Thinking Christian

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The Day of Silence and Shallow Tolerance

Posted on Apr 19, 2013 by Tom Gilson

Today is the Day of Silence “to highlight the effects of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment” in schools. Parents and teachers, you may hear questions from your youth about this; I regret I did not post this earlier.

An End to Bullying

First, I want to register my full support for putting LGBT bullying to a final and complete end. I’m told by a source I trust that as many as one-third of LGBT teenagers consider suicide. That’s horrifying. It’s likely that peer mistreatment is a strong contributing factor. There was a bullying-induced suicide in the high school a half-mile from my home not long ago. Though this one was not LGBT-related,  it sure has reminded me of the tragedy that can follow upon bullying.

Settling for Too Little on This Day of Silence

The Day of Silence involves a call to tolerance for people who are different. Some Christians probably think it goes too far. I don’t think it goes far enough.I think the LGBT community is asking for way too little, and settling for way too little.

I can understand why: the real thing is hard to come by. It’s beyond human nature. But we Christians believe in living beyond human nature, don’t we? Who is the Spirit of God within us, after all?

Tolerance: It Just Isn’t Worth Much

I’ve been cryptic so far; now let me explain what I mean. Tolerance is used in multiple ways these days. For some, it means accepting every idea as equal, not regarding my own opinions better than others’, and so on. But let’s set that aside from that start as just silly, okay? It’s not just wrong, it’s literally impossible. No person, sane or insane, could accept that what he disagrees with is rationally equal to what he agrees with. This view of tolerance would commit us  to believing that the idea, no two ideas should ever be treated as equal, must be of equal value and worth to, all ideas must be treated as equal. So it would force us to treat ideas as equal and unequal at the same time! It’s just rubbish.

Let’s consider tolerance toward other people instead. If it means not bullying, that’s good — but only just barely. It’s a pathetic kind of good, a weak and wimpy one. In that sense I could “tolerate” everyone and hate them at the same time, as long as I kept my distance. But this is about the schools, where keeping a tolerant distance is not only rude, it’s impossible. To stand away relationally is itself a form of aggression. It’s impossible to do it without actively shunning a person.

Friendship, Yes: But Of What Sort?

The LGBT ideal instead ought to be that students could be genuinely friendly toward each other. That’s better than mere “tolerance;” it’s a move in the right direction of thinking about it.

But what kind of friendship do they have in mind? Gay activists’ consistent message is that it should be along these lines: “We can be friends, and it’s cool that your sexuality is different than mine.” But what of the student who doesn’t think that’s cool, after all? Here is where friendship is stretched and tolerance utterly fails. For friendship that cannot permit disagreement is hardly friendship at all, and friendship that forces conformity is a complete contradiction.

Whole-Person Friendship

It’s time to drop the language of tolerance and speak instead of love: agapé love, Christlike love, the kind of love that brings the whole person into the whole relationship unconditionally. Love does not distance itself. It does not hide any part of the person, especially the person’s deep values and beliefs. It recognizes mutual differences and connects with the other person regardless, on the basis of our common humanity.

It is not love for me to come into friendship with a gay man and pretend I am something other than who I am. It is not love for him to ask me to do that.

Nor is it love for me to ask him to be other than who he is.It can be love, though, to try to persuade him that his views are wrong, for this too is an expression of who I am and what I hold true: it is a part of me that I would not withhold from him. I would expect him to respond to me likewise, and I would not consider it unloving of him to tell me he thinks I’m wrong, or even nuts or crazy, if he said it with a smile.

To Celebrate Our Common Humanity

This is what I think the Day of Silence should be: a day of speaking instead; a day of open, frank, mutual conversation. It should be a day when differences are acknowledged in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

I do not agree that we should “celebrate our differences,” when these differences so obviously mean that one side or the other is deeply wrong. That, too, is a strange form of silliness in today’s discourse. (It’s no secret which side I think is wrong: but then, why should I have to try to hide that? That is my point here, after all.) I do say, however, that we should celebrate our common humanness even with our differences.

