Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The paradox of tolerance
I posted this article from The Independent on my Facebook page yesterday, primarily for its considerable freak value, but I've found myself thinking about its observation that "the espousal of unusual beliefs should not be interpreted as proof of mental illness." I'm not sure that assertion really applies to Mr. Shayler. Believing you are Jesus, that he was a "tranny," and that hemp will save the Earth is a trifecta of wackiness that strains the psychologist's theory, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I think it's generally worth remembering that a person's ideology is not only a poor indicator of his mental health, it actually tells you almost nothing else of importance about him.
I look around at my circle of friends and acquaintances, and I marvel at the variety of odd beliefs we hold. Our politics range from the edge of fascism to way left of Moonbatville. Religious weirdness is rife among us. We include all varieties of Christian, a few Buddhists, Hindus, devout atheists, an ex-Moonie, and of course, my own cohort of tree-hugging Pagans. All these traditions are equally strange, if you consider them objectively. But somehow, happily, all these troublesome beliefs never get in the way of our human connection. One of the smartest, best people I know believes that the earth is 6,000 years old. I think that belief is completely irrational, but I know my friend well enough to understand that it would be a terrible mistake to confuse the person with the tenet. That said, there's no denying that this dubious belief is part of my friend's chosen identity, and I am compelled to respect that if I hope to honor our relationship. This is the paradox of tolerance; of all love, really. We have to acknowledge our deep differences without letting them divide us.
A Protestant Allegory, Girolamo da Treviso, 1538-44. (Read an account of this work here.)