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Tolerance is a two-way street

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posted on Feb, 16 2005 @ 01:10 PM
By Bill Savage
February 16, 2005

One of the great joys of language is ambiguity. When I read the headline on Henry M. Bowles III's column Monday, "Intolerance of religion is tragedy" I thought, "Yeah, the way so many religious zealots are intolerant is indeed tragic." Then Bowles proceeded to argue that the intolerance in question is directed toward people of faith. As one Southern Baptist of my acquaintance used to put it, I didn't know whether to # or go blind. Bowles's claim that "the most intransigent atheist to the most Roman of Catholics ... deserve respect, not derision" is sheer nonsense.

I do not have to respect anyone's religious beliefs. You believe that wives should be subservient to their husbands? Or that menstruating women are spiritually unclean? Or that women should be veiled head-to-toe in burqas and should neither vote nor drive a car? Or that eating pork is against God's law? Or that the end of the world will come when the Fenris Wolf is unleashed? Fine, believe it -- but I don't have to respect your beliefs.

As a citizen of a pluralistic democracy, however, I do have to tolerate you and your religion.

To tolerate does not mean to respect. It means "to endure," or "to put up with." I do not and will not "respect" religion as widely practiced in contemporary American politics.

It's disingenuous to pretend, as Bowles and others do, that this conversation is about personal spirituality. We're not really talking about what you believe about the afterlife, or the creation of the world or your own personal Jesus. The conversation -- let's stop being so polite -- the conflict is about the political expression of belief. It's about borderline theocracy, the legal imposition of the religious dogma of a vocal minority on the rest of us. It's about abortion and its red-headed stepchild, stem cell research. It's about gay marriage. It's about the teaching of evolution.

The intolerance that matters, the intolerance that's actually shaping the state of the nation, is that which is practiced by one zealous breed of religious people toward people of other faiths.

You believe abortion is evil? Then don't have one -- but don't stop someone who doesn't share your belief from doing what she thinks is right. You believe stem cell research is immoral? OK, put your health and your money where your beliefs are, refuse treatment developed through this scientific method and disinvest your money from companies that profit from it. You think marriage between people of the same gender is against God's will? OK, don't marry someone of your gender, and if you get invited to a gay wedding, don't go.

If you don't want your children to learn evolution, then take your kids out of public schools. But, the cry arises, these schools must respect my beliefs because my tax dollars pay for public schools!

Well, so did the tax dollars of my Irish Catholic ancestors. Back when the boundary between church and state was muddier, public schools were Protestant and anti-Catholic. The response of faithful Catholics was not to take over local school districts and enforce Catholic dogma. They opened their own schools and educated their children according to their beliefs, while still paying taxes to educate the children of their community who didn't share those beliefs. That's tolerance: putting up with people you disagree with. And that's not what we're getting from political fundamentalists today.

Live by your religious beliefs, but don't tell the rest of us, who think differently, how to live. And when we resist your imposition of your religion on our freedoms, don't shout, "Intolerance!"

The ambiguity of language does not apply to these concepts; to tolerate and to respect are two different actions. Americans should not tolerate, much less respect, people who neither respect nor tolerate other beliefs.

Former Daily columnist Bill Savage is a lecturer in English and a Weinberg College adviser. He can be reached at

once again you get the "this really means, or this includes"
when they want it to say that. But let there come up a topic that they dont want it to say and they say "its not
specifically said that it happened so it didnt happen.

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