The cases before the Supreme Court last week once again brought a focus on the idea of tolerance in our country. Tolerance is a funny thing in the political sphere and is increasingly used by people on the left to denigrate anyone who opposes them.
If we were to open the New Progressive's Dictionary and Thesaurus, you probably would see the following definitions:
• Knuckledragger — a Christian conservative.
• Racist — anyone who did not vote for Barack Obama or even disagrees with an Obama administration policy.
• Bigot — everyone in the Republican Party; also every Christian.
• Pro-life — Conservative code word for justifiable misogyny.
• Second Amendment Proponents — slack-jawed yokels who hate children.
• Intolerance — Anyone who believes something we do not.
That is not to say conservatives are not guilty of similar arguments, but I have noticed that as the right is trying to reassess and address its problems, the left's talking heads cynically dismiss the debate and reassert hateful stereotypes.
The problem comes when the character assassinations are internalized by society to the detriment of honest debate. I think technology, more than anything else, has led to the demise of intellectual discourse. Go on any comments section, and it quickly becomes a flame war of insults and shouting. Hiding behind a computer means we don't actually interact with those who disagree with us. Instead, they are the "other," an anonymous avatar representing everything we detest about those who disagree with us. Each combatant claims to hold the moral high ground of tolerance while admonishing the characters of all who oppose their views.
To truly proclaim oneself as the epitome of tolerance, one must be tolerant of all, refusing to judge any for their beliefs. That means the truly tolerant can never take a stand against hate, bigotry, abuse, etc., because, by their own belief system, they cannot openly judge the actions of others as right or wrong. Rather, they must accept all.
Few people are capable of truly pursuing this "virtue."
Just as rare is the person who applies the tenant of tolerance objectively, rather than haphazardly using it as a subjective judgment. As noted, I tend to find that those most loudly decrying the virtue of tolerance tend to be practicing intolerance themselves, many times more so than those they rebuke. This is true on both sides of the political spectrum.
Many conservatives who happen to be black are insulted constantly as race traitors and are called "Uncle Toms" and much, much worse. By labeling black conservatives with such slurs, dissenters are attempting to invalidate any opinion they hold rather than addressing their arguments on their merits. Is that "tolerance"?
However, I acknowledge that I rarely experience these ad hominem attacks personally. The reason is that our TV/radio shows and columns are heavily concentrated in these communities and many have come to respect and understand my reasoning. The attacks are more about the lack of understanding by many minorities that conservatives are principled in what they think.
In our politically charged atmosphere, anyone who disagrees with the president is a racist. Anyone who objects to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is a bigot. Anyone who goes to church is a hate-filled Christian. Sometimes those accusations are correct, but unless they talk with people and get to understand their beliefs, the accusers are just as guilty of hate and intolerance.
Perhaps their policy disagreements with the administration are just that — policy disagreements. Maybe they disagree with Obamacare not because it amounts to socialized health care, but because they believe it is a clumsily enacted law that fails to address the issues it purports to solve.
What if they think that same-sex marriage should be passed by state legislatures rather than through judicial fiat?
What if they take to heart Jesus' teaching to love your neighbor with all your heart, regardless of the neighbor's actions?
Are those hate-filled sentiments?
It does no good to simply point the finger. It is more helpful, more tolerant, more loving to try to "walk a mile in their shoes" and attempt to see things from another person's perspective. When we do that, we open ourselves to new ideas and understandings. If we truly believe that holding a nuanced position is a virtue as well, then we must constantly guard against jumping to conclusions.
• Read Armstrong Williams, author of the new book "Reawakening Virtues." Join him from 4-5 a.m. and 6-7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.