A Call to Fellow Christians

I am not sure the LGBT crowd thinks this is possible. I’m not sure many in the Christian crowd do either: but we should. We should expect it, by way of Christ’s life in us. On this Day of Silence, and every day besides, we should be showing our LGBT friends that it’s not only possible, but real.

This is not “tolerance.” Tolerance is a weak and small thing, not worth fighting for. This is love instead.

18 Responses to “ The Day of Silence and Shallow Tolerance ”

  1. Thanks for the post. Mind if I share?

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Please do (with attribution and link, of course).

  3. Larry Tanner says:

    It can be love, though, to try to persuade him that his views are wrong.

    If he asks for your opinion on his views. Otherwise, most people would find MYOB the more appropriate, respectful, and loving behavior.

  4. SteveK says:

    Larry,
    What you are advocating is too one-sided. There definitely needs to be a balance between treating someone respectfully and arguing for the truth. A good balance means you are simultaneously and wholly loving, respecting and caring for the other person.

    It doesn’t matter if someone asks for my opinion or not because we both agree, without ever having to say it, that the truth is important. We agree on this because we are human beings, and that’s what we do – we value truth. At least that’s been my experience.

    So, if someone says “MYOB” we should not stop trying to persuade them that their views are wrong. That would be unloving, uncaring and disrespectful. The one thing we may have to do is go about persuading them in a different way, to ensure that we are respecting and loving them as human beings.

    Agree?

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Amen to that, SteveK. The last sentence counts a lot in there.

  6. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK,
    I could hardly disagree more. What you are essentially attempting to justify harassment.

    When you talk about arguing for truth, you are not being honest with yourself. What you really mean is arguing for your beliefs. But you yourself are not a credible source of truth nor are you an authority.

    Your desire to share your beliefs and persuade others that your beliefs should be their beliefs does not take precedence over the right of people to live their lives unmolested. So, common decency rules: if someone asks you to tell them why you disagree with their lives, go ahead. Otherwise, manners should keep you quiet.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry,

    MYOB.

    There. Now that I’ve said that, you can’t disagree with me. You can’t say you think I was wrong to disagree with SteveK. You can’t try to persuade me that your way is more truthful than mine. You’re just arguing for your beliefs (to use your own words). You’re not a credible source of truth (to use your own words again).

    And of course we know that whether some statement or argument is true or not depends on who speaks it. The only really relevant question isn’t “does that make sense?” or “Is there evidence and logic to justify that?” It’s, “Who are you to think you can tell me anything?” (The appended epithet, “you jerk!” is understood.)

    So if SteveK or I think we have some interesting point of truth to bring forth in conversation with a friend, and if that friend has not specifically asked us to say it, then manners require us to keep our traps shut.

    Now, I wonder just how far this goes? I noticed the sun had come out since the last time you would have looked out the window. You have a belief that it’s raining. I know it’s sunny. But I can’t tell you that without being a total jerk, since it contradicts one of your beliefs.

    Well, that’s extreme, I’m sure you’ll say. But where do you draw the line? For there must be one somewhere. I’ll be fascinated to find out where it is!

    Oh, and feel free to answer. You see, I don’t actually agree with what I wrote in the first couple paragraphs. I don’t think that courtesy demands you never speak anything I disagree with unless I give you a specific invitation to do so. I only think that courtesy demands you speak courteously.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Further, Larry, what kind of world do you think this world must be if it is impossible, as you say, to simultaneously love someone wholly, to respect them, to care for them, while speaking what you think is true?

    I think what you’re advocating is distance, not love. It’s fear. It’s, “don’t prick one another, ever!” which is a form of, “don’t ever get close; but if you do, don’t reveal yourself!”

    I think you need to think very carefully about which way of dealing with one another is more loving and respectful.

    Sure, if someone tells me they don’t want to hear what I’m saying, I’ll take that as an instruction, and I’ll respect it. I’ll take it as an indication they don’t really want to know me, too. Maybe it’s because I have a prickly manner, but actually I don’t, most of the time, and especially in face-to-face interactions. The main reason someone would want to shut me down is because they don’t care for my ideas. Which is just their way of closing themselves off to me.

