Thursday, March 14, 2013

Can We Talk About It?


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It was Timothy Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who wrote that “Tolerance isn't about not having beliefs. It's about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.” We all nod our heads in agreement as we read, but this is not what we Canadians popularly understand when we speak of tolerance.

Tolerance, for many in Canada, has come to mean an unquestioning acceptance of any and all viewpoints - excepting perhaps that of traditional Christianity. There has been a remarkable trend in mass media, social media, and human rights tribunals towards the muzzling of viewpoints that are not "tolerant." But what do we mean by that?

The dictionary definition says that tolerance is: "The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with." It is akin to the old saying by Evelyn Beatrice Hall that "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This, I believe, is necessary in a civil society: thoughtful debate in the free marketplace of ideas.

We, in Canada, have largely lost this ability. (Though, admittedly, social media is turning those tables, for better or worse.) We find, for example, at Ryerson University in Toronto where a young woman, wanting to establish a "Men's Issues" club, was denied permission by the Student's Union. This is not new, but it's usually pro-life groups that are shut down in our universities. In our Human Rights tribunals, it tends to be outspoken critics of hot-button issues related to homosexuality or Islam that are singled out. 

We have blindly accepted assumptions and believed lies, which have then influenced social policy. It is commonly held in Canadian society that all religions are basically the same. Therefore, criticizing a religion is considered out of bounds, unless, of course, you're talking about majoritarian Christianity. So, some unquestioningly accept that Muslims ought to be able to practice their religion the way they see fit. This lead to the wrong-headed suggestion in 2004 that Islamic Sharia law should be instituted in the Muslim community in Ontario through tribunals. 

The reasoning was that since Christian protestants and Catholics could use religious tribunals to settle disputes, they ought to be able to as well. But, again, this ignores the fundamental differences between the brand of Muslim faith, practiced in most majority Muslim nations around the world, and that of Christianity. In the minds of our "tolerant" society, the only "fair" response was to ban all religious tribunals. This happened in 2005. 

There are too many rabbit trails to pursue on this issue, but my point is this: it's time to re-institute the civil public square. Perhaps this is being done through social media, but my hope is that we can truly begin to dialogue in the mainstream about meaningful issues.There are some principles that I've tried to put into practice in my life that have helped me; perhaps they can help someone else.

Everyone is worthy of respect.
I might not like you, but it doesn't mean that I can't treat you with respect. I can and should separate what you are saying and what you represent from how I treat you. As long as you are civil and not abusive, we can continue to dialogue. When people start calling names, that tells me they've run out of ideas. We don't have to agree about everything to be friends.

Everyone has the right to be heard.
The truth is, some people's views are downright offensive, but we live in a free society. Our freedoms ought to be limited when we do real harm to others. As someone has said, "My freedom to swing my arm ends at your nose." The caveat ought to be, once again, that we speak respectfully to one another. (Perhaps this lesson could be taught in our provincial and federal legislatures.) 

I believe that one of the greatest challenges to our free society is political correctness. A great many people feel as though they cannot be heard because someone has decided that an issue is off-limits. The most obvious example to me is the absolute refusal of the mainstream media to allow a pro-life perspective to have any meaningful airtime. But, once again, I digress.

Everyone should be faithful to the facts.
It's too easy to throw out facts and figures, but are they true? As they say, 99% of all statistics are made up on the spot. When we play fast and loose with the truth we ought to be held to account for it. While there will be honest differences of opinion, they are usually over the interpretation of the facts.

This last part is for Christians. As followers of Christ we have an added responsibility to represent Him well. That means, regardless of the situation and circumstances, we are to treat others the way that we would like to be treated ourselves. Paul tells us to "speak the truth in love." While we do have a responsibility to stand up for the truth, the Biblical path has always been the high road. Remember, Mother Teresa and the Westboro Baptist Church (those who picket funerals and hate homosexuals), both claimed to be following Christ. Which do you think was truly following Christ's example?
The following is most often attributed to Mother Teresa, but was actually written by Kent M. Keith. Either way, it's good advice. 
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” 

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