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October 19, 2004

Don't Bring It Up

Why is it that those who place "tolerance" toward the top of their personality résumés seem so often not to understand what the quality actually entails? Being tolerant of another person — interacting with that person so as not to cause offense — means understanding his views and considering them in how and when one approaches sensitive topics. It isn't toleration, for one thing, to tell somebody whom you've hurt by poking a sore spot that you ought to be able to poke because he oughtn't consider the spot to be sore.

Another Jonah Goldberg emailer (a group that's beginning to become a candidate for its own NRO-moderated blog) offers the latest instance of what has been a common example, lately:

I think a better example would be if Cheney's daughter happened to be a convert to Islam or Judaism, and the Bush administration was pursuing laws that somehow limited the rights of religious expression. (I know we're playing with some way out there hypotheticals right now, but bear with me.) If Kerry pointed out that Jews/Muslims were human beings with the right to express their religious affiliation and pointed to Cheney's daughter as an example of that, would that be shameful? There's nothing wrong with being a member of a religion, and there's nothing wrong with being gay. The difference in opinion on this issue stems from whether people think being gay is shameful, embarrassing, or unfortunate in the first place.

Before addressing the point, we must clear up a couple of slips or sleights (whichever they happen to be). Note, first, the equation of supporting the codification of the status quo (traditional marriage) with pursuing laws that would do something that is not currently done (further infringement on religious liberty). This conflation is characteristic of the arguments of those who advocate for same-sex marriage: they act as if it wouldn't be a change, speaking as if the Federal Marriage Amendment would remove a right that homosexuals have historically enjoyed.

Note, second, that the emailer lists two specific religions in his analogy but names the affront as against "religious expression" generally. The difference may seem minimal, but the emotional tug of the thing changes if we correct for this problem: suppose John Kerry were a Muslim, Atheist, or even a Protestant and his daughter were notable for being a Roman Catholic. What would be the reaction if, asked about school choice in a debate, President Bush brought up her name in a response suggesting that Kerry favors anti-Catholic discrimination by excluding religious schools from voucher programs, insinuating that he and the daughter were united against Kerry? Or up the emotional ante: what if the moderator had asked about fuel efficiency, and President Bush had mentioned John Edwards's son, who died in a car accident, as a presumed supporter of large, solid automobiles? (Goldberg gives some other examples toward the end of a recent column.)

Getting back to tolerance, it seems to me that a person who is compassionate with respect to differences would avoid the arsenal of logical leaps, anachronisms in cultural reality, and (especially) fundamentalist insistence that all arguments must be approached as if that person's view were undeniably correct. Now, I don't know how the Cheney family handled Mary's coming out. I don't know what their Thanksgiving dinner discussions involve. Nonetheless, I can say that Jonah's emailer shows utter contempt for the other side and its ability to think in something other than black and white when he writes:

There's nothing wrong with being a member of a religion, and there's nothing wrong with being gay.

Is there no religion for which membership would be something wrong? More precisely, is there no approach to religion that could be wrong? Even just a sensitive topic within a family? Apparently, a great many part-time spokesmen for gay rights believe there to be something wrong with subscribing to a religion that believes homosexual impulses ought to be resisted and treated as an urge to sin. And apparently, that particular something is so wrong that to so much as leave the possibility open indicates hypocrisy, at best, and bigotry, at worst.

There's nothing wrong with having feelings of attraction toward people of one's own sex, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to define one's own view as objective reality. The difference of opinion on the former count stems from whether people think the attraction is contrary to what is evident in the way in which God formed us. The difference of opinion on the latter count stems from whether people are even willing to admit that that's what they're doing.

Posted by Justin Katz at October 19, 2004 7:51 PM
Culture