On a winter morning in 1994 Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, or as the world knew her Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, speaking at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. stood before world leaders, influencers, and policymakers and proclaimed in a soft clear but fearless voice,
“If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?” and “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.”
That day, surrounded by supporters of the pro-choice movement including a President and Vice President she set forth her convictions remaining completely indifferent to the differing opinions of those around her. She walked headlong into the lion’s den totally confident in her rightness.
Were these words, from a humble nun, arrogant and small-minded? Did her critical views of abortion typify those of a callous and self-righteous individual who lacks depth of understanding and acceptance of differing points of view? Or to put another way was Mother Teresa intolerant?
The political deprecation and general hate mongering brought about in response to Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy professing he’s “guilty as charged” in his support of traditional marriage has leveled further accusations against him and his company of insensitivity and bigotry.
In an interview with the Baptist Press Cathy says,
“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that…we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
The backlash his remarks produced included threats from the Mayors of Boston and Chicago who hoped to make future openings of Chick-fil- restaurants in their respective cities ‘difficult’. And in typical fashion the Internet erupted calling once again for a full court press of boycotts against the conservatively operated eatery; all because its CEO expressed views counter to what others believed. In a letter to Cathy, Philadelphia city councilman James Kenney wrote,
“I am entitled to express my opinion as well, so please – take a hike and take your intolerance with you. There is no place for this type of hate in our great City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”
I like loud motorcycles and Ranch dressing while possessing utter contempt for Brussels sprouts and Good Morning America. I make that distinction to make this point; it’s impossible for me to tolerate loud bikes and Ranch – because I like them. Would it be necessary to tolerate extra money in the bank, a surprise trip to Fiji, or a raise? Of course not, these are things any sensible human being would enjoy, what exactly is there to be tolerant of? So by definition, if it isn’t possible to tolerate what I like and approve of that can mean I only tolerate what I don’t like or approve of. Without disagreement tolerance is unnecessary.
Cathy is being criticized for his opposition to gay marriage choosing instead to follow a biblical view of matrimony. In the interview he expressed his opinion and more importantly his basis for it, yet instead of simply acknowledging his different viewpoint, accepting his right to possess it, and disputing those opposing beliefs, any who disagreed chose to label him intolerant, sanctimonious, and judgmental. Why?
The traditional view of tolerance was based upon a respect for the individual and his or her right to an opinion. Tolerance was focused on the person while the view was secondary. Though I may feel those beliefs were categorically wrong, I could accept him for his right to have one while rejecting the viewpoint itself. In other words we can “agree to disagree”. I love the Queen even though she likes Good Morning America and watches it daily.
However our contemporary view of tolerance is vastly different and immensely wrong; instead of respecting the person and his or her right to an opinion, tolerance has shifted away from the individual onto the belief itself. It works like this, not only must I accept your right to a different outlook, I must also accept your opinion – plus endorse it – regardless of how it might clash with my own. Now I must believe both of our views are right. And should I fail to do so or attempt to draw lines differentiating right and wrong– I am labeled intolerant, arrogant, and judgmental by those who fall into the wrong category.
There are few human achievements more noble than living by one’s convictions. In other words, the ability for a person to develop a set of core beliefs based upon traits such as honesty, integrity and compassion, fasten their personal character and conduct to them, then stay true to those principles no matter the personal cost. It should be noted it’s these types of people we follow into battle, want our children to look up to, and hope will lead our country.
But here’s the caveat, to live with conviction means, by definition, we must choose one way over another. This is right, that is wrong. While our views may change over time, we still must make a choice, otherwise chaos ensues if we allow everything to be acceptable. And living with such absolutes pisses people off, royally. Should their viewpoint be in direct contrast to the opinion being expressed their morality is called into question. As Cathy said, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family.” - Or to say another way, his definition of family is right and every other definition is wrong. And anytime lines such as these are drawn the easiest and most provoking response is to tag the person as judgmental and intolerant.
Mother Teresa was vehemently opposed to abortion liking it to acts of violence and murder, making those who abort children out to be cold blooded killers. Her convictions and her basis for them forced others to question their own ethical views. There’s well over one-million abortions performed every year in the US, alone. Is it plausible that Mother Teresa, arguably the greatest humanitarian of the twentieth century, was intolerant and judgmental towards those millions of women? Would she be described as arrogant and moralizing because she refused to accept the right of women to do with their bodies as they please? Should her Missions of Charity in Calcutta be boycotted as a result of her denunciation?
Or, like Dan Cathy, should they both be commended for living by their convictions no matter the personal cost – and shouldn’t that be something we all strive for?