Monday, September 21, 2009

true tolerance

I'm still seeing articles about this nonsense involving Shadow Complex and Orson Scott Card. I haven't commented on it yet, and I'd like to offer my liberal friends some food for thought.

First, it is both possible and common to reject some portion of a person's behavior or beliefs without rejecting the complete person. When someone voices opposition to gay sex, that person is not necessarily saying anything about the value or character of gay individuals.

To assume someone is a bigot, that he or she is driven by hatred or stereotypes, just because that person says homosexual behavior is sinful or disordered is to exhibit one's own intolerance. I mean no offense. I only wish to draw attention to a habit of thinking that can easily be picked up from friends and never deeply reflected on.

Some friends of my family are Catholic and have a gay son. My family helped raise him, and his family helped raise me. When it became clear that he is gay, his parents explained to him that they did not approve of gay sex but that they continue to love him. They forbade him from kissing another man under their roof, but they welcome his gay companions into their home and treat their son with the same affection as always.

Homosexuality does not wholly define a person. Nor is it a trait that acts constantly in a person's life. Just as a conservative and a liberal can be friends while opposing some of each other's beliefs and actions, being friends with and loving to a gay person doesn't require treating gay sex as acceptable behavior.

Can homosexuality affect traits beyond sexual desires? Certainly. The father of that family I mentioned is one of those people who can seem gay but is not. He is flamboyant in gestures and exhibits a number of habits that one would not call masculine. Those habits are fine. The son is not asked by his family to act like a stereotypical man. Like myself and many others, they object only to sexual choices and requests to equivocate gay "marriages" with straight ones.

As a person with Asperger Syndrome, I know exactly what it's like to be asked to reject inclinations which are genetically encoded into my personality. Some of what bothers other people about me is strange but acceptable. But it is correct that some of what is natural to me is wrong or unhealthy. It is my responsibility to try to change, or at least to control my response to those instincts. Likewise, it is reasonable to expect gays to be critical of their own natural desires.

The words "tolerance" and "intolerance" get misused a lot these days, so let's clarify.

Tolerance implies disapproval. If I say I tolerate my wife's cooking, I am implying that I don't like her cooking. One cannot tolerate something one is in favor of. Thus, any reasonable measure of tolerance does not expect approval.

Tolerance is not a virtue. It is not always right to tolerate something. For example, it would be wrong for me to tolerate someone grabbing my grandmother tightly by the arm and yelling in her face. Tolerance is sometimes appropriate, sometimes not.

The term "homophobic" is a purely political term meant to silence and intimidate opposition. It is possible to object to gay sex and civil unions on many rational grounds, not limited to religion. Even if you doubt that, you should acknowledge that needlessly insulting the people you disagree with excludes any likelihood that you will convince someone of your views and make political or social progress. You cannot achieve justice through cooperation while treating your opponents with hostility.

Please, even if you completely disagree with me, even if my words have angered or frustrated you, take the time to deeply consider what I have said. I am not trying to convince you that people like Orson Scott Card are correct in opposing homosexual behavior and particular endeavors of gay advocacy groups. That's another discussion. I am only asking that you recognize and acknowledge that it is wrong to believe that opposition to these things cannot be driven by love and reason, rather than hate or fear; that to demonize such people and reject works simply for being influenced by them is wrong.

If you want to skip Shadow Complex or donate to gay advocacy groups, that's fine. But don't pretend you're combating hate or rejecting wickedness by doing so. Be tolerant. Offer a hand of friendship to those you disagree with.


  1. I too dislike the term homophobic. This is very well put. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" was definitely Jesus' message.


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