Friday, November 04, 2005

Whose tolerance are we stretching?

I’m sure we all agree that we ought to love one another and I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that.
-Tom Lehrer, Introduction to “National Brotherhood Week”

Let us talk of tolerance. After all, Prince Charles suggests ours could stand improvement. Some folks believe it is our own religious intolerance, in this country, which caused us to be involved in wars in Asia. We Americans are so intolerant, we have a big old statue in the middle of the harbor to New York City which proclaims our lack of tolerance toward others. Today’s Christians are so intolerant that, if you aren’t a member of their church, you might as well give up and go hang yourself... a nice picture of your own deity. They’ll be sorry you won’t meet up in heaven, but that’s your choice. Sick, pushy goons! And Israel is so intolerant that, when Arab residents decide they will obey all the secular laws, when they choose to live peaceably inside the Holy Land, they are granted the same rights as any other citizens. Isn’t that just SOOO selfish and cruel? Prince Chuck’s homeland, too, has laws purportedly based on the notion that God gave them a national religion, but even if you aren’t an Anglican, you can still live in peace and draw welfare checks if you so desire. They won’t penalize you, even for believing something outlandish, such as that you live in the Great Satan’s summer cottage and it must be destroyed. 

Western society has been crippled by its own brand of intolerance -- the dread of it, that is. We have become so afraid of being labeled as intolerant that we put up with the most absurd demands. For example, Britain has been removing piggies from view. Teachers are not allowed to use “Winnie-the-Pooh” paper handkerchief boxes, because his friend Piglet, being an unclean creature, offends some Muslims. Banks are no longer giving out piggy banks to their young customers because it might be seen as making the money unclean -- does “filthy lucre” mean something else? But the UK is not the only place where there are “cultural differences” changing the way people do their everyday business.

In Germany and Australia, many police officers have been told to “understand cultural differences”, and not interfere when a Muslim man beats his wife or daughter -- even if he’s beating her to death. Of course, that is not only condescending, to say that Muslim men have a lower behavioral standard to live up to, but it betrays the women who otherwise would get equal protection under the law. And, lest we forget, a Dutch film festival was altered after a Muslim fanatic murdered Theo Van Gogh and threats were made against the woman who had written the screenplay for Van Gogh’s film. The festival planners opted against showing the “offending” film.

This is not tolerance, but bending over backwards to accommodate somebody else’s lack of tolerance. As the saying goes, your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. I will tolerate anybody else’s pursuit of his own set of beliefs -- in fact, I will accept and encourage him in his endeavor. I will not, however, allow him to tell me that I must amend my own manner of living to suit his beliefs. In fact, I will leave my head uncovered in public, I will eat a ham sandwich with Swiss cheese, and I may even plant my hindquarters on top of a box containing a Bible, at some time in my life. None of this would be aimed as an insult to Muslim, Jew, or Christian. It is simply my being who I am, in my own thankfully inimitable way.   

Certainly, there must be limits placed on and by society -- there’s a list of ten darned good rules in the books for several of the major religions, and most of those seem to be applicable to anybody, regardless of religious views. Don’t kill or steal ? Okay, that’s a good rope-line for any living person. But when you start tightening the noose, things start getting dicey. Everybody stop eating during daylight hours in October? Not so good for the hypoglycemic, the diabetic, the soldier, and so on. Burn representational art, because it’s idolatrous? Sorry, I’m keeping the portrait of my favorite woodcutter, Cochise, on my bedroom wall, to teach me of humanity’s best and worst days. He’s the warrior who gave us these words: “We will make peace; we will keep it faithfully. But let us go around free as Americans do.”

That’s all we ask. That’s all tolerance is. It’s not about performing contortions to make somebody else’s ways come first. It’s about each of us being equal, having the same rights to decide where we go and what we must do, without somebody else’s fist hitting our collective noses. It’s about letting us go around free. It’s about protecting the freedom of other good people, as well. Everybody. Everywhere. Equally. Piglet fans included.

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