Tolerance is Overrated

I went to my second Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable last night.

I wrote about much of this the first time around, and my basic opinion hasn’t changed. Bringing a lot of people together of different faiths to find ways to be inoffensive strikes me as a waste of time. It comes from a posture of fear – rather than state what you believe and then leave the matter with God, these kind of events offer up the lowest common denominator, the pieces of faith that are so innocuous that not only do they fail to offend, they fail to inspire. But since no blood is shed, everyone pats themselves on the back for being so “tolerant.”

Well, what’s so great about tolerance?

A good deal of my life is lived tolerantly, and that doesn’t make me a great person, or even a good one. I tolerate speed limits that I think are lousy; I tolerate alarm clocks that go off earlier than they ought to. I tolerate freezing cold mornings and icy windows. I tolerate junk mail and bad radio ads and Internet popups. I tolerate clients and customers and coworkers who are ignoramuses and weasels. I tolerate long hours and screaming children and the necessity of doing the dishes every damn day of the week.

There are things, every day, that I like to do, and there are things, every day, that I refuse to do. Everything else, I tolerate.

And that’s the same with everyone, isn’t it? How many of us, when taking out the garbage for the billionth time, finally throw the bin into the middle of the road and scream “Enough! I refuse to tolerate this!” and then run screaming into the night? Do you hang up on a friend who’s probably been talking a little too long, or do you listen tolerantly, albeit hoping that something comes along to rescue you?

Tolerance is a fact of life, and it’s one of the least exciting ones, at that.

It’s sad, then, that there are so many people who have such a low tolerance threshold. Tolerance itself is a pretty measly standard in and of itself. If too many human beings are so reprehensible that you can’t even tolerate them, then maybe there’s something wrong with you, not them. And that something is not something that can be cured by a namby pamby interfaith gathering, which is, itself, pretty intolerable. If you’re willing to injure or kill someone else because of how or what they worship, I’m doubting that watching a choir of Muslim children sing the Five Pillars of Islam to the tune of Yankee Doodle is going to dissuade you. (That was very weird, but I tolerated it just the same.)

Still, it was nice to see a group of Jewish children and a group of Muslim children singing together. I liked that. And I really liked the bagpiper who played “Amazing Grace.” That transported me back to Edinburgh Castle in 1988 at the Edinburgh Tattoo, with a lone bagpiper standing atop the ramparts of the castle, illuminated by a single spotlight.

Everything else I tolerated. Until I finally had to get up and go to the bathroom.

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