tolerance, 21st-century style
By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 21, 2007
Bigotry is bad. We teach our children to avoid bigots, to hold them in contempt. If the schoolteacher encourages students to fight against bigotry, we applaud that effort. We want bigotry to vanish.
Because the word provokes that sort of reaction, it's important to be mindful about what attitudes are classified as "bigotry," and thus exposed to universal contempt.
These days, first and foremost there is the "bigotry" of those who believe that marriage involves one man and one woman. Dare to question the validity of same-sex marriage, and you may find the public schools turning your children against you.
Now here's something new: Writing in the Boston Globe, columnist Joan Vennochi-- who is not a rabid ideologue, but a reliable indicator of conventional opinion in a liberal American city-- takes on the religious conservatives who have doubts about a Mormon presidential candidate:
"Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult, " Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said in a Sept. 30 sermon.
But, why should one religion's bigotry toward another be allowed to dominate the 2008 presidential contest?
Notice that quick leap from fact to conclusion. Dr. Jeffress defines his own faith in a way that excludes Mitt Romney; therefore Dr. Jeffress is a bigot.
Do you see a middle term in that syllogism? No; there isn't one. The reaction Venocchi expects is not logical but reflexive. The response she hopes to elicit is not the sort that Socrates sought, but the sort that Pavlov demonstrated.
Now if the views expressed by Jeffress turn out to be the views of mainstream Baptists, we can follow the Vennochi logic to its natural conclusion that all mainstream Baptists are bigots. Similarly if orthodox Catholics think that Mormons are not Christians-- which they do-- then Catholics are bigots too.
Oh, there are Baptists and Catholics, who ignore the teachings of their religious leaders. (The Vennochi column includes the obligatory bow toward JFK's famous Houston speech.) They are the "good" Baptists and "good" Catholics; they're OK. We can deal with them. Maybe we can even enlist their support in the all-important battle to eliminate the bigots.
Those who disagree with us are bigots, and bigots must held in contempt. That's the key moral lesson of 20th-century tolerance.
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