Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tolerance and Hypocrisy

Is it possible to take position "A" and, at the same time tolerate position "not A" (-A)?  If so, to what extent may one tolerate, without being hypocritical, or at least so inconsistent as to be justly criticized?

These seem to be questions we may be compelled to address with greater frequency in these increasingly contentious times.  And, though I've posed them abstractly here, they're intended to address disputes we must deal with, or are at least confronted with, on a day to day basis, e.g. political, social and religious issues.  "Confronted" in the sense that they are hurled at us by eager adherents of opposite positions from almost every side given the technology of communication.

X claims that God exists (or perhaps that a particular God does so; say a God worshipped by an established institutional religion).  Y disagrees.  May X and Y tolerate each other despite their disagreement?  Should they respect each other in spite of their disagreement?

If X begins hectoring Y, trying to induce him to accept X's God, or if Y begins hectoring X to accept that there is no God, it would seem that in either case the one being hectored could legitmately resent it.  If either sought to impose his/her position on the other, it would be legitimate to object.  This seems obvious enough.

What if X asks Y to attend some religious ceremony, or Y asks X to accompany him to a speech by [insert name of prominent atheist]?  I'd say there is nothing a priori objectionable in either case, and the manner of the response would, I think, vary with the circumstances, and how the request is made. In other words, if Y decided to attend the ceremony, or X the speech, I would contend that neither are necessarily hypocrites, or being untrue to themselves or their beliefs, by doing so.  If either chooses to do as they are asked out of friendship, or respect, for example, they are not legitimately subject to criticism.

To criticize in such or similar circumstances seems to me a function of absolutism, regardless of the nature of the request made or position taken.  It also would seem to be the result of needless concern with things beyond our control, which should be anathema to stoics, but also, I think, to any reasonable person, and (by definition, of course!) to any pragmatist, who will make decisions based on an an intelligent consideration of each situation, not according to some preset standard which is unquestioned.  Generally, religious, political or social beliefs and positions will not be objectionable in and of themselves (there can be exceptions, obviously).  Instead, the conduct of those who accept them may be objectionable.

There is no reason why X who accepts A must object every time -A rears its head.

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