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Monday, 21 May 2007

Tolerate this!

It is a common view that -- especially when it comes to religious issues -- we have to have 'tolerance'. I'm not entirely against this, but the usual subsequent definition of tolerance is rather suspect.

To be 'tolerant', people say, one must accept that we all have our beliefs, and they all seem justified one way or another, but really, there's no way of telling who is right. If you do not accept this then you are intolerant, fundamentalist even. I must respectfully disagree.

Such 'tolerance' is impossible. It does not 'tolerate' the belief that we can discover some sort of truth about the issue. Of course, no-one is really advocating universal tolerance (almost nobody thinks that we should tolerate a religion that advocates ritual murder of unbelievers), but I think that those who advocate the kind of 'tolerance' outlined above are actually being less tolerant than they might be.

Tolerance does not imply the lack of an opinion, it merely implies allowing others to disagree. One can allow others to disagree without subscribing to the notion that all people are equally right. If you think there is no real evidence one way or the other for the existence of God, and that the appropriate reaction is to conclude that people can believe what they like, well, I'm willing to tolerate that belief. That is to say, I'm willing to allow you to hold it, and will not badger you about it outside of an argument on that particular subject. When I do hold arguments with you, I will endeavour to be civil. I will not claim that your viewpoint is evil purely because I disagree with it.

I will, however, continue to argue for my own position. And I still think you're wrong.

Can you tolerate that?

15 comments:

olvlzl said...

Lynet, thank you for pointing out that I was acting like a jerk, because I was.

I will, however, continue to argue for my own position. And I still think you're wrong.

This is exactly what I support everyone doing, your own opinion is the one you should support. That's what I am in favor of everyone doing.

Lynet said...

Thanks, olvlzl :)

C. L. Hanson said...

This is a subtle point, but I've never thought of tolerance as requiring a belief that all conclusions/positions are equally valid or equally reasonable, nor should it prevent you from arguing your own position as right. I think of tolerance more as a willingness to "agree to disagree" on certain points in order to coexist and peacefully interact with people you disagree with.

Lynet said...

I've never thought of tolerance as requiring a belief that all conclusions/positions are equally valid or equally reasonable, nor should it prevent you from arguing your own position as right.

Precisely.

It's possible that I'm arguing for something few people would disagree with, here, actually. Still, there often does seem to be a tendency for people to equate certainty with intolerance -- for example, people occasionally accuse "New Atheists" of being
(a)absolutely certain that there is no god and
(b)intolerant
in the same breath. Or see this post -- from an entirely friendly pastor guest blogging at friendlyatheist.com -- which says:

1) You can say “This is what I believe and it is the only valid/rational/intelligent/moral belief that a person could hold.”

OR

2) You could say: “This is what I believe, but I can see that there are other possible valid/rational/intelligent/moral options out there. This just happens to be the option that makes the most sense to me right now.”


There is at least some sense, as soon as that distinction is made, that the former implies a certain intolerance, and several of the comments imply exactly that.

Now, as it happens, I do think atheism is rational in a way that theism is not. So, while I will concede that theism is not always less moral than atheism -- and while I have never been able to figure out what it would mean for a belief to be valid! -- I've got to pick option (1) to some extent. And there's nothing fundamentally intolerant about that.

jazzycat said...

You are right on this point. However our PC culture is trying to determine what should and should not be tolerated. This was illustrated when Bill Mahr told Bill O'Reilly, "I hate it when people tolerate intolerance."

That begs the question. Intolerance to what? It is O.K. and in fact required that one be intolerant to people who disagree with the humanist secular post-modern world-view that he affirms. However, all things that fit this world-view should and must be tolerated.

The application of this is seen when we are encouraged to tolerate and respect the opinions of Ward Churchill, but we must throw pies and not allow Ann Coulter to speak.

Lynet said...

My own opinion is that we should throw pies and allow Ann Coulter to speak. Of course, those of us who think that childish, homophobic "fag" taunts have no place in serious discussion might worry about the laughter from all those politicians. Sure, they're allowed to laugh -- but we're allowed to come to unflattering conclusions about it if we like.

jazzycat said...

