Tolerating Intolerance?

The other day I received a typically interesting e-mail for The Bible Geek podcast.  I  thought it would be good to address it here. Dan Mangum wrote:

You often point out that you are not concerned about the religious belief someone may hold. You are not alone, and this opinion is common.  On the surface it seems logical, reasonable, as well as pragmatic. 

I don’t agree. My concern is that a religious belief frequently carries with it quite a bit of baggage. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have said they don’t care about an individual’s personal belief but with the caveat that they just don’t want those beliefs forced upon them or others. Yet part of their belief system for many requires or demands that they try and convert others to their religion.  Belief systems can promote profound scientific ignorance from denial of evolution to denial of global warming. If we are in the End Times, as many evangelicals seem to believe, why would they worry or care about global warming?  Some beliefs, as you know, hold that the Bible is inerrant and that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Some belief systems may fight vehemently against gay rights and birth control, some treat women as second class or worse, while others may consider it their duty to kill those of different beliefs or even those of the same beliefs, including honor killings. 

My point is perhaps we should no longer say that it is OK for someone to believe what they want (or are told) to believe, particularly when the consequences of those same beliefs can lead to some horrible actions and outcomes.

I invite Dan to correct me if I have misread him, but I think he is saying that we should not retreat into too-tolerant relativism, to say that all viewpoints are equally true or equally wholesome. I agree with him. In my remarks to which he refers, all I mean to say is that, in polite, civil society I say “Live and let live.” I do not consider it my duty to try to convert individuals I meet to my beliefs (or lack of beliefs). It is simply none of my business. This is quite different, as I see it, from exchanging ideas in print, when the point is to share opinions in theoretical terms. Even when I debate “opponents,” I do not consider them enemies. Usually I find I can become friends with them after the debate (or between debates). I am happy to call Greg Boyd, Gary Habermas, Bob Siegel, and others friends. I feel that theoretical disagreements should not get in the way.

But I draw my circle of friends and friendly acquaintances even wider, numbering among them a whole gallery of Catholic traditionalists, fundamentalists, Satanists, Communists, Moonies, New Agers, Ahmadis, you name it. It would not cross my mind to try to convert them to my views. I am all the more stimulated and enriched by their views the more different they are from mine. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

What about science denial? I think it is unfortunate for fundamentalists to deny evolutionary biology, but really what difference does it make? None until Creationist organizations try to get public schools to teach Creationism/Intelligent Design alongside evolution. And then what to do? Go to court! That is the proper venue, and so far it has worked pretty well. “Witnessing” to individuals that they should accept Charles Darwin as their personal savior is only going to make you into a jerk.

(By now, you probably are aware of my skepticism toward the Politically Correct doctrine of Global Warming. Go right ahead and try to shame me as a heretic for questioning Progressivist apocalypticism. I believe that is the custom. But I don’t want to derail the discussion by pursuing that here.)

The West has gotten itself into real big trouble in the last decades by tolerating intolerance. I once had a parishioner whose husband was undergoing treatment, including radical surgery, for throat cancer brought on by smoking. The guy was a smoking fanatic, and he kept puffing even after this. But there wasn’t very much “after.” He died from the cancer he had enthusiastically invited into his body. And that is what Europe has done by welcoming Muslims to come in and set up ethno-religious enclaves with no intention of assimilating to the host culture. More and more these immigrants demand special privileges up to and including their own Sharia laws and law courts. In Pauline terms, they demand that the state cater to the “weaker brethren” by making everyone else (the native French, Dutch, Swedes, Britons, etc.) observe their Islamic restrictions, e.g., skipping the Holocaust in history classes because it might offend Muslim kids who have been catechized to believe it never happened—but should again. (I know there have been false rumors about this, but also true reports). Or removing menu items from restaurants for fear of Muslims boycotting their establishments. And, of course, allowing the public propagation of Jihadi hate-speech. Newspapers shy away from criticizing Islamic violence for fear they may be its next objects. So much for free speech.

That man I mentioned should have stopped smoking once it became clear what the costs might be, and Europe should have reversed its tolerance of intolerance years ago now. These days, they are taking a second look, but, short of mass deportations, whatever they do will probably be too late. We in the United States are not as far gone yet, but the PC “useful idiots” would rather be martyred for the sake of self-surrendering “toleration” and Multiculturalism even if it means endangering the very Western ethic that prompts them.

