Are You a Hater or a Bigot? Or Are You Just Intolerant?
A reader writes:
I had a question that I needed to ask you. I just found out that the owner of Chick-Fil-A stated that he was against Gay Marriage. Personally, I agree with him, yet when I told someone on the Chick-Fil-A Facebook page that being against Gay Marriage isn't the same as being "Anti-Gay", they ended up calling me a "Hateful bigot".
Does being against Gay Marriage automatically make me a hateful person or oppressive person?
I don't try to hate anyone and I don't want to be seen as hateful by others. I just feel conflicted. If you can help me understand how to resolve this conflicted feeling that I'm currently having, I would be very thankful!
It is difficult to know what to say the first time one encounters this type of claim, which is regrettably common.
Hatred and bigotry are real phenomena. They really exist. And they are evil.
It is natural to want to avoid them and to want to avoid being perceived as committing them. That is true in everywhere, but it is particularly true in our own culture, which highly prizes tolerance, understanding, and letting people "do their own thing."
Precisely because there is such a strong aversion to these things in our culture, there is a perverse phenomenon that also occurs in which charges of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance are used to perversely express and create intolerance.
This occurs when accusing someone of these faults is done as a way of shutting down rational discussion, of stifling disagreement, and of wounding (emotionally or socially) the one against whom the charges are made.
People who make blanket charges of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance are themselves being intolerant, displaying bigotry, and may even be hateful.
Why do I say this?
In the first place, there is a difference between disagreement and hatred. I may disagree with someone about a particular matter without hating him. I may think that chocolate tastes better than vanilla, that Candidate X should be supported rather than Candidate Y, that a particular narcotic ought to be illegal, that a particular legal policy is a bad one, or any number of other subjects, yet I may not have the slightest hatred on any of these matters.
Hatred is rooted in a particular emotion--anger--that is carried to an extreme. I may not feel any anger at all on any of these issues, much less the kind of extreme anger that would qualify as hatred.
That's why I say a person making the kind of charges only may be hateful. Whether they are depends on whether they have the particular kind of anger that qualifies as hatred. They may or they may not. I'm not going to make a blanket charge on this point.
And neither should they.
The take-home point for the reader is that just because you disagree with someone, whether it is on the subject of homosexual "marriage" or any other, doesn't automatically make you a hater.
You may be one--if you harbor actual hatred. But if you don't, you aren't. It's as simple as that.
The charge that you are may be a convenient weapon--for purposes of shutting down discussion, scaring you away from a subject, or wounding your emotionally or socially (or even professionally and economically). And an unscrupulous person may even use the charge as a weapon to achieve one or more of those ends. But that doesn't make the charge true.
One can disagree without being hateful, and when it comes to questioning something that has been the received wisdom of mankind since its inception (that there is a difference between the union of a man and a woman and the union of two people of the same sex), once can certainly disagree without hatred.
What about the charge of bigotry?
The term "bigotry" refers to a form of discrimination. By itself, the term "discrimination" simply means making distinctions between things, which is neither good nor bad. Indeed, sometimes making distinctions is vitally important (is that thing I'm about to shoot in the woods a human or a deer?). Other times, it is simply a good thing, as when we speak of a "discriminating buyer"--one who distinguishes between high quality food/clothing/whatever and junk--or a "discriminating viewer"--one who distinguishes between good programming and bad programming.
When we talk about "discrimination" in the sense of bigotry, though, we mean unjust discrimination--a discrimination that occurs without taking proper account of the facts, one that is not grounded in the truth.
That's why I say someone who makes blanket charges of the type we are discussing is, in fact, exhibiting a form of bigotry, because blanket charges are precisely the ones that don't take proper account of the facts--such as the difference between having a difference of opinion and actually hating. To charge all people who disagree on a particular issue with hatred, in a blanket fashion, is to fail to take account of the fact that they may not have any hatred at all. It may just be using a convenient weapon against them without regard for the truth.
That makes it unjust discrimination, or its own, hidden form of bigotry.
What about the charge of intolerance?
Tolerance, like discrimination, is not a good or bad thing. It depends on what is being tolerated.
Tolerating someone who has a different opinion than you do about whether vanilla tastes better than chocolate? Good thing.
Tolerating people who walk into movie theaters, set off gas bombs, and then start shooting innocent people? Bad thing.
Some things just should not be tolerated--and other things should.
But when we speak of "intolerance" and charge a person with being intolerant, what we mean is that they are being unjustly or unreasonably intolerant.
That's why I say that a person who makes blanket charges of intolerance is, himself, being intolerant.
Again, it's because of the blanket nature of the charges he's making. If you're making blanket charges then you're not exercising proper reason.You're being unreasonable--and thus unjust--to the people you're making the charges against.
That doesn't mean that making unjust charges of intolerance isn't a useful weapon. It can be, and in the hands of the unscrupulous, it often is--especially today, when tarring someone with the brush of intolerance can be very useful given our culture's tendencies toward political correctness.
But that doesn't make it right.
Actually, it's simply a form of intolerance trying to pass itself off as openmindedness. The truth is that it is closed-minded and trying to shut down rational discussion.
What do you think?