A Few Thoughts on Tolerance

“You can’t legislate morality”. It’s a common dictum, the aphorism of a pluralistic society. It’s said so often and with such casual authority that to question it seems commensurate with treason.

The truth? Well, the truth is, we legislate morality constantly with every precedent and bill that we produce. Our abiding claim to be a nation governed by the rule of law falls apart if that law is not anchored to the foundation of objective mores. The laws that protect and regulate society are at their very heart expositions of moral propositions; unmoor the law from that and ethics is exorcised by our will to power.

Furthermore, as recognized by our Founding Fathers, the rights of man are an endowment. But we generally gloss over this profundity and fail to understand the gravity of its assertion. But the way of it is, is that when we claim our rights in both individual and communal relationships, we are not doing so with autonomous authority but are instead invoking the authority of another, he who endows. We invoke our rights by the authority of something outside of ourselves. We don’t acquire rights through force of arms or political action, through state bans or Constitutional Amendments, they have to be self-evident before they may be ours.

With gay marriage, one side wants to make it about equality and love while the either side sees it as an attack not only on their beliefs but upon the very fabric of western society. It’s the great Satan egalitarianism Vs. Focus on the Family. But gay marriage isn’t the Berlin Wall, it isn’t the division in society it’s made out to be, nor would it’s legislative imposition upon religious ideology grow a garden of Zen like tranquility. But, the truth is, is that to oppose an issue like gay marriage or abortion is not bigotry or the commencement of a war on women and to imply such a thing reveals the extent of your own desire to impose your own moral construct upon others of a differing persuasion and the extent to which you conflate tolerance with acceptance. And much to the detriment of equality, acceptance always seems to swallow up tolerance, leaving nothing but the impulse to inquisition and hegemony. This is what worldviews do, they flatten out distinctions between things sacred and things secular, between things that differ; desire and belief become confused resulting in desires pursued as rights with the opposition branded as sectarian. And so they become crusaders looking to reclaim the Holy Land from the infidels in an effort to recapitulate what they believe to be the hope of our nation.

In truth, the whole thing is a bit misguided if you ask me. On the one hand we have the gay community seeking a legitimation it won’t ever receive and on the other we have the transformationalist who is convinced that the cultural activities of Christians should be redemptive. Both are quests for legitimation, seeing victory as validation for the offensive, that legal triumph somehow proves the rightness of the cause. This might seem unfair to some, but that is what happens when we forgo the pulpit for the platform and politicize the Gospel. Everyone’s trying to redeem the culture from immorality, they just can’t agree what exactly that is. And both seek to sequester and silence the opposition in order to liberate society from falsehood and ignorance; one side seeking to defend society whilst the other pursues its liberation.

The conflict boils down to, I think, to the question of where the binding covenant of marriage derives it’s authority. If it is merely at the good pleasure of the State, then there is nothing special about it at all. In fact, that strips marriage of all of its transcendence and it becomes no different than two people making a commitment to monogamy apart from any legal apparatus. But if it is more than that, if it is a vow made before the Divine, than any pronouncement made by the State is rendered merely civil instruction and any non-ecclesiastical marriage nothing more than State sponsored monogamous unions.

But truthfully, I don’t think that the legislature is the place to oppose nor advocate ideology; coercion always smacks of the inquisitors rack and flail. But I’m not dismissing the right to conscientiously object, but rather, I’m concerned with the field upon which the battle is pitched. And this is the problem with monolithic worldviews, they confuse the kingdoms, making the front lines everywhere, consigning things that differ to oblivion, precluding actual diversity and insisting that all must come to think, behave and pronounce as they do or stand outside the pale of orthodoxy; be it of the theological or social variety. On the surface it seems that we shouldn’t have a problem – and we really shouldn’t – with affirming everyone’s right to believe and argue for a certain set of beliefs. The problems arise when when the argument becomes litigation and the litigation becomes legislation; when we take the debate from the town commons to the general assembly we invoke the ghost of Constantine, of ideological totalitarianism. What the legislation of ideology does is convert by the sword, but I don’t see crosses on any shields. Gay marriage is not a question of rights, but a quest for ideological legitimation, the tenets of a secular faith.