(Deportations? Wouldn’t that be sweeping with too broad a broom? Wouldn’t you be exiling many innocents along with the dangerous few? No doubt you would. But ask yourself: doesn’t that argument allow terrorists, in effect, to hide behind human shields? We’re talking about emergency situations.)

Remember, our American toleration and celebration of diversity is a function of our Social Compact system, which means we maximize, not absolutize, personal freedom. “Your freedom ends at my nose.” That’s pretty simple. We should not fear we are guilty of bigotry or intolerance when we say, “You’re welcome to believe in Islam as long as you behave yourselves.” And we’d better be ready to say it. Same goes for the (numerically tinier) Christian Identity lunatics. And the (slightly more numerous) Christian Reconstructionists and Dominionists who are armchair theocrats (thankfully repudiated even by most fundamentalists).

The Social Compact means the limitation of freedom just as much as it does the enjoyment of freedom, because, without the limits to define it, we lose freedom. Just like traffic laws, right? You can travel anywhere, but you gotta stay in the correct lane!

Back in New Jersey I was pleased to make friends with the local Imam and a member or two of his congregation. I even had him speak in my Sunday service. I still would. I have no problem with anyone’s beliefs, even if I think they are groundless. I only have a problem with bad behavior, behavior that inhibits the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

So says Zarathustra.


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14 Responses to Tolerating Intolerance?

  1. BranMakMorn says:

    The sickest thing about the West is that the society is practically rejected Christianity (a plus) but kept all the stupid drolleries that makie Christianity so insipid and illogical: Turn the other cheek, help the poor, pacifism. It’s no wonder the morons of Christianity are underminining the nation state (The Pope of Pedofiles declaring open borders just fine, if only to get Third World morons into their pews and money into their coffers) but it is sad to see the secular world is even worse. The West is on the path to collective suicide and I am not sure the debased and corrupt culture SHOULD survive.

  2. randy says:

    “This is quite different, as I see it, from exchanging ideas in print, when the point is to share opinions in theoretical terms.”

    Does or should this sharing of opinions in “theoretical terms” include any attempt to persuade a person from the opinion they hold? Are there not erroneous or harmful opinions and/or ideas that should be challenged with the objective of persuading a person to abandon them?

  3. randy says:

    ““Witnessing” to individuals that they should accept Charles Darwin as their personal savior is only going to make you into a jerk.”

    Who actually does this? I think this a bit of an exaggeration. Attempting to refute creationist arguments and convince the person expressing them to abandon the argument is hardly “witnessing” nor is it presenting Charles Darwin as a personal savior.

  4. randy says:

    “By now, you probably are aware of my skepticism toward the Politically Correct doctrine of Global Warming.”

    Please explain how denying global climate change (global warming) qualifies you as a skeptic. Putting aside for the moment the question of the cause of global warming, the evidence that the planet is warming is overwhelming. You may not like the political implications of global warming, but this is hardly sufficient reason to deny the mountain of evidence that clearly supports the claim that the planet is warming, and that human activity is the dominant agent of this chase. There is nothing politically correct or incorrect about following where the evidence leads. It is not skepticism to reject the evidence because you don’t like the conclusion to which it leads.

  5. randy says:

    “The West is on the path to collective suicide and I am not sure the debased and corrupt culture SHOULD survive.”

    “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.” — Henny Penny

    Wasn’t true when Henny Penny said it. It isn’t any truer, BranMakMorn, when you say pretty much the same thing. Sure, we have to take precautions and defending freedom requires constant vigilance. But I am highly skeptical of those who make claims that western civilization is on the verge of coming to an end. I am certainly highly suspicious of anything that leads people to the mistaken notion that we can protect freedom by restricting it. I think those who think that giving up some freedom for greater security are more of a threat to freedom than those from who they wish to protect us.

  6. RobFisher says:

    One reason liberals advocate certain things, like curtailing free speech, is because they always think the ends justify the means. As long as the ends are noble, it doesn’t (seem) to matter to them much that the ends might have moral or practical problems.