Throwing pies might be considered a hate crime.... Did you see my comment on hate crimes?

Lynet said...

I did see your comment, yes. However, throwing pies in the metaphorical sense (i.e. through verbal criticism) is not a hate crime as long as we don't advocate committing crimes against Ann Coulter. Which I don't think we should.

spaghettipie said...

I appreciate your thoughts, and agree. In fact, Sam Harris in his book Letter to a Christian Nation comments that if you believe as strongly in what you say you believe, then you will also believe that you are right and others are wrong. That's seen as intolerance to some and conviction to others. As long as we behave civilly to each other, why can't we disagree? We are so concerned with offending others by disagreeing with them that we sacrifice our own beliefs to avoid conflict.

Alon Levy said...

The problem with Harris's argument is that it conflates a nearly trivial notion with a very contentious one. The trivial one is that he thinks he's right. That's true by definition. The contentious one is that people who disagree with him can't possibly have good reasons to disagree with him, but instead must be stupid brutes.

His belief in the more contentious argument leads him to ludicrous ideas about religion. The most important one is that he tends to treat religious forces in politics as Sauron-like, having no social causes or shades of gray. He, Dawkins, and Hitchens all have a disturbing inability to understand why anyone could possibly subscribe to a religious ideology, such as Islamism or Dominionism, and as a result advocate stupid policies as ways to counter those ideologies.

spaghettipie said...

Please don't misunderstand me. I do not agree with Mr. Harris' logic or views in many respects, but in the opening of his book (to which I'm referring) he discusses the fact that many Christians have adopted a "tolerant" point of view which is contrary to their very belief. If Christians, say that they believe Jesus Christ is the only way then they cannot logically be tolerant of any other opinion. It's this statement I'm referencing and felt like was germane to Lynet's posting.

Lynet said...

If Christians, say that they believe Jesus Christ is the only way then they cannot logically be tolerant of any other opinion.

Views like that seem to me to be a natural consequence of the conflation of conviction with intolerance, actually -- which is what I'm trying to argue against. We need to stop asking people to be less convinced of their own correctness and start asking people to be, first, civil to each other, and, second (thanks Alon), more understanding of each others' points of view.

stupendousness said...

Spaghettipie was spot on.

I've noticed this mentality about "tolerance" has increased in the past decade, and especially among the younger generations.

In online forums, as soon as two people start to disagree, even in a civil way, one of those people or a third person will jump in to say, "Hey, everybody has their own opinions, and we should respect that."

And I think, How is having a different belief from yours disrespectful of you?

"To be 'tolerant', people say, one must accept that we all have our beliefs, and they all seem justified one way or another, but really, there's no way of telling who is right."

We need to remember there are two different classes of opinions:
1) beliefs that could, with infinite knowledge, be substantiated or not (i.e., the existence of God), and

2) preferences based on physiology (i.e., favorite ice cream, ideas of beauty)

So the fact is, when talking about opinions in the first case, not all beliefs are justified. Someone *is* going to be wrong, though he/she may never know it.

spaghettipie said...

My point in paraphrasing that quote from Sam Harris is that some views, let's take the Christian view that believing in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven, exclude other views from being correct also. So for me to say I am a Christian, and then say but whatever works for you is fine, does not logically demonstrate that I have a very strong conviction about Jesus Christ. It's frustrating to me that because I choose to hold that belief, I instantly also classified as intolerant. I think it is possible to hold onto such beliefs while remaining civil and seeking to understand another's position, even with the willingness to accept his or her position if I suddenly realize I have been wrong.

That said, I agree with you, Lynet, that we should engage one another in dialog about our differences in beliefs, etc. and seek to understand each other. I am disappointed when people work so hard to defend their views that all they do is build a wall around themselves. Ironically, while they are trying so hard to convince others they are correct, it usually only serves to further distance the very people they are trying to convince.

HALFMOM said...

Hello Lynet. I followed a link over from Craver's site. I'll be back to read more later - just saying hi for now - one nerd to another (med school professor and researcher).

Where will you go to grad school? My daughter also loves math!