Liberty vs. Tolerance

Yesterday I had the “privilege” of listening to Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College discussing his institution on an episode of Fresh Air. He gave me the creeps. PHC is an institution for “Christian home-schooled” kids. 7% of the White House interns last year came from this school.

Of course the guy is pro-life and anti-homosexuality, so of course I was against him from the get-go. But he got into a really interesting discussion about the difference between liberty and tolerance. He brought up the Act of Toleration, which allowed protestants in England to worship, under certain conditions. It was sort of like the Jim Crow laws. Farris kept insisting that that is tolerance, and that folks who talk about tolerance today (aka liberals) are the real bigots.
Now, obviously his argument is flawed, because the Act of Toleration and the modern idea of tolerance are pretty freakin’ far apart. When liberals talk about tolerance, we mean putting up with people who have different opinions/practices/beliefs than our own.
However, I was intrigued when he said that we should focus on liberty instead of tolerance. Liberty is a word that sounds good while tolerance is a word that sounds kinda … like a bummer, really. Tolerance focuses on the negative, while liberty focuses on the positive. I actually think he might be onto something here. What if pro-choice and gay-rights activists started emphasizing liberty rather than tolerance? What if we emphasized that all pro-choice women want is the freedom to decide whether they carry a pregnancy to term or not? What if we emphasized that gay couples should have the freedom to marry too?
As a side note, Farris also talked about how marriage is the union between a man and a woman sealed by an approving state, and that the state is really the people, and so gay folks want their marriages approved by society (he said civil unions are the same, and that he’s against them too. Then he had the nerve to talk about how civil unions make gays second-class citizens, as though forbidding ’em to marry doesn’t! Asshat!). That intrigued me too – I really hadn’t thought about it from that point of view. From that perspective, I suppose he has a point. However, from that perspective, I really think that some marriages should be outlawed too. There are plenty of legal, straight marriages now that I sure as shit don’t approve of. (Think of the mockery of marriage so many celebrities make, for example.)
Again, I have to say that I think the solution is to rephrase the legal aspect of marriage altogether. It’s not that the state approves or disapproves of anybody’s marriage (hell, interracial marriage got legalized and there are still folks who don’t approve of that!), it’s that the state recognizes the contract formed between two adults who want to spend the rest of their lives together. Without marriage, there are so many rights you don’t get! Things one never thinks of. The right to visit your partner in hospital. The right to have a say in their care if they’re incapacitated. All the rights one has to close kin (parents, children, etc).
In closing, I’d like to say that listening to Farris talk made me physically ill. I was actually nauseous listening to him. He’s a hypocrite – he pretends to be all about liberty but he isn’t, and he’s all about the evangelical conservative nasty sort of Christianity, which I am convinced Jesus wouldn’t want to have anything to do with. Euuuuch. Makes me want to go out and be a major activist. I have got to get my life more organized so I can reach out and do something.

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