    Thus as Dr. Price points out above, if people behave *badly* the solution is to attack *that*, to go after the incidents of bad behavior. But that isn’t efficient enough for the average liberal. They want a quick fix, and so they come up with an illegitimate solution (censorship, indoctrination) to a real problem.

    But besides being immoral (ie. punishing the innocent along with the guilty in effect), it has a practical problem: you have to give *some* entity the power to decide which speech is allowable, and they will inevitably abuse that power (the Ohio “truth” bill regarding political ads was struck down thankfully, but you see how the totalitarian instinct will inevitably be corrupted for partisan ends?).

    And because of practical considerations like this, these restrictions won’t even in the end succeed in bringing about the ends they *claimed* they would bring about, any more than Stalin’s 5 year plans or LBJ’s Great Society brought about utopia. In the end it’s all a con, a power grab by cynical liberals exploiting useful idiot liberals. But liberals will continue to try to use the guilt stick to pressure people into thinking their solutions are the only correct ones, no matter what the empirical evidence shows.

  7. BranMakMorn says:

    It is not skepticism to reject the evidence because you don’t like the conclusion to which it leads.

    Well Randy, you’re the one who is denying reality now. The most resent data reveals there has been no “climate change” for nearly 20 years. There is a vast amount of evidence to suggest it was a solar phenomenon as the other planets in our system also heated up (and are now cooling). At the moment Earth has record amounts of ice covering both poles, according to NASA’s space imaging. Finally, we have 52 reasons bullshit reasons for why warming gas stupped, all from “scientists” who are just as wedded to the religion of “climate change” as you seem to be.

  8. admin says:

    From: Lee Salisbury
    To: Robert Price

    Sent: Mon, Sep 15, 2014 2:05 pm
    Subject: Zarathustra replies

    Hello Bob,

    I have tried over and over and over to register on your Zarathustra website but without success. So if you’d like to post my comments I’ll leave that up to your level of tolerance though for the sake of half a dozen readers I wonder if its worthwhile….besides maybe you’d prefer no one knew my thoughts.


    I consider Robert Price one of my absolute favorite friends and theologians. Regarding Christianity, Robert Price never lacks for objectivity and breadth of knowledge. His capacity to assimilate religious history and the bible are encyclopedic. I read whatever he writes and always benefit.

    However dear Bob, is human like the rest of us. He has his biases and prejudice. I’d go so far as to say I suspect Bob genuflects whenever he turns on FOX in spite of the fact that FOX according to Politifact is based on fact only 18% of the time, whereas MSNBC gets it right a sorry 32% versus CNN @ 62%. So which network is most watched? FOX!!! So what does that prove? We humans want to hear what we want to hear regardless of factual content. We love confirmation bias!

    Bob’s thoughts on tolerance are almost persuasive, he says “Live and let live”. He gets along just great with those whom he disagrees. Yet when he comes around to mentioning Global Climate Change, its: “Politically Correct Climate Change” and “Progressivism’s Apocalyptism”. Woops, what happened to Bob’s tolerance? He can’t resist the opportunity to use snide demeaning, adjectives belittling what he calls (the theologians favorite word), the “doctrine” of Climate Change. Ah yes, Gravity and Evolution are just politically correct doctrines.

    The frustrated inquirer who stated the Climate Change evidence is overwhelming will continue in his frustration because Robert Price will never respond with any contradictory evidence. A few months ago in Free Inquiry “Why I’m Not Liberal and You Shouldn’t Be either “Bob’s evidence against Climate change was the totally discredited emails from some group in England who proved to be outright liars and prevaricators distorting and twisting comments between Climate Change scientists.

    Do two Ph.D.s gives one the authority to issue opinions about whatever one wishes? I guess so! As much as we genuinely like and respect Robert Price, we have to always keep in mind Robert Price’s knowledge is about theology. Robert Price Ph.D, Ph,D. knows as much about Climate Change as Bill O’Reilly, Lee Strobel and Rick Warren know about Jesus and the bible.

    Bob, I look forward to reading “The Killing Zone”, thanks for writing it!!!

    Lee Salisbury

  9. CosmicHumanoid says:

    How about less Death of God and more Dawn of the Superman? “He Who Hesitates” from 2007 was a good example. I personally think the Kardashev scale and its more modern versions and variants could be a good template for future ideas on what the Superman could be and become.

