The recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision by the Supreme Court has both sides claiming a victory ~ of sorts. And while the High Court recognized an unacceptable religious animus on the part of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, it left open the question of where exactly religious liberty ends and unjust discrimination begins. But the larger question remains. Just how much coercion should government be allowed to apply in a free society? When does an excessive zeal for ‘tolerance’ itself lead to intolerant reactions?
These are penetrating questions that few on the more ‘progressive’ side of the spectrum seem willing to seriously consider. In fact, the only motive they can imagine that religious people like Jack Phillips are capable of resorting to is ‘hate.’ Such a view is an overly simplistic assumption in itself, demonstrating an extreme bias in their own ‘progressive’ thinking. Of course, Christianity does not condone hatred of persons, even though certain actions may be considered hateful, murder for instance.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner,” has been an integral part of the Christian creed ever since the Sermon on the Mount. It also explains why no Christian is required to endorse something they may in conscience perceive to be sinful. The refusal to comply or participate does not make one a ‘hater’ so long as one continues to respect the person with whom they may disagree. This is called Christian forbearance. Respectfully refusing someone’s request, as Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop did, is hardly a sign of hatred or condemnation as his many detractors have avowed. But if he can be compelled to act against his own conscience, then freedom itself is a chimera and we all might as well go join some authoritarian society where absolute conformity is mandatory.
Freedom cannot long survive without the practice of real tolerance, yet as Americans become more and more socially and politically polarized, a major source of that polarization paradoxically seems to be intolerance marching under the banner of ‘tolerance.’ Tolerance is a virtue that typically unites diverse peoples and opinions. More often what we see today is a brand of faux tolerance being bandied about in progressive circles, but which ultimately has a demolition derby effect on healthy social relations.
Case in point. I recently spied one of those ubiquitous yard signs proudly displayed on the lawn of a house in a typical small Mid-American city. It read, “Hate has no home Here.” I pondered that message for a moment before concluding that this was a classic example of faux tolerance. Because while pretending to celebrate inclusiveness, its unspoken intent was actually to ‘exclude’ anyone who might not share one’s own views. The self righteous tone of such a yard sign could hardly be overlooked. “Hate has no home Here” exudes a sinister undercurrent of implied condemnation as when, for instance, some self-appointed inquisitor pops a question like, “have you stopped beating your wife?”
Rhetorical devices of this sort are clearly intended to convey moral superiority; a mock piety that only the smuggest Puritan could truly appreciate. The point is to shame anyone who does not share my ‘tolerant’ values and must therefore be a narrow-minded, ignorant ‘hater’ who rightfully deserves to be shunned by decent society. Obviously someone openly displaying such a message on their front lawn is not seeking to invite discussion or debate about issues but only to shut it down. Their chosen technique is to shame others by preemptively passing a public moral judgment on anyone who might beg to differ. This is the very antithesis of true tolerance.
Hate has become a favorite pejorative catch-all term for disparaging any opinion that disagrees with one’s own. Liberals frequently retreat into this preachy rhetorical fortress rather than risking open field combat. It’s just easier to demonize than to honestly engage. Simply label your opponent as a ‘hater’ and the conversation conveniently ends.
Unfortunately this kind of faux tolerance carries real-world consequences such as tearing apart those democratic institutions which can only be sustained by the free exchange of ideas. By now this kind of social and cultural elitism called ‘political chic’ has infiltrated American academia to the point that ‘ideologically suspect’ speakers are routinely subjected to dis-invitations, heckling, or even rioting for daring to air their views on public campuses. Liberal deans and professors meanwhile pose as the anointed defenders and high priests of that Holy Grail of ‘tolerance.’ Yet upon those who may not share their views they gladly heap scorn and condescension. Conservative Midwestern conservatives are labeled as ‘prairie ayatollahs’ while campus kangaroo courts are employed where any unsuspecting student deemed guilty of ‘insensitivity’ or ‘cultural appropriation’ might be keel-hauled for the egregious sin of honestly debating some hot-button issue in class.
Beyond the ivy-walled world of the campus the same faux tolerance exerts an even more chilling effect over democracy, especially in the realms of government and politics. For instance, Ryan T. Anderson at the Heritage Foundation commenting on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case notes that, “anti-discrimination policy is supposed to be a shield. It has been transformed into a sword, used to coerce people into affirming a sexual orthodoxy.” Witness the billionaire gay rights activist Tim Gill who boasted in a 2017 Rolling Stone interview, “We’re going to punish the wicked,” i.e. those people who disagree with Gill’s brand of sexual politics.
Mr. Anderson further notes how the City of Philadelphia will no longer work with Catholic Social Services on foster care for at-risk children. The city has thereby shut down an efficient and highly rated agency simply because it will not place children with same sex couples. This action was taken, reports Mr. Anderson, “merely to send a message that its religious beliefs are intolerable.” Of course such a punitive action by a government body is officially justified by the bureaucrats as being in the interest and spirit of ‘tolerance.’ It is a very one-sided brand of tolerance, however, that would coerce either Jack Phillips or the Philadelphia Archdiocese to violate their deeply held religious convictions in order to satisfy someone else’s definition of ‘tolerance.’
But if the practice of one’s faith and the practice of homosexuality are both activities equally protected by law under our Constitution, then why should one activity be punished and the other tolerated? Government’s role is to refrain from taking sides in such cases. Clearly though, as in the Philadelphia case, it is acting as an advocate for one position and against the other. This is where many progressive liberals fail to draw any clear distinction between toleration and imposition and so their brand of faux tolerance simply becomes an excuse to prosecute anyone who dares to disagree. Perhaps the time has come to truthfully re-examine just which side the real hate is flowing from.
Francis J. Pierson + a.m.d.g.