I think progressives need to embrace intolerance. I do. Seriously. Hear me out.
Whenever I write a smart-alecky blog post taking aim at some social injustice or injudicious theological dim-wittedness, an enterprising polemicist will invariably use the comment section to highlight my obvious hypocrisy, denouncing my intolerance of … wait for it … intolerance; because, it is assumed, logical consistency requires me (if I am to be truly tolerant) to countenance everyone and everything—even the hidebound tools who believe their narrow-mindedness is divinely sanctioned and its consequences constitutionally protected.
“See,” they will say, believing themselves to have mastered the disputatious jiu-jitsu appropriate to subduing fancy-pants liberals, “you’re just as bad as the people you call bigots. Why, you’re bigoted against bigotry!”
You may have heard this particular line of argument before. It’s a great way to turn an argument in favor of prejudice against anyone who might object to that prejudice:
- I hate Ford Pintos.
- It is my right to hate Ford Pintos—guaranteed by God who also hates Ford Pintos and the Constitution.
- If you don’t approve of my hatred of Ford Pintos, not only are you on the wrong side of God and the Constitution, you are just as guilty of discrimination as you say I am.
- Therefore, since you are also a bigot, you have no right to criticize my bigotry.
Recognize that? You could insert “disapprove of” in place of “hate,” and “same gender marriage” or “Syrian refugees” (or in earlier times “women’s suffrage” or “African Americans at integrated lunch counters”) in place of “Ford Pintos.” The construction of the argument remains strikingly consistent: You should have to tolerate my intolerance.
But here’s the difficulty with that little bit of logical sleight of hand: If I refuse to tolerate your bigotry, I haven’t abrogated your rights. You’re still free to be just as obnoxious a bigot as you want. The problem is that you not only want to retain the right to be a bigot, you also want to avoid the consequences of your bigotry.
See, you choose to engage in bigotry—which is an imposition of your own beliefs on another person or group of people without their permission. And, being the true First Amendment guy I am, you have every right to your prejudices. Embrace them. Flaunt them. Put them on bumperstickers and affix them to your vehicle. Write aggrieved Facebook posts about how only you understand the nature of true prejudice.
What you do not have the right to do, however, is to insulate yourself from the consequences that result from your attempts to impose those prejudices on those whom you disapprove of.
And frankly, what I don’t quite understand is why—if you’re a Christian and you believe your bigotry is a matter of such sincere religious and moral conviction—you wouldn’t be happy (see, for instance, Matthew 5:10–12 or 1 Peter 3:14) to suffer the consequences that come with standing up for what you believe in. If you happen to be a Christian and are truly being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, shouldn’t you gladly endure it “so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame?” Why do you need cultural or legal permission to live the way you believe God wants you to live?
So no, your whining about religious persecution because you have to bake a cake for a gay wedding doesn’t make you the Martin Luther King, Jr. of a new conservative religious civil rights movement.
Because Dr. King willingly endured punishment, violence, and ridicule to raise awareness of the injustice visited upon a group of people who only wanted the same rights for themselves everyone else enjoyed.
The bigot, on the other hand, wants the freedom to deny others the same rights everyone else enjoys—and to be praised for it … or at least not to have to suffer the consequences of that bigotry.
Progressives need to be more intolerant … of intolerance. In light of that, I want to suggest a few things it’s okay to be intolerant of:
- It’s ok to be intolerant of those who would damage the climate by denying that we have no responsibility for it.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of rape—or to put a finer point on it, of a culture that places blame for rape on anyone but the rapist.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of systems that favor the rich at the expense of the poor.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of the fear that would keep refugees fleeing violence from finding a home among us.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of any politics that views immigrants not as assets to our culture and economy, but as nuisances and leeches.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of law enforcement and a legal system that disproportionately penalizes people of color.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of legislation that makes it easier for the public to have access to violent weapons, the primary purpose of which is to kill and maim.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of torture.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of killing other people’s children by remote control, just because those children demonstrated a deplorable lack of judgment in being born in a country we don’t like.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of cutting social welfare in favor of retaining corporate welfare.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of any move to marginalize our Muslim sisters and brothers who are just trying to live their lives.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of any law that protects those who bully LGBTQ kids under the guise of “safeguarding religious freedom.”
- It’s ok to be intolerant of governments that view healthcare as a privilege to be extended only to those who can afford it.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of laws that seek to limit access to employment, housing, or public accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression.
- It’s ok to be intolerant of dogwhistle politics that seek to ensure a safe environment for bigotry, while passive-aggressively retaining a façade of respectability.
And the great thing about it is, it’s ok to be intolerant of all these things because of, and not in spite of, your faith.
Look, if you want to be a bigot, that’s your choice. But be willing to live with the consequences. And don’t expect the rest of us to sit idly by; because we’re fine with being intolerant of intolerance.