Friday, June 09, 2006

Mr. Clooney on Tolerance

I can't resist posting about this. Nicholas Clooney's latest article is about Dr. Farris and his supposed "intolerance." Like so many in our culture, he equivocates between the word "tolerance" and "acceptance" in his argument that democracy and dogmatic religions can't mix. According to Clooney, unless you affirm that everyone's beliefs are equally valid, you are at odds with democracy. He even tries to argue that America's founders would agree with him, again equivocating between modern liberal "tolerance" and the "tolerance" of the founders (i.e. religious freedom).

What is so amusing is that he would use Michael Farris, a staunch defender of religious freedom, as an example of "intolerance." At the end of the article, he says that his Protestant grandmother "smiled on her beloved Jewish son-in-law, laughed at her agnostic neighbor, [and] welcomed Muslim visitors..." Here, he describes tolerance here in the old sense, a willingness to recognize the freedom of others to believe differently. Dr. Farris is very "tolerant" if this is what it means. But Clooney redefines tolerance with the claim that his grandmother "did not judge anyone." I find it hard to believe that Mr. Clooney's grandmother was a relativist to the extent that he apparently believes democratic people should be, but even if she was, that relativism is not the same as the religious freedom our founders sought to guarantee.

Relativism, in fact, is a denial of religious freedom. For how can Dr. Farris's beliefs be "tolerated" if they are "at odds...with the tenets of American democracy?" Where is the tolerance of non-relativists like Dr. Farris and myself? Religious freedom allows differences in truth-claims, while relativism excludes ALL truth claims, except its own. Relativism, therefore, is one of the most exclusive, "intolerant" and nonsensical beliefs in the world today.