    You’re advocating a closed-off sort of world. You’re advocating a world of multiple non-interacting ghettoes, where we are allowed to be close with those who always agree with us, and no one else.

    You don’t realize that’s what you’re advocating, but that’s the effect of what you’re saying here.

  9. SteveK says:

    Larry,

    What you are essentially attempting to justify harassment.

    You must have a problem with reading comprehension. I said that we must ensure that we are respecting and loving them as human beings. Harassment is none of those things so how exactly am I attempting to justify harassment?

    Maybe what you’re really saying is that it’s impossible to avoid harassing the other person. If so, you are wrong. People have demonstrated that it is indeed possible to both argue for the truth and treat the other person in a loving way without harassing them. I’ve done it many times, and my guess is you’ve done it too.

    But maybe you think I’m dead wrong in everything I’ve said so far. If that’s the case then MYOB and stop harassing me, you hypocrite.

  10. Larry Tanner says:

    SteveK and Tom,

    If you really, actually respected and loved me as a human being, you would support my lifestyle choices. At a certain point, you have to accept that I am an adult who has made an adult choice that is really not any of your business. You also need to accept that you have no privileged access to truth; you have only your belief that you have such access.

    Sure, disagree with me if you must. But unless you have been directly asked for your moral opinion, there’s no need for you to offer it. Do you volunteer to your neighbors that their landscaping stinks and their house color is awful? Do you tell them that their jobs are dull and meaningless? Do you volunteer that their kids dress too promiscuously and should spend more time studying?

    So, do all the disagreeing you want, but do it in your own home or in whatever sanctuaries you have. And I’ll do the same regarding my opinions about your choices. That’s real respect and real love.

    Life is hard enough. We don’t have to make things harder. My city has been through a lot these past few days. Life’s too short and too unpredictable to continue these petty arguments about who is sleeping with whom and in what ways. If people love each other, that’s good and right, in my opinion. There are real enemies out there and in our midst, so where there’s love we should support it.

    I’m out for more of this. I’ve said what I want.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Larry,

    First: you haven’t answered my very serious question about where the line is drawn. When is it or is it not okay for people to speak truth to one another?

    Second: you persist in the fallacy of “who are you to think you have the truth?” That’s evading what’s actually being said, and the reasons given for it.

    Third: If we really loved you and thought you were killing yourself with your lifestyle choices, love would not allow us to stay silent, and it certainly would not allow us to support you in that.

    Let’s combine one and three: Think about it. is there any person, in any conceivable situation, to whom you could conceivably imagine yourself saying, “Because I love you I cannot support your lifestyle choices?” Of course there is. Now, where is the line between that very real loving un-support that you can imagine yourself providing, and whatever it is you’re trying to forbid us from doing?

    I get it: the line is somewhere between life-and-death and telling our neighbors that their landscaping is ugly. That’s not quite to the point, though, since we’re not talking about landscaping. We’re talking about fundamental beliefs, and the totality of a person’s future. For eternity.

    Fourth: You’re lying. You’re not keeping quiet about your opinions regarding our choices.

    Fifth: If you want me to keep quiet about your personal choices, I’ll be glad to do that. All you have to do is stop visiting my home here on the web. You see, this is where I exercise my freedom to speak what I think is true. I give you the same freedom: you’ve spoken what you think is true. I don’t think you have privileged access to truth, in fact you are lying, as I have already said, which seriously undermines any claim you have on truth. But you’re welcome here anyway, even though you keep hypocritically telling us it’s wrong to tell someone they’re wrong.

    So maybe you want to pull out of these conversations. I’m not asking you to do so. You’re still welcome to be a part of the discussion.

    But if you pull out because you think there’s something more loving and tolerant about your position than ours, take a look at who’s creating the distance here. Take a look at who’s perpetuating the thought-ghetto, where no one is welcome who has a different opinion. It’s you, Larry. That may be 21st-century “tolerance,” but it’s the very opposite of love and mutual respect. Respect doesn’t demand that the other person hide themselves from you. Love doesn’t say, “I’ll put up with you as long as you shut up about anything I disagree with.”

