Saturday, December 03, 2005

Guest Post: Tim Cox: On Tolerance

Tim Cox is a friend I met during the SDi I & II certifications in Boulder back in October. Tim is working on a master's degree at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. The following post is his reply to my post on "the war on Christmas." With his permission, I have moved his comments to the main page as a guest contributor.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite others who have thoughts they'd like to share to send them to me at Integral Options Cafe. I want this to become a true "ideas cafe," where multiple viewpoints can co-exist, learning and growing from each other.

I have been working on a term paper for a cultural diversity class in my master's program and chose the topic of religious tolerance for my exploration, so I have lots of thoughts running around in my head at the moment. Forgive me if this presents itself as somewhat jumbled and long winded, as I am sort of just throwing my response together. I'll do my best to make a coherent argument representative of my opinions.

First off, I have to say that I agree with you on most aspects of your post but have a hard time with some of the other points. In my view, this whole debate over deciding the most PC term for the big, green, needle-leafed tree upon which multi-millions of people hang decorations during the holiday festivities has become an utter media-driven fiasco representing the depravity into which our country has fallen. The difficulty I have with the controversy is that I can see both sides of the argument.

I can see how some individuals would be offended by the use of the word Christmas to describe a tree symbolic of the religious holiday that the majority of the U.S. celebrates. On the other hand, I can see how many are outraged in feeling as though they are being forced to strip away the established symbolism from the second most important holiday (Easter being the first) in their view. Despite these facts, I think that this entire argument is built on shaky ground, with a multitude of scattered eggshells and land mines.

What is truly at the heart of this debate is not the dialogue about what the damn tree should be called, but rather it is about the core values and beliefs that define those individuals who are having the debate in the first place.

"Values, in the general sense of what is important to people and what standards guide their behavior," according to Matthew Oordt (From: Value Change, Authority, and Religious Tolerance) "are extremely essential components to understanding the functioning of individuals and society. The more we are able to understand what values are, how they develop, what influences value change, and how values affect attitudes and behaviors, the better equipped we will be as a society to maintain strong values and use them consciously and beneficially in negotiating old and new challenges."

Values are not a bad thing. They are the beliefs that define our behavior and the foundation upon which we build our worldview. A world of individuals sans values would be absolute chaos. The problem we face as individuals and as a collective occurs when tolerance for an individual's or culture's values dissipates.

Brad Stetson and Joseph Conti, in their recently published book, The Truth About Tolerance, state:

Tolerance, rightly understood, is a patience toward a practice or opinion one disapproves of. This understanding may come as a surprise to many people today who imagine that tolerance is simply a synonym for the words acceptance or agreement. Why include the harsh word disaprove in the definition of tolerance, some may wonder?

The classical idea of tolerance has been marked by a clear understanding that toleration entails disagreement yet respect, that is, a difference of opinion accompanied by a firm moral commitment to the decent treatment of the person with whom one disagrees. The most famous formulation of tolerance is attributed to the eighteenth-century philosopher Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death of your right to say it." So by technical definition, tolerance is "A policy of patient forbearance in the presence of something which is disliked or disapproved of. The English word tolerance is derived from the Latin tolerare, meaning "to bear," so the concept of forbearance or putting up with something not agreeable is inherent in the concept of tolerance. Thus logically built in to the very idea of tolerance is the presence of disagreement. It would make no sense to be tolerant of a public policy or practice we agree with. The concept of tolerance is not relevant when there is no dispute or discontent about the way things should go or the way they should be done. Toleration need only be brought to bear when there is tension, when there is a disagreement about what is fitting and proper, whether the context be public or private.

With that said, I agree with you that, "There is no reason why the winter holiday season can't be inclusive of other traditions." However, must that inclusiveness come with the intolerance of those individuals in allowing a "Christmas tree" to remain being called such? It is embedded within the Christmas holiday that the tree representative of it be known as a "Christmas Tree" and not a "holiday tree." I don't hear anyone asking Jews and those others who may celebrate Hanukkah to call a "Menorah" a "candle holder," or anyone asking those individuals who celebrate Kwanzaa to call a "Mkeka" a "straw mat upon which gifts and symbolic items are placed." Hell, if we are to truly be tolerant of all individuals, then we need to find a new word for holiday as it is derived from the words "Holy Day" or better yet, not even publicly display symbols of the celebrations, as this may be offensive to those individuals who are Jehovah's Witnesses and do not celebrate any occasions. Are you starting to see my frustration with this topic? It could continue, ad nauseam.

I am going to wrap up my discussion of this topic with a few final comments. I believe that we have become a nation of victims with individuals trying to find anything and everything to complain about. Truly, we have more pressing issues than what we should call a Christmas tree. I feel saddened for those who take personal offense to the use of the term. I know we are a nation with a predominantly white, Judaeo-Christian population that for centuries has placed unfathomable prejudices and oppressions on individuals of minority classes. Yet, we cannot undo the past. What we can do is make amends for those travesties and attempt to establish a society in which we are tolerant of all peoples and the symbolism they choose to display in celebration of their holidays, including those in the majority (millions upon millions of whom are not even Christians), who chose to celebrate Christmas with loved ones around the "Christmas tree." That is what would constitute a pluralist society.

I would like to address one further topic (which will be much briefer) that caught my attention. I think you need to be cautious in your labeling of all Christians as that of the red-Blue meme. I happen to know many individuals who would consider themselves to be quite the opposite. It is true that most Christians believe that they worship the one true god and are the one true religion. But for the most part, isn't that what defines religion? A claim to absolute truth is inherent in most major religions, and a belief that opposing absolutes can be correct and true is certainly incongruent. I'm certain that even if you were to ask Senator John Kerry (in seclusion with assurances of complete confidentiality, of course, for he wouldn't want to be condemned for "flip-flopping") if he believes, based upon his publicly stated faith of Christianity, that his god is the one true God, he would say yes. If he were to say otherwise, he would be going against the very nature of what it means to be a Christian. Yet, on the surface, he is very much orange-Green.

Does this make him a bad person or suggest that he doesn't hold Christian values? Absolutely not. It is just part of his value system and serves as an example that not all Christians have a center of gravity at the Blue meme. Yet at the core of their faith are strong undertones of Blue. This would be the same whether we are talking about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, or any other of the major religions. With that said, it would follow that most of the world's citizens have a major portion of their meme stack in a Blue orientation. But even so, we must be careful to remember that religion is only a manifestation of the Blue meme. The Blue meme is more accurately defined by its focus on absolutism, authority, sacrifice, order, ideology, and obedience to rules, just to name a few. These characteristic values can be seen in individuals with a COG of Blue yet who are far from being religious.

For me, the irony of the Green meme lies in that there is such a strong push against the ideals of the Blue meme, yet many of these "Green" individuals continue to uphold such beliefs that a life of egalitarianism, pluralism, and relativism is the one and only "true" way. In doing so, they are acting more "Blue" in their thinking than they could ever imagine or would ever admit. Furthermore, as you stated, they are expressing intolerance of those individuals whose worldviews are different than their own and are only propagating the decay of the very tolerance they fight for. Many of these individuals are the ones who, as stated above, are fighting against the very notion of calling a tree a "Christmas tree" because the terminology is so embedded in a religious social system which they perceive to be erroneous, obsolete, and persecutory. If only they could see the idiocy in their plight, perhaps we would be a nation of greater tolerance.
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