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‘Tolerance and Diversity’ … lost in translation

‘Tolerance’ is a loaded term in our culture. As Americans, we seem to pride ourselves on our ‘live and let live’ attitude. And I’ve gotta admit that it sounds pretty good on the surface, at least until you try actualizing it.
We talk a good talk about tolerance, but apparently no longer know what the word means. Judging someone else as wrong has become the unpardonable sin, that is, until we run into someone who doesn’t share our deeply held views. Still, we pledge allegiance to it, seemingly oblivious of our own hypocrisy, and not realizing that our concept of toleration makes us a ‘walking, talking contradiction.’
I ran smack dab into this the other day as I was reading the local paper. It seems that the Community Unity organization is looking for a way to keep the ‘sinister minister’ John Lewis and his quasi-Christian storm troopers from demonstrating at the upcoming World on the Square event. By the time this writing goes to press, the whole affair will be history, but, getting on with my own rant, to say the Lewisites’ message is offensive and tasteless is an understatement. Their bitter diatribe of hate combined with the shock tactics they employ is best described as guerrilla warfare evangelism, though they’re not enlisting many recruits.
So while I agree with the Community Unity organization that Lewis must be regulated in some way without violating his free speech rights, I find it almost laughable that an organization which prides itself on tolerance has so little of it.
Now, before you burn me in effigy, hear me out.
I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, because, as I stated earlier, the way we as a culture use the word ‘tolerance’ has very little to do with what the word actually means. Webster’s New World Dictionary Second College Addition defines it like this: to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked.
If this definition means what it says, we should come to the conclusion that tolerance involves our thinking the other party is wrong.
However, these days, if you say that something or (God forbid) someone is wrong, you will be labeled as intolerant ‘ even though I can’t tolerate you unless I think you are wrong. And yet we do judge. We do condemn. We do say that Lewis and his ‘Insane Clown Posse’ are wrong. And we are right to do so. But when we try to shut someone down under the cloak of ‘tolerance and diversity,’ we fall prey to the same error. What a crock. We have unwittingly impaled ourselves on our own principles. We want to say live and let live until somebody pushes our hot button, then suddenly we become the epitome of the very thing we are condemning. Our moral consciousness rises to the surface.
We have grabbed onto an honorable sentiment in all our talk of tolerance, but at the cost of making meritorious value judgments. In short, tolerance is ‘lost in translation,’ and so are we. Because in the Old Paths demonstrators’ hate messages we are confronted with our own intolerance. We don’t merely believe Lewis and his followers are wrong. We know they are, and we say so. But let us not show our intolerance of such behavior under the auspices of being a tolerant society. When we do, we show ourselves out to be exactly what we are: pretenders.
But there is something else which is more troubling to me than our disemboweling of the English language or our apparent hypocrisy. We were all shocked and dismayed on multiple levels, both by what we saw and heard from John Lewis and his bunch.
His people brandish not only hate messages which misrepresent the Judeo-Christian concept of God, but they also display graphic visual images of aborted babies. And let me just tell you frankly, the images are horrific and chilling because they are real. These images transform abortion from the abstract to the concrete. And what is worse than the fact that Lewis is raping our conscience is the fact that we are more upset and angry as a community because we were shown these images against our collective will, than we are about the truth of the images themselves.
We decry the indignity we and our children suffer at the sight of such brutality, but, at the same time, we are coolly indifferent to the reality those images convey. As I write this, I have to admit that I’m ashamed of how I could overlook such a glaring injustice. Because I say that I care about the innocent and those who have no way of speaking out for themselves, but what I’m more concerned about is my convenience.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am certainly not condoning the way Lewis has decided to use graphic visual images. I believe there is a context in which they should be used, but what I am underscoring is the inequality of our emotional response to two evils; and it’s the lesser of the two that we as a community are outraged with. But you be the judge. What’s worse, the fact that some ‘religious’ zealot is showing us graphic images of the torn bodies of dead babies, or the information those images are imparting to us ‘ that an entire generation of innocent human beings are being systematically exterminated?