Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is Belief Intolerant?

I just had an annoying conversation with a high school student who said that "Christians are worse than everybody else."

They are? Christians are worse than everybody else?

In our discussion, it turned out she didn't mean they did bad things (though I was willing to concede that they may), but rather that they hold their beliefs to be true and other people's beliefs to be false, which, of course, made them intolerant.

Sigh. This is so discouraging.

Anybody who holds any belief about anything can be painted with the same brush. By believing something about a topic, you are automatically saying that different beliefs about the same topic are wrong - maybe not entirely wrong - but wrong in some respect. And if you believe someone is wrong, then according the current tortured definition of "tolerance," you are intolerant.

To take a simple example, if you believe 2 plus 2 equals 4, the corollary is that you do not believe they add up to 7 (you intolerant slime ball!). And if you believe 2 plus 2 equals 13, then you also believe the corollary, which is that those who hold that 2 plus 2 equals 4 are wrong. (You're still intolerant.)

Nor does it make the slightest difference how tactfully you express your belief; you are still saying - if only by implication - that someone else is wrong.

Some may say that they believe all beliefs are equally valid and worthy of respect. On the surface that sounds very broadminded, but in fact, it is precisely the same as any other belief. By saying all beliefs are equally valid and worthy of respect, you are saying that those people are wrong who believe only some beliefs are valid and only some beliefs are worthy of respect. (You're as intolerant as the rest of us.)

So, basically, this student's argument is that Christians are intolerant because they believe in Christianity. And logically, it also means that geographers are intolerant if they believe Pensacola is in Florida, and zoologists are intolerant if they believe snakes are reptiles, and - need I say this? - it means this student is intolerant because she believes Christians are intolerant. In short, it means everyone is intolerant any time they hold anything to be true, which is so dumb it's hard to imagine I'm wasting my time writing about it.