Columns

Doyle ’18: Tolerating intolerance

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, September 28, 2015

This morning, in the midst of my rush to class, I was stopped by a group of men with microphones and pamphlets proclaiming their faith outside the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center. I watched most students ignore the disruption and refuse the pamphlets. This is a common occurrence on campus.

I’ll preface this by saying that though I attended Catholic school for nine years, I don’t associate myself with any faith. I like to call myself an “apatheist,” meaning that whether God exists or not is irrelevant to me, since I would behave the same way regardless. Still, I took the “Map to Heaven” the man offered me with a smile and thanked him when he said, “God bless you.”

This is something I try to make a habit of. While I might not agree with this man’s beliefs, his religion tells him he is saving me. I am not particularly inclined to be saved, but I do appreciate his desire to help a stranger.

At the same time, I completely understand why most students avoided him. This same man who wanted so badly to save me would probably inform me of my inevitable trip to hell if I told him anything about myself. I’m an avid supporter of gay marriage, abortion rights and scientific sexual education in schools — i.e., a fundamentalist Christian’s worst nightmare.

These interactions have forced me to ask myself: Where is religion’s place at Brown? Of course, the University has no religious affiliation. Still, many students have deeply held religious beliefs, as evidenced by the multitude of religious groups and opportunities available on campus. At the same time, most of my experiences speaking with peers about religion have involved laughing at so-called “Bible thumpers” and evangelical Republicans. I’m guilty of engaging in this behavior myself, so can I really call myself the tolerant person I believe I am?

How can we coexist? Does tolerance have bounds? Religious tolerance is, in some ways, the most basic form of tolerance. In fact, it’s largely what this country was founded on. It’s explicitly written into the First Amendment. The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the majority of religious expressions, including refusing autopsies and sacrificing animals.

Still, there is a marked distinction between legal and extralegal tolerance. Scoffing at a peer’s spirituality may not warrant a lawsuit, but it certainly isn’t tolerant. It can be hard to be tolerant of people you feel are intolerant themselves. To me, and to most Brown students in my experience, homophobia is unforgivable. Denying abortion rights isn’t much better. Balancing toleration of others’ spiritual beliefs and my own moral convictions can feel near impossible.

Religion simply doesn’t excuse ignorance. The public’s disgust with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis was well warranted. Davis’ refusal to issue marriage certificates to gay couples, based on her Apostolic Christian views, was not only illegal but also amoral. A similar viral response was given to an Indiana pizza shop after its owners’ refusal to cater a gay wedding.

There is a fine line between religious freedom and religious hatred. And while everyone is entitled to bigotry (so long as it doesn’t interfere with others), I see no reason to tolerate it.

Of course, there are religious students who do not conform to every aspect of the faith. Still, it’s hard to understand why people would choose to devote their souls to a community that largely believes in discrimination. By participating in such a group, hateful traditions are kept alive unless believers are actively working to change them.

I’ve always been a strong believer in changing the world through showing love to all, even those who only show hate back. I wish all the happiness in the world to those men in Jesus-themed T-shirts with their megaphones. Still, I don’t think I’ll take their pamphlets at our next encounter. Not until they begin shouting of a god who loves all regardless of orientation, who supports women in their right to choose. I will continue to be tolerant of spirituality, but I will never be tolerant of hate.

Allie Doyle ’18 is probably at Baja’s.

  • Greek Alum

    You know who does a great job of navigating her morals and society’s? Bristol Palin. She finds premarital sex to be sinful, but still engages in it. A true American hero.