Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tolerance is not immunity to criticism

Noah Millman on religious tolerance:

[C]orporate bodies to exist at all must define their boundaries: this is who we are, this is what we believe, this is how we behave. And this requires an implicitly if not explicitly excluded “not that.” This being the case, if freedom of religion means, most fundamentally, the freedom to be a heretic, it equally means the freedom to declare that the other guy is a heretic. In a very real sense, a social environment that is hostile to religious intolerance must necessarily be hostile to religious freedom.
But this is only true if that intolerance calls upon the power of the state for its enforcement.

If someone says, "OUR magic sky-fairy only accepts white, heterosexual, blonde-haired blue-eyed worshippers who make at least $50K," fine. Go for it. Have fun. But when you run around telling certain "other" people that the magic sky-fairy thinks they're no different from pedophiles, that the magic sky-fairy says they're evil disgusting sub-humans, and the magic sky-fairy wants the gummint to make sure they aren't treated equally under the law--you're going to be criticized for it. Politicians who give you a platform are going to be criticized.

That's only "hostile to religious intolerance" in the sense that public statements and public actions are open to public criticism.

As far as I'm concerned, the Saddleback Church is completely within its rights to exclude gay members. I wish they wouldn't, but they certainly have the right to do so and there's no particular reason they should listen to me on the subject--after all, I don't claim to follow their magic sky-fairy or to be an authority on magic sky-fairies in general. Rick Warren is perfectly within his rights to say everything he's said. And I'm perfectly within my rights to point out the hateful bigotry in those statements. It's not the religion that's the problem here, it's the bigotry. Bigotry on behalf of a particular magic sky-fairy is still bigotry. If his magic sky-fairy tells him to be a bigot, that's his business, not mine. When he starts organizing and fundraising to take away my civil, secular, legal rights, it becomes my business.

A religious body is perfectly free to be intolerant. But when they express their intolerance through public discourse and the political proces, they become subject to public criticism. If your religion tells you to be intolerant toward certain things or certain people, fine. If you're too cowardly to face criticism from others who don't share your belief, keep them to yourself.

But religion doesn't give you the authority to run around criticizing everyone else while being immune to any such criticism yourself.

[h/t: Andrew Sullivan]

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