The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Tolerance of Intolerance Is Tolerance?

I've written about this before, and I'll just reiterate that in the past few years I've noticed more than a few moments when we seem to have gone through the looking glass. For example, we seem to have stumbled into an age where the tolerance of intolerance is the new tolerance. In other words, unless you are tolerant of those who are intolerant of — and perhaps even advocate discrmination against — you and others like you, you cannot be truly tolerant.

Take a look at the interesting bit of theater that went on in Palm Springs, where "Love Won Out" held it's conference and was officially welcomed by the Mayor, who also happens to be black, gay, and an ordained minister.

"It's a pleasure to welcome you," the mayor wrote to the notoriously antigay Christian group Focus on the Family, which organized the conference. "We are so proud to have you here in the Palm Springs area."

Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., teaches that gays and lesbians lead "deviant un-Christian lifestyles" and that with the group's help, they can "change" their sexual orientation. Officials with the group were pleased with the mayor's letter. "We were refreshingly encouraged that here was a city official walking out genuine tolerance," said Melissa Fryrear, director of the group's Gender Issues division. "He's public about being a gay man, which made it even more significant that he was showing us so much respect."

I understand the mayor says he was simply being "a good Christian" by welcoming Dobson' s the group, but would he have shown the same "Christian courtesy" to the Klan? (And yes, I meant to make that comparison, as they've also been known as the "Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.) Jay, over at The Zero Boss wondered what I thought about the whole thing, and I've been trying to figure it out myself.

Actually, I can't say that I disagree with much of how Jay put it on his blog.

This plays right into the fundie position that it’s “intolerant” not to tolerate intolerance – i.e., that it’s some kind of contradiction in the diversity protocol not to welcome people who, if they had their way, would “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity“. We “tolerate” groups like the KKK in a strict Constitutional sense of defending their right to speak, to be sure – but we don’t welcome them into our cities. That should be the same attitude we take toward Focus on the Family and any of James Dobson’s other bastard offspring.

I'm not sure the mayor should have stopped LWO from convening in his city, or that he could have stopped them. Sure, they have a right to speak, and a right gather (freedom of association and all that) if they can find a venue that's suitable and willing to host them. But, being welcomed by the major? The mayor who also happens to be a gay man? It's not "killing them with kindness," that's for sure. Nor is it taking away their claim of "persecuted" status, as the spokesperson for LWO turned right around and made the mayor's act an example of the exception to the rule. So it actually gives them the opportunity to validate their claims, and have an aura legitimacy conferred upon them by the mayor's welcome.

In other words, as this post I came across at Ex-Gay Watch lays out pretty effectively, it plays right into their hands.

The leaders of the political religious right frequently criticize pro-tolerance advocacy:

* They protest that tolerance advocates are not tolerant of intolerance.
* They assert that it is a sin to tolerate (much less affirm) that which religious rightists selectively declare to be sinful.
* They demand both affirmation and political power for their own sins.

Quite simply, the religious right has sought to redefine tolerance:

Tolerance = Tolerance of Intolerance + Intolerance of Tolerance

This is the new form of tolerance that they insist be taught in schools and in the media.

Orcinus weighed in as well.

Dobson isn't just condemning [Spongebob Squarepants], he's attacking the basic concept of secular tolerance as a democratic cornerstone. That is, he's actively promoting the tolerance of intolerance. There's a simpler word for that: hate.

… In essence, that argument comes down to the charge that the forces of tolerance are themselves being intolerant of people's legitimate religious beliefs. It is an old argument, made by the likes of Robert Miles and David Duke over the years. The question becomes: Should we tolerate intolerance?

Still, it deserves a fair answer, and there is a simple one: Tolerance and intolerance — whatever its rationale — are mutually incompatible. There is no reason why a society that embraces tolerance as an essential value would simultaneously embrace intolerance. Embracing one, by its nature, means rejecting the other.

… Otherwise, making an exception for one kind of intolerance — to condone it, for example, in our schools — simply opens the floodgates for all the other kinds of hatred that are out there making the same kinds of rationalizations. There is, after all, only the thinnest of veneers between one kind of hatred and another. If we go down that road, we begin heading for the morass.

It's gotten twisted to the point where the term "exgayphobic" is being bandied about.

D.L. Foster even goes farther and accuses Besen of being "exgayphobic." Foster also accuses Besen of attacking ex-gays for money and even goes as far as calling him a lunatic. The entire summation of Foster’s letter is that Besen was attempting to shut the voices of "ex-gays" who only want to tell how they were able to transform from being gay.

… The ex-gay movement is quick to grab what they think is a textbook tactic of the gay rights movement: victimhood status. Their leaders and spokespeople are always complaining that they are being discriminated against; that "gay activists" are being intolerant against them, that they are just trying help people who want to change and denying people the choice of "turning away from homosexuality" is discriminatory.

