Following on from last week’s Editorial, “A little bit me, a little bit you”, there are some important points to be made, especially in the light of some of the comments posted on social media about it. There was a great deal made about the way in which people of one form of religious belief “oppress” and “persecute” others, especially those of a different sexual orientation. One poster asked: “Is tolerance so double edged that the victims must tolerate their systemic abuser because they have a right to believe and practice what religion tells them is just?”
I have to wonder what is meant by “systemic abuser”. Believing that another’s point of view is wrong, or simply misguided, is not systematic abuse. The poster, for example, believes that religious people holding different views from them are wrong and seems to think this should not be tolerated. How is this different from the views to which they are objecting?
Let me repeat what I think is necessary in a healthy society: we have to accept that people who believe or think differently from us may be sincere, and we cannot expect them to change their opinion to suit our opinions. Of course, if there really is “systemic” abuse, in the sense of legislation, or anything which contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that must be opposed. But Section 2 of the Charter also guarantees what it calls fundamental freedoms:
“2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.”
Another poster seems to accuse the Times of publishing hate speech: “When a news organization re-posts articles that promulgate hate speech, they should be charged under the laws of that country. Opinion differences are to be expected in a place where there are many differing religions, ethnicities, gender and sexual identities. Showcasing hate and saying that opinion is valid is never acceptable.”
Since we have done nothing of the sort, perhaps we are not the subject of this comment; but it is still a dangerous thing to suggest, especially since freedom “thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”, are also fundamental.
Perhaps it would be well to remember our shared history. Not very long ago, alternative sexual orientations were illegal in Canada. This was rectified, and rightly so. Religious beliefs and practices need to be safeguarded, but some of the responses to recent issues in North Grenville seem to be edging toward making them unacceptable, and statements of religious belief are being treated on the same level as hate speech. This is not a good place for a liberal democracy to go.
Let me be completely clear here: I am a Christian. This does not mean I believe others who disagree with my beliefs should be excluded, discriminated against, or in any way treated as less than equal citizens. Using a broad brush to label all Christians, all gays, all men, all ethnic groups as somehow a homogenous mass sharing identical views and attitudes is completely wrong. That is how persecution starts: Jews, Blacks, Irish, Japanese, and so many others have been oppressed and abused as a group, simply because they were all singled out as the Other, the Enemy within, the ones we should be watching and even putting away somewhere they can’t do any harm.
The balance required in a liberal democratic society does not mean that we all have to agree with each other. It is a difficult and a messy thing: agreeing to disagree without making the Other out to be beyond the pale. It has taken centuries for our system to develop, and it has not stopped developing even yet. Democracies can fail: wrong directions can be taken, and retrograde moves can be made. What is needed, as always, is education: not just in schools, but in our own minds.
If you find someone, or some group, makes you uncomfortable or even angry, find out more about them. Learn what they believe and why. Learn that they are not just a single group, but individuals, each with their own history, ideas, and at a different place in their lives and thoughts. We are so quick to label people. So quick to take offense, often on behalf of other people. I have known people who considered me a closet terrorist, just because I’m Irish. I have known many indigenous people who are automatically labelled as drunks and scroungers, just because of their ethnicity. There is hate speech and there is hateful thought and attitudes. Examine yourself, and make sure that’s not true of you. We all depend on you: it is your democratic responsibility.