Intolerance is not inherently bad

Someone recently posted a link to this video on a local atheist email list I’m on, and it sparked quite the discussion. It’s not so much the video which did, but opinions of members sparked tangential discussions. Two comments that I found in my email box this morning I felt really required my responses. Below are the comments and my responses.

“Aggressive” can mean various things, positive or negative, but “intolerant”? How can that possibly be considered positive behavior?

We’re intolerant of murder, rape, child abuse, theft, and certainly discrimination based on such things as race, religion, gender, age and sexual orientation. Is that not a positive behavior? Essentially, we are and rightly should be intolerant of anything which causes harm. Now I’m of the opinion that indulging in religion is harmful, but like any vice such as alcohol, tobacco or drugs, it’s an individual’s right to harm themselves if they so choice, but when that indulgence harms or threatens to harm others, then we should be intolerant of that. We’re intolerant of drinking and driving. We’re intolerant of smoking in public places. We should also be intolerant of those who would deprive their children medical care and others a proper education due to religion use. We should be intolerant of religion used to block scientific research and denying certain Americans equal rights. We should be intolerant of religious use obstructing condom distribution not just here but in the Third World where AIDS is an epidemic.

It’s this false idea of intolerance as inappropriate to ever challenge or disparage an opinion regardless of its merits (or lack thereof) which is a growing problem in this country and the world. This is where cartoonists get censored, blasphemy laws appear, and other foolhardiness such as “teach the controversy” crap. No no, intolerance is certainly not inherently bad. There’s a time and place for it as an instrument of good.

I think this is what I’m trying to get at with the word “division.” An attack, even verbal or written ridicule, tends to make people shut down. They stop listening and start thinking about defending themselves or their view. This seems like an ineffective way to communicate to me and leaves people stuck in the “us” v. “them” kind of dynamic that can lead to violence.

There simply are positions which deserve to be attacked, as do the proponents of those positions. Also, we can’t ignore the fact that some proponents simply will not give up their positions regardless of how sweet and charming you are and how carefully you explain the deficiencies of their positions. Such people are not worthy of respect, nor are their positions worthy of respect if they’re deficient and especially if they’re harmful or potentially harmful to others. Now speaking of others, I feel that attacking ideas and their proponents aggressively in public is of value for the sake of others since if these harmful ideas and their proponents aren’t challenged, then they will continue to be unduly respected and these ideas adopted.

Religion has gained a special place in not just this country but the world, where it’s taboo to subject it or its proponents to the same level of criticism as we would for anything else. I find that wrong. I find it wrong to call objecting to it “intolerant” and I find that objecting to ideas and their proponents who advocate harm and division as somehow being divisive ridiculous.

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13 Responses to “Intolerance is not inherently bad”

  1. I don't think intolerance is bad at all. Inherently, you can only be tolerant of things that are tolerable. The idea that you should be tolerant of pedophiles or mass murderers is absurd on it's face and I don't think there's anyone out there pushing for the public at large to tolerate these things. Mostly, the people pushing for "tolerance" are the people who have something that really isn't tolerable to begin with, they just want people to like them while they do bad things.

    So yes, I'm happy to be intolerant of those things that have not earned my toleration. Don't like it? Be a better person.

  2. Exactly. The first comment sounds like that thing masquerading as liberal thinking, that people must be protected from having their feelings hurt and every opinion is valid. If it's not obvious that this is wrong, it at least should be obvious that it's untenable since it's at odds with itself.

    The email discussion basically boiled down to that old debate about whether it's better to be aggressive and confrontational or sweet and polite. First, if individuals vary in their thinking, then which is better is dependent upon the individual(s) you encounter. Second, some things simply require impolite responses. You don't ask Reverend Perv if he wouldn't terribly mind not buggering the children pretty please, for instance.

    I think part of the debate stems from a confusion of the subject. I find that the self-proclaimed polite types view the subject in terms of one on one discussions, and I'd also charge that they naively see that discussion as rational since the religious person is rational and open minded or that he or she will become rational and open minded if you're polite to them. Us so-called militant or aggressive types I think see the subject as a more public struggle, where the goal isn't to persuade the one we're engaged with but rather the public at large observing. We generally have little hope that the one we're engaging is or will become rational and open minded no matter what we say or do.

  3. I started to leave a comment agreeing with everything you say, and expanding it into a rant on a related topic that bugs the shit out of both of us. But my comment grew so long that I posted it on my own blog with an introductory linkback here.

  4. It happens. Anyway, glad to inspire a post

  5. Good point. Is it better to let someone believe in a load of bullshit without refutation or is it better to stand up for the truth, regardless of how it might impact someone's poor widdle feelings? Personally, if someone is going to be made to feel bad about something, it ought to be that they bought into a load of horse hockey to begin with. I'm here to speak the truth, at least as far as I can determine it. If you think I'm wrong, by all means, refute what I saw, defend your own views with logic, reason and objective evidence. It's not going to hurt my feelings and if I turn out to be mistaken, I'll admit it and move on.

    Let's look at it from another perspective. Should we be police and sweet regarding, say, slavery? Or child molestation? After all, we don't want to offend those poor racist asshats or the Catholics, do we? Or should we stand up and declare in a loud voice that what they are doing is wrong and they ought to be ashamed of themselves for believing for one second that they ought to get away with it?

    I know which way I vote.

  6. Excellent post. I'm increasingly of the mind that civic discourse need not always be what some people refer to as civil. Sometimes, civic discourse has to address nasty stuff and civility is not possible. I'm not advocating bashing heads or castrating buggering priests, but some behaviors and attitudes require firm, no-nonsense responses. We all know how much good it did for a lot of Catholic families who tried taking the polite course when they complained quietly about their priests' sexual shenanigans. It's only since people have gone public and courts have started imposing heavy financial penalties that Church officials have begun – lamely, in too many cases – addressing the issues of clergy pedophilia and sexual abuse.

    There's a place for civic discourse and negotiation, but there's also a place for standing firm, even at the risk of being impolite, and refusing to tolerate the intolerable.

  7. I like the video

  8. Yes, I enjoyed the video too. I forgot to mention that earlier.

  9. The natural aversion to the word "intolerance" prevents us from the logical point-and-laugh reaction to people bible-thumping in public.

    I wish I could overcome that aversion.

  10. I don't think it's natural. I think it's a learned behavior and as such, can be overcome. What could be more natural than to laugh at the ridiculous, and condemn what's wrong?

  11. Hi Philly Cheese Steak!! Interesting post. Makes me think of how much I bitch about the intolerant Muslims in this world…Damn. Hope the Herd is still herding, or at least doing well. Taks care and great job!! This blog is really great!! B)

  12. Good Post.

  13. The Herd is still around, simply dispersed to other pastures.

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