  12. SteveK says:

    Larry,
    Do you even realize that you’re not following your own rules here? How can you expect me to adopt your rules if you don’t care enough to follow them yourself? You’re not a very good role model.

    With that in mind, MYOB and stop harassing me and Tom. If, in the future, I decide to adopt your rules then I will do the same. In the meantime don’t expect me to follow your rules and don’t harass me about it.

    …and if you’re from Boston, I was about 100 yards from the first bomb when it went off so I know what you’re talking about. Still, the truth matters. It matters even more when times get tough.

  13. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    That may be 21st-century “tolerance,” but it’s the very opposite of love and mutual respect.

    All quotes by G. K. Chesterton:

    Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.

    Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions.

    It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely pervading persecutions. In this degree it was not the people who cared who ever persecuted; the people who cared were not sufficiently numerous. It was the people who did not care who filled the world with fire and oppression. It was the hands of the indifferent that lit the faggots; it was the hands of the indifferent that turned the rack. There have come some persecutions out of the pain of a passionate certainty; but these produced, not bigotry, but fanaticism — a very different and a somewhat admirable thing. Bigotry in the main has always been the pervading omnipotence of those who do not care crushing out those who care in darkness and blood.

    Right to a T.

  14. Ray Ingles says:

    What if the goal is to set up tolerance as at least the minimum acceptable response to others? The saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good” might be applicable.

    Aiming for real friendship is indeed setting the bar higher than tolerance, but tolerance might be more achievable in a public school setting. Or, at least, more quickly achievable and thus possibly more effective at reducing the tragedy of youth suicide.

    To stand away relationally is itself a form of aggression. It’s impossible to do it without actively shunning a person.

    People have to interact on a regular basis with all kinds of people, even those they actively dislike at times. Are you really going to get every kid in a school to be friends with every other one? Actually achieving that might be good evidence of the Spirit of God, at that…

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, if anyone were setting up tolerance as you say, as the minimum acceptable response, that would be an improvement over the current ethical climate, where tolerance is being set up as the ethical ideal. It would have to be properly defined, so as not to include today’s frequent idiocy of regarding all ideas and lifestyles as equal in worth.

    I’d be happy with a move in that direction. I’d still consider it far less than the best, though, since it is so easy to be tolerant while passively snubbing everyone who is different from oneself.

  16. Ray Ingles says:

    Note that the problem with tolerance as an ideal are not ignored by many who promote it: http://www.davidbrin.com/newmemewar.html

    That’s a long essay, but the relevant part:

    In fact, I think that we should go forth and crush every other worldview that doesn’t promote tolerance! All right. That remark was intended to be ironic and I’m certainly glad most of you in the audience laughed just now! I would have felt a shiver if you hadn’t! Let’s check though… how many of you, despite your laughter, agree at least in part with what I just said? As I expected. You are intolerant of intolerance… and at the same time amused by the paradox this puts you in! Well, I’m not surprised. The fact that you are capable of laughing at yourself means, by my reckoning, that you are members of a worldview that says “Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.” Yet another emblematic trait of this new meme.

    If you read the essay, he suggests that tolerance is a step to appreciation of diversity, which has some similarities to the notion we should “celebrate our common humanness even with our differences.” It may just come down to different definitions of what counts as being “obviously… deeply wrong”.

  17. BACH says:

    Returning to the original post, I want to point out that the source article says that one-in-three LGBT teenagers doesn’t just ‘consider’ suicide—they actually attempt it. Almost every LGBT person I’ve ever known has at least considered suicide at some point.

    What would it look like if Christians approached gay people with a default posture of recognizing this lived experience with tenderness and compassion?

  18. SteveK says:

    Wow! An anti-bullying lesson gone very wrong at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY.

    “She told me, ‘Mom, we all get teased and picked on enough – now I’m going to be called a lesbian because I had to ask another girl if I could kiss her,’” Coon said.

    “They also picked two girls to stand in front of the class and pretend they were lesbians on a date,” Coons said.

    Source

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