  10. Tiresias says:

    Lee Salisbury, I concur with much of your commentary which our beloved Doc Bob (or perhaps his even “better half”) has published above. I had similar problems logging in or getting a new password, but apparently the WordPress gods have fixed the problem recently as I finally received an automated email allowing me to enter a new password to replace my forgotten one after months of trying – so good luck. Meantime, thanks for sharing some of my own “sentiments via the good Doc’s good graces. 🙂

  11. leesal says:

    According to data just updated by NASA, last August was the warmest August for the entire instrumental data record, which begins in 1881. This has been something of a mixed year but overall warm. Of the 134 years for which there are data, the coolest month this year so far was February, at 17th place, with July also being cool, at 11th place. Keep in mind this is over 134 years. For the months of January through August, there are no one-digit ranks (1 through 8) prior to 1989, inclusively, and you don’t really start getting consistent “top ten” ranks until 1998.

    Monthly ranks so far this year, January was 4th, Feb was 17th, March was 4th, April was 2nd, May was first, June was 3rd, July was 11th, and as noted, August is 1st. For a year in which we are not (yet) experiencing an El Niño, that is very, very warm.

    Again, these are global temperatures. Your local mileage may vary.

    We don’t know how 2014 will rank as a year. If there is no El Niño it will rank high. If an El Niño gets going soon enough to affect the year’s average, 2014 may well be in the top few warmest years since global warming began.
    Also, New scientific evidence of the highest greenhouse gas concentrations on record is compounded by the revelation that oceans are acidifying faster than at any time in the last 300 million years.

    The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reports that the amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases reached a new high in 2013, driven by rapidly rising levels of carbon dioxide.

    The news is consistent with trends in fossil fuel consumption. But what comes as more of a surprise is the WMO’s revelation that the current rate of ocean acidification, which greenhouse gases (GHGs) help to cause, appears unprecedented in at least the last 300 million years.

    The details of growing GHG levels are in the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published by the WMO – the United Nations specialist agency that plays a leading role in international efforts to monitor and protect the environment.

    They show that between 1990 and 2013 there was a 34% increase in radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.

    Complex interactions

    The Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations – not emissions − of greenhouse gases. Emissions are what go into the atmosphere, while concentrations are what stay there after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere (the entire global ecological system) and the oceans.

    About a quarter of total emissions are taken up by the oceans and another quarter by the biosphere, cutting levels of atmospheric CO2.

    In 2013, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 142% higher than before the Industrial Revolution started, in about 1750. Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide had risen by 253% and 121% respectively.

    The observations from WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network showed that CO2 levels increased more from 2012 to 2013 than during any other year since 1984. Scientists think this may be related to reduced CO2 absorption by the Earth’s biosphere, as well as by the steady increase in emissions.

    Although the oceans lessen the increase in CO2 that would otherwise happen in the atmosphere, they do so at a price to marine life and to fishing communities − and also to tourism. The Bulletin says the oceans appear to be acidifying faster than at any time in at least the last 300 million years.

    “We know without any doubt that our climate is changing and our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels,” said the WMO’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud.

    “We are running out of time. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.”

  12. leesal says:

    The earlier comments about sea ice are incorrect:

    Discussions about the amount of sea ice in the Arctic often confuse two very different measures of how much ice there is. One measure is sea-ice extent which, as the name implies, is a measure of coverage of the ocean where ice covers 15% or more of the surface. It is a two-dimensional measurement; extent does not tell us how thick the ice is. The other measure of Arctic ice, using all three dimensions, is volume, the measure of how much ice there really is.

    Sea-ice consists of first-year ice, which is thin, and older ice which has accumulated volume, called multi-year ice. Multi-year ice is very important because it makes up most of the volume of ice at the North Pole. Volume is also the important measure when it comes to climate change, because it is the volume of the ice – the sheer amount of the stuff – that science is concerned about, rather than how much of the sea is covered in a thin layer of ice*.

    Over time, sea ice reflects the fast-changing circumstances of weather. It is driven principally by changes in surface temperature, forming and melting according to the seasons, the winds, cloud cover and ocean currents. In 2010, for example, sea ice extent recovered dramatically in March, only to melt again by May.

