Tolerance: Moral Suicide?

Is “tolerance”really moral suicide?

Tolerance is not the same as multiculturalism. Let’s get that straight. I work in a very multi-cultural area and lived in some very diverse areas too. Where I work, within walking distance, I have an Indian buffet restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, a Tex-Mex fast food joint, a small Korean restaurant, an express Chinese place, a Vietnamese restaurant, and of course, Domino’s Pizza. In terms of food, multi-cultural is the way to go. Everyone from all over the world can come to America and share their food and culture. Because the Indian restaurant caters to all clientele, they have utensils even though most of the dishes are traditionally eaten with their hands. The Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean restaurants offer chopsticks but will probably give you a fork and spoon if you ask. That’s just within one square mile. This is just great and you cannot really complain about no choices. In fact, you’re not even thinking about multiculturalism.

But as noted Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said in his recent lecture, multiculturalism is no basis for a moral framework. I really enjoy listening to him and I am not pressed for original thought so what he says is worth repeating. This is the indictment against diversity for diversity’s sake. This is an indictment against those who stridently ask people to accept not just a person who commits immoral behaviors but to approve the immorality and make it “moral.” Otherwise, you are left with the unappealing label of bigot. This is what it means to be tolerant today.

The tolerance movement is tied very closely with the post-modern view that there is no absolute truth and thus no way for anyone to impose any judgment on another culture. Nevertheless this is what Ravi Zacharias is saying: it is insane to use multiculturalism as a basis because at the end of the day you cannot make any judgment. I would go so far to say that you have no basis to call someone intolerant if you reject any framework to decide whether a certain practice or behavior ought to be acceptable.

Let me give some examples of cultural sensitivity or customs compared to making a proper moral judgment. In Thailand and parts of the Middle East, it is considered rude to point the soles of your feet. In the western world, only the bride is allowed to wear a white dress in a wedding. If you are visitor to those countries, it is best to observe those customs lest you offend your host. They may give some allowances to you as a foreigner…but why take those chances?

By contrast, consider this example but I won’t say which country just yet. In a certain country, it was considered lawful to burn a woman to death. Her crime: surviving her husband. If you, reader, did not get a visceral reaction to the previous statements, there is something wrong with you. How can it be lawful anywhere for this barbaric practice? Even the most tolerant and promoter of multiculturalism and diversity has to admit that this is wrong. But fortunately, this practice was outlawed when another country intervened. You may call it cultural imperialism or intolerance or intervention or whatever phrase that is in vogue with liberals. Deep down, there is that feeling that this cultural practice is horrible.

If you haven’t figured it out, I’m talking about satiSati is the Indian practice where the widow is sacrificed on the funeral pyre of her husband. This was outlawed in India in 1829 by the British and a general ban imposed in 1861. In 1988, the Indian government further criminalized this practice, including aiding, abetting and glorification of this practice. Thus thankfully, this practice has been stopped. Readers of Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne might recall the scene where the protagonist Phineas Fogg and his faithful companion Passepartout rescue Aouda. Everyone would have cheered and understood the action when they read the book or saw the movies.

So if you believe that you cannot make value judgments on cultural practices in a multi-ethnic, tolerant world, then a woman a wearing white dress in someone else’s wedding is no different than the ritual murder of a widow at her late husband’s funeral. Yet there has to be some dissonance in the gut and the mind if one truly, truly believes in the whole tolerance and acceptance movement.

I have sat in the chairs in the lecture hall at the University of Chicago, one of the great universities of the world as a student. We boast more Nobel Laureates than Harvard. We devised economic systems and pioneered nuclear physics. In class, we discuss the human experiences and read philosophers like Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel, and Dostoevsky. Surely this man knows about the “progressive” thinking and be an accepting person. After all, he can claim to be an intellectual elite. And I have stood in the Killing Fields of Cambodia just outside Phnom Penh. I have seen the results of a man who claims to be restoring the glorious Khmer culture of the bygone days. That restoration process resulted in the deaths of a quarter of the country’s population. How can that be called “cultural sensitivity”? How can anyone not look at the death tolls in Cambodia and not make a moral judgment that Pol Pot was not just wrong, but evil. Wrong would be the understatement of all times.

Today, this so-called diversity and tolerance movement on the American university campus forces people who are honest with themselves to violate their conscience. If you want to be hired, you must promote “tolerance”; that means you cannot criticize anyone even if they are wrong else you are a bigot. It would be career suicide. But what’s the alternative? Moral suicide.

We are told to suppress all moral judgments lest we give offense so that the eventual logical conclusion is that there is no difference between Pol Pot and Florence Nightingale. Or that one day in perhaps 20 years, Hitler might after all receive a Nobel Peace Prize. While this is extreme, it is a very slippery slope.

I close with this quote by Dorothy Sayers:

In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.

This is the danger of promoting a worldview that all things must be accepted so that evil becomes good and good becomes evil. It is one thing to give offense unintentionally by violating a cultural practice and cause some hurt feelings, but what is that compared to the death of a conscience?

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