosexual activists who condemn my blog posts, pour out profanity on my YouTube channel, and rail against me in Facebook discussions. I am often shocked at some of the feedback I get for stating what seems to me patently obvious. It got so bad on my YouTube channel that I finally had to block comments entirely on my videos. The anger, the vitriol, the violent threats against my person by people who don't even know where I live were just too much for me to bother dealing with. And this was from YouTube's most dedicated self-proclaimed liberals and progressives! I don't understand. I thought liberal progressivism was supposed to be open-minded and tolerant?

For my part, I believe every individual is entitled to choose their own lifestyle according to their own internal priorities. I honestly do not have a problem with any individual who is homosexual, communist, a muslim, a jew, a christian fundamentalist, a neo-nazi, a traditional nazi, a progressive, a recipient of transgender surgery, a transvestite, or whatever. As long as you are not behaving violently toward those who disagree with you I don't care what you believe, why you believe it, or how you live your life. There are certainly some of you I don't prefer to have for neighbors, but am I not entitled to feel this way?

On the other hand, if you seek to legislate your chosen belief system as standard cultural practice then I will fight against you with everything I can muster. I will not sit back quietly and let my country be transformed into a Christian theocracy, an Islamic caliphate, a Communist paradise, or a Socialist utopia. I will not let you force a pro-homosexual propaganda campaign into kindergartens, discussions of sodomy into elementary schools, or the benefits of transgender surgery into high schools. What you do with your private life is your freedom but that does not mean the rest of the world must copy you, adore you, admire you, or envy you. If you live in a way that society does not accept then I will defend your right to live that way but I will not help you campaign to make your choices part and parcel of the prevailing culture. You are not entitled to force the world to accept you even as the world at large is not entitled to condemn you. Tolerance works both ways. If you want others to be tolerant of your lifestyle then you must be tolerant of theirs, even if they hate yours.

Society, however, must have laws. The purpose of those laws is to help us live together in peace even when we disagree. Violence, for example, is something that society must legislate against. Laws that set out precise penalties for rape, murder, assault, and intimidation are good laws that must be enforced equally and fairly. Tagging on different penalties according to the nature of the victim, however, is not acceptable. When victims are classified rather than criminals we immediately create privileged and protected social classes and by doing so the legal system itself becomes invalid, opening the door to anarchy. Tacking on five or ten years to an assault conviction because the victim happens to be a child, a woman, a homosexual, a jew, a muslim, or whatever creates just such a privileged class. The only thing such laws accomplish is to create a non-protected pariah class. For some reason every day that goes by the modern pariah class becomes more clearly identified as white, male, Christian, American. This is not tolerance, nor it is diversity. It is, instead, tyranny.

According to an archived article at the New York Times, at a law enforcement convention in Tennessee in 1995 "Federal Nigger Hunting Licenses" and other racist paraphernalia were sold openly and purchased eagerly by enthusiastic attendees. Obviously, this is the opposite of tolerance. When high school students were sent home from school last year for wearing shirts decorated with American flags on Cinco de Mayo, it was exactly the same kind of intolerance! In both cases open, honest debate is buried beneath intimidation and that cannot be allowed in a free society.

No one needs to agree with my lifestyle, not even my wife and children (although it certainly helps when they do!). I don't have to agree with your lifestyle in order to agree with your right to live that way. There are only two things I cannot and will not tolerate: violence in any situation other than self-defense against a physical attack and intolerance toward my beliefs or the beliefs of people around me. Both of these stem from the same set of assumptions, a set of assumptions I have been fighting against my entire life. To be more precise, I have always and will always oppose the idea that any one group of people is for some reason inherently superior to the rest of us and therefore deserving of the authority to order the rest of us to conform to their value system. That is a right no one possesses. Not me, not my critics, not some Iman, not the Pope, not a pastor, not a lawyer, and no politician. No one alive has the right to demand conformity to their individual or group value system.

You cannot force me to believe in Global Warming, Islam, or Old Testament dietary laws, nor can you force me to believe that homosexuality is just as natural and normal as heterosexuality. Nor am I entitled to force my beliefs on you. We can certainly discuss them, we can debate the merits of our opposing value systems and we can do our best to sell one another on our chosen values, but coercion is not an acceptable option. If you use profanity and insults to condemn my beliefs then do not be surprised when I thrown profanity and insults right back at you. If you attempt to twist my arm I will break free and twist yours completely out of joint. If you pull a gun, throw a rock, or swing a punch, I will avoid your attack and return it tenfold. Conversely, if I instigate violence, you certainly have every right to return my violence tenfold.

However, that does not justify terrorism, and it does not justify undeclared war between nations. America had every right to bring down the Taliban and if possible, exterminate them utterly. America had no right to invade Iraq. There may or may not have been some perceived overriding political need, but that is not the same as an individual or national right. Even if Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, America would not have been justified in invading Iraq until those weapons were used against her or one of her allies.

In Egypt yesterday, the protests turned violent. Pro-Mubarak "protesters" threw rocks and molotov cocktails at the ranks of anti-Mubarak protesters. A large group of Mubarak supporters even rode horses and camels into the anti-Mubarak ranks swinging clubs and swords. Naturally the anti-Mubarak protesters responded with violence of their own and now hundreds of people (and possibly uncounted tens of thousands) have been injured. Some have died. This is not the way to build a free republic. This kind of violence will lead to someone like the Muslim Brotherhood seizing power and that would be bad for the entire world.

That is the real problem with violent solutions. Legitimate self-defense is one thing, unprovoked violence something altogether different. If no one has physically attacked you then you do not have the right to use violence against them. If you do, they will respond, and then it becomes a contest of the strongest. Unfortunately, very seldom in history do the strongest among us turn to be the most ethical leaders. More often than not when someone takes control of a nation through violence they turn out to be despotic and tyrannical. Under a tyrant, everyone suffers.