    Sea-ice is subject to powerful short-term effects so while we can’t conclude anything about the health of the ice from just a few years’ data, an obvious trend emerges over the space of a decade or more, showing a decrease of about 5% of average sea-ice cover per decade.

    When we consider the multi-year ice and look at the various measurements of it, we see a steep decline in this thick ice. As you might imagine, thick ice takes a lot more heat to melt, so the fact that it is disappearing so fast is of great concern.

    It is clear from the various data sets, terrestrial and satellite, that both the sea ice extent and multi-year ice volume are reducing. Sea ice extent recovered slightly during the Arctic winters of 2008-09, but the full extent of annual ice reduction or gain is seen in September of each year, at the end of the Arctic summer. The volume of multi-year ice has not recovered at all, and is showing a steeply negative trend.

    Regarding the earlier sun misinformation:
    Over the last 35 years the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. However global temperatures have been increasing. Since the sun and climate are going in opposite directions scientists conclude the sun cannot be the cause of recent global warming.

    The only way to blame the sun for the current rise in temperatures is by cherry picking the data. This is done by showing only past periods when sun and climate move together and ignoring the last few decades when the two are moving in opposite directions.

    See for answers to all your climate change denial arguments

  13. Gene says:

    Dr. Price, I certainly missed it. In reference to Mr. Mangum’s e-mail, I have no idea where you got, “… I think he is saying that we should not retreat into too-tolerant relativism, to say that all viewpoints are equally true or equally wholesome.”

    When I read Mr. Mangum’s comments I felt a chill running down my spine. He ended his email by saying “My point is perhaps we should no longer say that it is OK for someone to believe what they want.”

    The Thought Police.
    The Inquisition. ( I can’t write this word without thinking of Mel Brooks.)
    The dunking stool: If the suspect drowns, we know they were innocent.
    And we know that with enough torture almost anyone will admit to thinking exactly what we knew they were thinking.

    You concluded with “I only have a problem with bad behavior, behavior that inhibits the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.” Who is to decide what is bad behavior, and whether or not it is inhibiting the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness? If a sadist beats a masochist to within an inch of his/her life…

    Another thought provoking post, Dr. Price – with thought provoking replies.
    Thank you.
    gene the upholsterer

  14. Charles Ensminger says:

    I have had to really examine what it means to be tolerant. I am all for freedom of speech – though I know that isn’t always an idea that resonates well with those evangelicals in my tradition. The issue becomes what happens when that speech leads to harm of another. What I have found is that tolerance cannot simply mean “whatever goes” or “just do whatever you want.”

    One of the points of pride and criticism my own denomination has is its uncompromising view to try and hear multiple sides of issues. We try to be open minded, but we also have our limits. However, our reactions to issues are often quite reactionary and emotion driven instead of thought through and in keeping with who we claim to be. I would also caution that overthinking can lead to a failure to respond. There has to be a response. Sooner rather than later, but not without thought behind it.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “In following Jesus, people are released from the hard yoke of their own laws to be under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ commandment never wishes to destroy life, but rather to preserve, strengthen, and heal life.” I would agree. Yet with Bonhoeffer comes the painful recognition that there are those who have to be stopped (like he felt about Hitler).

    At that point, the idea of loving neighbor actually leads to the idea of protecting those who are being targeted. In keeping with the idea of loving neighbor, we have to act in defense of that neighbor when militant extremists, terrorists, or whomever it might be move outside their circle to harm “infidels” or heretics or simply people with different opinions.

    While violence isn’t the way of Jesus, it does become a sad necessity of the world to have to resort to military tactics to oppose injustice and those who are viciously and violently intolerant.

    The danger that hides in the shadows is the tendency to oppose the monster and in that opposition become the monster it seeks to destroy. Christian history is soaked with the blood of people killed by the “justified intolerance” of the church. In seeing the intolerance around us – often perpetuated in religious terms – we should be learning from our own history and stand up in opposition to intolerance, but also in defense of neighbor that we might not also turn into the next oppressor.

    I find that if we don’t think candidly about the fact that over tolerance might very well set us up to be the next target of whatever radical group that springs up, then we won’t be ready to step up and respond when the intolerant language of the zealots turns into unrestrained violence.

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