- Your Town
Most religions advocate tolerance in varying degrees, and many if not most believers in these religions reject tolerance especially in areas of faith and culture. As I have said before, many people consider different to be dangerous. This may be a genetic survival trait. Love and tolerance are basic tenants of the Christian faith, but there is a sorry historical trail characterized by murder, war, lynching and burning at the stake in the name of the faith.
Democracy requires tolerance if it is to govern effectively. Our government was designed to protect minority rights and to tolerate people who disagree. Those who are elected to govern are expected to respect these rights of all citizens, and yes, visitors to our country also. Only a few senators and congressmen have been murdered for their political positions. My observations are there are endless ways to stand rights on their head or to claim ‘national security’ as ways to not tolerate behavior or ideas the governing don’t approve of.
This is not to argue that the actual violation of citizen rights and safety is ever acceptable. While the Montana Legislative assembly made an effort to get along they ended in an intolerant disagreement when some members didn’t follow the party line exactly. The same thing is happening in the Wyoming legislature where the Republican Party is splitting over a disagreement about the office of public instruction.
The intolerance toward gay/lesbian behavior has lessened greatly in the last fifty years. In that era, when I was in the military, some of my associates believed that going into the city and beating up ‘queers’ was a sport. The change is clearly demonstrated by Jason Collins, a professional basketball player who recently announced that he is gay. He would never have dared to go in the men’s locker room even twenty years ago. The question is will he be picked up by a team since he is now a free agent? There remain many people in this country, because of religious and cultural belief, who are completely intolerant of his behavior. They would argue that it is not a biological condition, but one of choice, and he shouldn’t be allowed any public prominence or allowed to shower with other men.
Intolerance toward Jewish people currently seems to be only partially based on religion. In the past, they were regarded as Christ killers and believers in a religion made obsolete by Christ. There are presently some odd beliefs that all Jews are wealthy and are plotting to take over the world financially. Many people in Montana know little about Jews because so few live here. They base their intolerance on folklore and vague rumors and accusations. My grandfather ranted on about the evil of Jews, but got along fine with his neighbor, Mr. Levine, the senior member of the only Jewish family in Red Lodge.
I am aware of intolerance toward disabled people whether they are that way at birth or though accident or disease. I have heard comments to the effect that those people shouldn’t be out in public or the restaurant should have a separate room for them. For the most part disabled people are doing the best they can. If they are damaged veterans, the intolerance disappears. I am glad to say that the people in Red Lodge are far more tolerant than people in a lot of places where I’ve lived.
There are a lot more racial, ethnic, and cultural categories where there is intolerance. My question is why reasonably well educated people persist in intolerance toward categories of people whom they don’t know or understand. When we talk about intolerance toward individuals and their behavior, that is a different consideration. There are many behaviors we shouldn’t tolerate including depriving family members of their legal rights, public disorder, driving drunk and on and on. It is good to be intolerant toward the Chechen brothers who set off bombs in Boston, but it is not good to be intolerant toward all Chechens or toward all Muslims or all immigrants. Do not generalize from individuals to the group they may be from.
There are some groups whose values and cultural norms are in conflict with American democratic expectations, but not all members of these groups hold these values. In this case, don’t generalize from the group to the individual. Judge each individual by their behavior and values.