Monday, November 17, 2008

It is not Tolerance We Want, but Liberty

The following was not written by me, but by a friend of a friend. I have not yet come across a document that better expresses something that I have always felt, but never been able to put to words. May the Gods bless the author of this insightful writing!

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"During a recent discussion with an acquaintance the subject of religion came up. Now for some of you who do not know me I am a Heathen, a Theodsman in fact. No that doesn't mean I am an atheist but rather that I believe in and worship the gods that my Germanic ancestors did. As a Theodsman I am a religious Reconstructionist who is attempting to model my relations with my Gods, ancestors and the natural world on the methods of the ancient pre-Christian Germanic. It is something that has given me much happiness in my life and has helped me forge long standing, deep relationships with people who have similar spiritual goals. This growing understanding of my ancestral heritage has been an incredibly positive influence in me and I have prospered in all facets of my life because of it.

When describing my religious outlook to my friend he was quite open to the ideas and beliefs that I put forward. After we had discussed this for a while he claimed that as a Christian he could never believe what I do but as an American and a man he felt that it was his sincerest wish to be tolerant of all sorts of ideas. He let me know how much he disagreed with those Christians who are constantly proselytizing and that he honestly viewed opinions and beliefs with tolerance. He even displayed a genuine interest in my views and commented on the soundness of my reasoning. I continued my conversation with him and we are still friends but I couldn't help but to feel very insulted.

Yes, I was insulted. Offended by a friend who had nothing but the best intentions during the conversation and he has no idea how or why he insulted me. I know many of you reading this are also confused as to how I could be insulted by a man who was genuinely open and accepting of my not so mainstream ideals. What insulted me was his tolerance. The very principle he, as a liberal, progressive Christian, thinks of as a paramount social ideal had me incensed. I understand he means no harm nor did he purposely proffer insult but the very idea that my beliefs are to be tolerated by others strikes an ill chord in me.

Being tolerant of others faith is seen a sign of respect and acceptance. Is tolerance not a virtue to be admired and strived for in today's multicultural American society? If so, why was I insulted by my well intentioned colleague? It is the very nature of tolerance that offends me. Tolerance requires permission. When someone tolerates something they are allowing it or approving of it through their own forbearance. The word and condition implies that there is inherently something wrong with or inconvenient about the tolerated activity. Only with the kind permission of folks who are willing to put up with such activity will it be allowed. Tolerance is by its very nature condescending.

The ideal that folks are actually suggesting is acceptance. However most people don't really accept deep seated beliefs that are contrary to everything they believe. A Christian who sincerely believes in the absolute truth of the Bible or a Muslim who is carefully following the teachings of Mohammad simply cannot with any spiritually honesty accept the worship of Heathen Gods. It would be directly in opposition to the most profound tenets of their faith. No one can realistically expect this of anyone nor can such acceptance be forced through statute, political correctness, or multiculturalism.

So if tolerance is unacceptable and acceptance is unrealistic what is left? Is there a societal condition that will allow me to live my life and worship my Gods and Ancestors without the permission of others? Yes, there is indeed a better principle. There is a virtue, a social paradigm that is the highest expression of such living. Liberty.

The Founding Fathers recognized the simple, basic human importance of liberty when it was placed as one of only three named unalienable Rights in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness...

Unalienable Rights were seen by the framers to be nontransferable, above repudiation and not awarded by another. These are inherent states of the human condition. Liberty in the context of this declaration is the individuals immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority and the individual freedom from compulsion.

In modern Western society the ideal is the same. I have the liberty to not be forced to believe that my folk were created by a Middle Eastern deity. Christians have the unalienable right to believe their folk were indeed created by such a being. We then both have the liberty to venerate our respective Gods in whatever manner we choose provided it does not infringe upon the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness of another. Once we recognize each others liberty we can then begin to find a mutual respect for each others right to do as we please.

With the recognition of Liberty there is no need for condescending state of tolerance between men. There is also no need for the unrealistic concession of acceptance. With Liberty we simply recognize the individuals right to believe as he pleases and his freedom to follow that belief. It is simple, it plants the seeds of respect, and it quells most religious arguments. I may believe Christians are wrong in their assessment of the divine but I fully recognize their liberty to think as they choose. I simply expect the same from them.

I do not beg for tolerance. I do not expect acceptance. I do however demand Liberty."