That more than an interesting tactic. It's a clever manipulation that allows fundamentalists and religious extremists to take of a liberal society's values regarding tolerance and America's unique tendency towards deference to people who claim strong religious beliefs. It's a bit like what Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and said when he was interviewed for the documentary The God Who Wasn't There.

Faith really is a conversation-stopper. If somebody says, "It's my faith that life is sacred and God creates life and man should not meddle in it," then that really stops the conversation. There's no – You can't challenge someone further and treat them as though they're drawing their ethics out of The Iliad and The Odyssey, which is really what I think we should be able to do. When, when, when the President of the United States says, "I, I plan to appoint common-sense judges who know that our rights are derived from God," I think someone in the White House Press Corps should be able to stand up and say, "How is that different from thinking you're going to appoint common-sense judges who think our rights are derived from Zeus?" And that's clearly an impertinent question, but it's a totally reasonable question.

Yet, it's a reasonable question that we can't ask for some reason, when someone invokes faith. Because there's a taboo against such questions.

And therefore….what? Is there some sort of taboo against telling someone their religious beliefs are wrong? What about people who are motivated by their religious views, particularly by the words of Jesus ("Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me also"), to befriend gays and to protest discrimination against them? Isn't the TVC telling those people that their religious views are wrong? Wrong views should be called wrong views, whether those views are religious or not. Attaching the word "religious" to an idea doesn't make that idea immune from criticism.

But for many of us, too many, it does. And the danger in that is that groups like LWO use the shield of faith, and Americans' habitual deference to faith, to hide the inherently political nature and goals of their movement. Ex-Gay Watch posted an example from the LWO conference, that laid bare at least one deception; publicly, LWO claimed the conference was "not aimed at influencing political decisions on gay marriage," but conference sessions featured arguments and materials specifically aimed at influencing political decisions on marriage.

The irony is that this situation could easily be turned back on our homegrown fundamentalists, because the same concept — the tolerance of intolerance — can be applied to them the way it was applied to Muslims in Europe during the controversy over Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammed.

In this jihad over humor, tolerance is disdained by people who demand it of others. The authoritarian governments that claim to speak on behalf of Europe's supposedly oppressed Muslim minorities practice systematic repression against their own religious minorities. They have radicalized what was at first a difficult question. Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules.

And organizations like LWO would have non-Christians and/or those who don't subscribe to their particular version of Christianity live by it anyway. They want discrimination against gays and lesbians to be legal. Sanctified, even. It's a pretty simple logic that comes down to one thing: gays can change. If gay people don't want to be discriminated against, they can change. If gay people don't want violence directed against them, they can change, etc. And while these same people are likely to make a point of saying they abhor discrimination, etc., they'll be just as quick to say "Oh, I don't believe in discrimination, personally, but I don't think we need to make a law about it."

As much as they demand "tolerance" for themselves and for their beliefs (which they also seek to enshrine in law), they are also opposed to "tolerance" for gays and lesbians. And this doesn't strike them as odd, because their position is based on faith, and therefore nearly unassailable by anyone who doesn't share their faith. That means basically undermines mayor Oden's defense of his LWO welcome, "If we want the acceptance and understanding of others, it's also important for people to see we're willing to extend the same courtesy to others." Acceptance and understanding is exactly what you won't get from LWO, because they're absolutely opposed to you getting either and they're taking action politically to see that you don't. Welcoming them gives their efforts a legitimacy that helps make their message, and their deception, more palatable to some people.

The danger is that the U.S. may end up making the same mistakes with our homegrown fundamentalists and religious radicals that some people say Europe made with it's immigrant population of fundamentalists and religious radicals.

The result? A Steven Colbert put it, "Here's the problem. You can be as tolerant as you want, but as long as there is one intolerant person left who won't tolerate your tolerance, you lose."


  1. I was involved in a discussion on this concept several years ago on an Internet forum. My main opponent, while using every offensive term one can think of for gays, insisted that I was the one who was being intolerant because I said he was wrong. My response was, “So let me make sure I understand you correctly. You’re saying that refusing to tolerate intolerance is itself intolerance equally as intolerable as the intolerance one refuses to tolerate?” He didn’t concede the debate (bigots never do), but he shut the hell up on the subject.

  2. Well, when you call their bluff, they can’t do anything else but shut up. They don’t have to conced anything. The fact they clam up is ahuge concession.

    This is what happens when you pit intelligence against utter, fetid stupidity!

  3. Pingback: Republic of T on “Welcoming” Discrimination - from The Zero Boss by Jay Andrew Allen