Monday, October 27, 2008

Tolerance, Love, and Prop 8

Proposition 8 (the California ballot proposal that would ban gay marriage in the state) and all of the rhetoric and publicity that surround it serve as good study in how we as Californians and humans treat our fellows. The issue has become extremely heated in each camp. The TV spots for both sides have engaged in fear mongering and gross mischaracterization of fact and law (I may make these mischaracterizations the subject for a further post). Both sides seem to ignore the complexity of the issues and instead often prefer to reduce themselves to slogans and name calling. Here in Los Angeles it has been my experience that most of the animosity is directed against Prop 8 supporters, though I am confident the reverse is true in the more conservative counties.

Our friends Mac and Julie had their car vandalized because of a Prop 8 bumper sticker. The news story about it is here. Everyone I know who has a yard sign takes them in during the night yet they are constantly stolen and vandalized nonetheless. One person I know even had their sign stolen right before their eyes. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about some protesters at the Oakland temple here. These protesters are clearly within their rights and are merely expressing their ideas but the article relates some other instances that I find troubling. A Prop 8 proponent resorted to punches when an opponent grabbed his yes on 8 sign. April had a hate note left on her car. This last one I am not really bothered by because they did not engage in theft, vandalism, or violence. They were simply expressing their view, albeit by using words that weren’t exactly very nice.

Some of these tactics described above are more legitimate than others but they all demonstrate a breakdown of respect between the two sides.

The word “tolerance” gets thrown around a lot, one side stressing the importance of tolerating homosexual behavior and the other side demanding tolerance of religious beliefs. Unfortunately I don’t think that concept of tolerance gets us anywhere in this or any other debate. The philosopher Jacques Derrida founded the school of thought known as deconstruction. The point of deconstruction is to take words, concepts, ideas, philosophies and to break them down in order to expose their unquestioned assumptions and hidden meanings. Among other things, Derrida famously deconstructed the term “tolerance.” What this deconstruction reveals is that the word has many implications that are contrary to what we might expect.

Derrida notes that tolerance is patronizing at its heart. When you say that you tolerate something you are saying that you hate it, but because you are such an enlightened person you will only look down on it with your nose and not your actions. Tolerance does not distinguish between people, ideas, or actions. With tolerance you must have the same attitude towards both the “sin and the sinner.” That is you hate both but you keep that hate to your high-and-mighty self.

Love on the other hand is not patronizing. Love can and must distinguish between people, behaviors, and ideas. Parents love their children even when they dislike their behavior and detest their ideals. Tolerance puts its practitioners above those they are tolerating. Love puts us all on an equal footing. Love can be practiced even if you dislike a person’s ideas or behavior. Tolerance equates the person with their behavior and ideas.

By failing to distinguish between a person and their behavior tolerance dehumanizes its objects. People who want tolerance insist that their actions and beliefs cannot be separated from their persons. Tolerance can never have the courage to help someone to change an improper behavior or a misguided belief.

Love requires much more then mere tolerance. Tolerance does not address your prejudices it merely admonishes you to conform to P.C. speech and behavior. Love also guides your behavior towards others. But in addition it requires you to step out from behind your prejudices and view everyone, even your opponents, with the same eyes you use when you look at your own family.

I was encouraged when our stake president chose love as the subject of his sermon in Stake Conference. After expressing his hope that stake members get involved in the Prop 8 campaign he said “however if you feel anything but love in your heart for the people we disagree with don’t get involved.” Divisive issues like this one present an opportunity for us to learn how to love those we disagree with even when it seems that the divisiveness is having the opposite effect


Taylor Earl said...

Couldn't agree more. Nice insight. We must only be involved in this issue as the Savior would be. He would take a firm stance in support of sacred things, but he would not resort to attacks or even take offense. He would love people, soften the tone in arguments, seek understanding, and pray for those that attacked him. We must do the same. Satan is using hate against members of the Church as a temptation for us to react negatively. Whether or not the proposition passes, what will be remembered is the manner in which members of the Church engaged in the process. If we respond by acting negatively, if we give in to contention, it will be remembered. We are the light on the hill, which usually means we're living in a fishbowl.

betsey said...

I appreciate your post a lot. I think you raise a lot of great points about what the proposition and the motivations behind both yes and no sides. I think it is really important for those involved to truly be motivated by love for their fellow human beings. Thanks for sharing Steven!