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Limits On Tolerance and Respect

Don C. Marler

Given the circumstances of my upbringing the chances that I would develop a liberal worldview were slim indeed. It did happen though and I am somewhat amazed at the transformation. Now that I approach the 8th decade of my life I have been reviewing the journey that brought me here. I ask myself if I can be objective enough about my liberal views, especially on tolerance and respect for those of different lifestyles, religious beliefs and customs to make an honest critique. One can only give it his best try.

I was born in the swamps of central Louisiana in 1933 to a family and community that was hardworking, very conservative and that reflected the essence of extreme fundamentalist religion. Having spent almost half of my life cultivating a worldview that was in harmony with this background I have spent the second half transforming it into a more liberal worldview.

It seems evident to me that different cultures confuse religious beliefs and practices with customs. The results are sometimes monstrous. For example: mutilation of the genitalia of young girls so they will not experience sexual pleasure, feeding the first born male child to crocodiles, restoring family honor by killing a number of women in the family, bride burning, murder of those who do not believe in one’s god, burning at stake of a law abiding citizen because his belief differs with that of the established state religion.

Liberals are champions of showing tolerance and most of all “respect” for those who possess different religious and cultural differences. Tolerance, at least for the short term may be, well “tolerable”, while the world tries to model a more humane way for those who practice those inhumane behaviors described above.   I find it unpleasant when someone wants to force me to follow their beliefs and practices, especially when they try to kill me for not obliging. I find it difficult to tolerate or respect their position in those circumstances.

Respect is different from tolerance and more immediate.  It is quite different from tolerance given the generally accepted attributes of the concept. The principal attribute of respect is to hold the belief or practice in esteem. Is it reasonable for me to hold someone or some group in high esteem who wants to kills me?  Is it unreasonable for me to hold someone or group in low esteem who kills innocent family members to restore family honor or kill someone because they don’t accept and worship their god? Is my difficulty in holding such concepts and practices and those who perpetrate them in high esteem a holdover or throwback to my swamp upbringing? Perhaps, but I don’t have another 40 years to work on it, so in the meantime it would be a mistake for someone wishing to be a martyr to try to kill me. I will not in this instance be respectful or tolerant. I will however do all I can to assist him in his goal to reach martyrdom. How long can a civilized world show respect and esteem for the practices. Described above. What does it say about those who show respect for such views and practices.

Tolerance and respect works both ways or not at all. If respect between two parties is not mutual there can be no meaningful relationship in the positive sense.

What of the right to chose ones religion and cultural beliefs and practices? Can a liberal respect the right to choose but not respect the choice if it is destructive? Indeed, isn’t tolerance of certain destructive beliefs and practices unethical and irresponsible? Is the principle of tolerance more important than the harmful belief/practice itself? Do tolerant people hide behind the principle when confronted with the need to be intolerant of inhuman treatment of others?

Liberals and conservatives in America respect the right to choose one’s political party, but often do not respect, esteem or feel tolerant toward the choice of concepts and practices the opposition espouses. The rejection of political ideas and practices often revolve around religion, customs, class, race or ethnicity. Does this lack of tolerance and esteem make a mockery of the liberal stance on those two issues? If I don’t feel tolerance and respect for the concept that wage earners should pay a higher percentage in taxes than the super rich, does that make me a conservative? The nature of my lack of tolerance and respect for those who wish to kill me and those who wish to tax me higher than the super wealthy is a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind.  

Does it make sense for me to show tolerance and respect to someone who does not show tolerance and respect for my countrymen and me, while I don’t show the same respect and toleration toward those ideas and practices of the opposition political party. Is it consistent to show respect for ideas but not for the tactics used to promote them.

The liberal position is not without its problems of internal consistency. The dilemma posed here illustrates a major difference in the liberal/conservative paradigm. For the conservative the issues are usually black and white; right or wrong. For liberals there are almost always exceptions, mitigating circumstances that change cases. I will continue being a liberal according to my view of that condition, but honesty and the reality of an increasingly dangerous world compels me to keep my eyes and mind open. 

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Filed under Political, Politico-Religous, Tradition & Culture