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‘Error Has No Rights’

Ben Stevens writes at First Things:

If you have paid any attention at all to the current and ever-livelier dialogue between the LGBT movement and the Christian community, you have no doubt heard the question being asked of Christians everywhere: Do you realize how bigoted your views are? This is of course a trick question, and Christians are not doing themselves any favors by trying so hard to answer it.

A number of different suggestions have been made as to the most civil and sensible way for Christians to respond to accusations of bigotry, but the best is to simply point out what is being ignored in the accusation itself: the fundamental realities of modernity.

Stevens then quotes the eminent sociologist of religion Peter Berger’s observation that the condition of modernity is one of a highly contentious pluralism. Why? Because you can take so little for granted. Things you thought were settled questions — that were, in fact, settled questions — no longer are. Stevens adds:

To the extent that a society becomes “modern,” then, it will be packed with people who hold to widely divergent beliefs and values, any of which may be questioned. And the glue of this system is not that we all agree with one another but that we make a commitment to not always equate disagreement, or even disapproval, with bigotry.

Following this logic, to the extent that the LGBT movement calls any disagreement with its own premises an expression of bigotry — which is to say, irrational hatred — it might be thought of as an anti-modern movement. Recall, then, Pius IX’s infamous 1864 anti-modern document, the Syllabus of Errors, which, while not using the precise phrase, depended on the principle that “error has no rights.” Similarly, the position of many LGBT activists and their supporters seems to be that to opposition to their position is not only incorrect, but so immoral it doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously (because that is ascribing a viewpoint to “bigotry” implies).

Stanley Fish says holding a double standard — one standard for one’s allies, another for one’s enemies — makes sense. He discusses this in criticizing those who pointed out that liberals excused in Bill Maher and others what they condemned in Rush Limbaugh. Excerpt:

If we think about the Rush Limbaugh dust-up from the non-liberal — that is, non-formal — perspective, the similarity between what he did and what Schultz and Maher did disappears. Schultz and Maher are the good guys; they are on the side of truth and justice. Limbaugh is the bad guy; he is on the side of every nefarious force that threatens our democracy. Why should he get an even break?

There is no answer to that question once you step outside of the liberal calculus in which all persons, no matter what their moral status as you see it, are weighed in an equal balance. Rather than relaxing or soft-pedaling your convictions about what is right and wrong, stay with them, and treat people you see as morally different differently. Condemn Limbaugh and say that Schultz and Maher may have gone a bit too far but that they’re basically O.K. If you do that you will not be displaying a double standard; you will be affirming a single standard, and moreover it will be a moral one because you will be going with what you think is good rather than what you think is fair. “Fair” is a weak virtue; it is not even a virtue at all because it insists on a withdrawal from moral judgment.

I know the objections to what I have said here. It amounts to an apology for identity politics. It elevates tribal obligations over the universal obligations we owe to each other as citizens. It licenses differential and discriminatory treatment on the basis of contested points of view. It substitutes for the rule “don’t do it to them if you don’t want it done to you” the rule “be sure to do it to them first and more effectively.” It implies finally that might makes right. I can live with that.

Ah. Useful to get that learned.

The challenge to all of us who live in modern societies is to figure out how to defend what we believe is morally true while living with a decent respect for those who disagree with us, and having a decent respect for their liberties. It’s hard to do, in part because not all positions, or people, can be reconciled. It’s even harder when you find people who are only using the language of liberalism — especially words like “dialogue,” “diversity,” and “tolerance” — tactically. The strategy is always the same, though — and in that sense, I’m not being sarcastic when I say that Fish’s argument really is useful to get learned. It will keep you from being surprised when the apostles of Fairness and Tolerance turn out to be anything but.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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