Jane Smiley has an interesting piece in the Huffington Post in response to a post by Mark Joseph calling Anne Lamott’s passionate defense of her pro-choice beliefs “intolerant.”
Leftist Christians, like Lamott, are supposed to be “tolerant”, which means, I suppose, that they aren’t supposed to offend “anti-choice” Christians with the intensity of their principles. But in my experience, what pro-choice women are supposed to “tolerate” is the proclaimed right of anti-choice Christians to tell them what to do with their reproductive lives, their bodies, their families, and their birth control choices. Where does “tolerance” enter in here? Tolerance is about agreeing to disagree. Anti-choice and anti-abortion activism is not about agreeing to disagree, it is about social control.
I’d expand Smiley’s point a bit: it’s not just anti-choice and anti-abortion activists who sling the “intolerance” charge at leftists. It happens all the time with conservatives and conservatarians: leftist makes a strong statement of opinion, con makes charge of intolerance, usually adding that liberals are supposed to be tolerant. Variations include likening the Democratic party to a plantation and black Democrats to slaves, calling liberals “the real racists” in reaction to being called out on racism, and on and on. It’s an attempt to control the target by shaming. Since liberals pride themselves on being tolerant, charges of intolerance sting — which, of course, right-wingers know quite well:
When Christians talk about secular Americans being “tolerant” of Christian beliefs, they are misusing the word. What conservative Christians want is not toleration, but social control. Toleration takes place between two people who know one another, and is a feature of personal relationships. Social control is about who gets the power to dictate policy and law. Christians like Mark Joseph sometimes play the “tolerance” card as a way to present themselves as a disempowered group, but what it is about them that is disempowered is their ability to tell the rest of us what to do. And most of the rules they want us to follow are abstract–rules about how men and women should relate, rules about what families should look like, rules about what people should learn. The program, for Christian conservatives, is not essentially about faith or morality–those are elements in a larger program. The larger program is enforcing conformity. What’s the real goal? Well, no doubt it is money and power–have you seen how wealthy the Pope is? Of Pat Robertson? Or the pastors of some of those other mega-churches?
It doesn’t always come from the right, either — it can come from the left, too, usually as a means of enforcement. I certainly caught it from both the right and the left in the comments to my post about the incredibly incompetent paralegal at my firm (who has mercifully been fired). From the left: I was called classist, elitist, insensitive, blind to my privilege, and it was suggested that I was incompetently managing the situation (despite the fact that I am not management around here).
And from the right: “Hey, I thought sisterhood was powerful. First off, why don’t you just TALK to her?” Followed by a suggestion that it was my job to buttonhole this woman and remind her that women before us busted their asses so that we could be where we are today.
So, shaming from both sides — from the left, charges of intolerance to get me in line with orthodoxy. And from the right, sneering about sisterhood and a reminder that liberals are supposed to be tolerant. Message: conform.