Tolerance, not conformity

Imagine for a moment that we are a newly renamed SMU in, let’s say at random, 2084. SMU, now known as “So Much Unity,” (because “Southern Methodist University” was inherently discriminatory of other geographical areas, religions and levels of education) is a now place of perfect unity, diversity and tolerance, and to think otherwise is a thought crime of the highest offense.

Now imagine that to question the ideal of tolerance, which no longer means accepting people as equal but rather means accepting all world views as valid, is the only unforgivable sin. To not do so is to come under the eye of the Student Department of Truth, which is responsible for ensuring that all students are on the “right” side, or the “forward” side, of history. Anyone who questions this aim is a hateful, backwards-thinking bigot who must be immediately transferred to SMU-in-Love, an away campus that offers students the exceedingly pleasant experience of reevaluating their misguided thoughts and correcting them.

Does this sound like a better SMU? No. It is a dystopian SMU where all thinking must conform to the newspeak of the day, including the often-undefined notions of tolerance and rights.

Relatedly, to use the phrase “right side of history” is to revive the pre-World War I idea that history moves in a predetermined, inexorable path towards greater progress and human enlightenment, and that to oppose this inevitable future is anti-intellectual and perhaps even immoral.

The problem with this view of history, though, as world-renowned scholar N.T. Wright said, is that “how does [someone] know what ‘history’ will do? And what makes [them] think that history never makes mistakes? The spirit of the age is in any case notoriously fickle.”

Every day, doublespeak, that is, distortive rhetoric, is used to ignite emotions and limit rigorous thinking about issues on campus.

The clear bigotry of a prospective SMU student’s mother — as referenced in Friday’s opinion piece in favor of the LGBT seat — is implied as being characteristic of all who do not support the LGBT seat, which is neither honest nor helpful in the discussion regarding the legitimacy of the seat.

The problem with the criticism offered by supporters of the seat lies in a redefinition of tolerance, or “sincere regard and respect.” Whereas tolerance used to mean that one might disagree with another’s worldview but still respect and even love them as a person, it now means that one must accept all world views as equally valid.

This idea, known as relativism, is neither intellectually honest nor satisfying. As John Piper, a notable theologian, said, “Relativists don’t pursue truth. They make the denial of truth serve them.”

This means that, under the guise of humility, relativists claim that we cannot really know truth, which sounds humble, but, “in claiming to be too lowly to know truth, they exalt themselves as supreme arbiters of what they can think and do,” Piper said.

Thus, relativists conclude that there is no absolute moral standard binding on them.

Their conclusion, though, falls apart when proponents, such as the writer of the opinion piece from last Friday, make statements like, “We need to be on the right side of history, the forward side. And, we need to tell those people who are on the wrong side that they aren’t welcome here.”

They claim that they are about “making students feel safe, valued, heard and understood,” but it is very clear that this claim only applies to those who hold the same views as them. All others are not welcome here.

On a more fundamental level, the notion that all truth is relative and that no one can truly know what is right and what is wrong collapses when we realize that the notion is itself an absolute statement. That is to mean, in saying that there is no absolute truth, one makes a claim of absolute, or ultimate, truth.

Since all moral claims, whether true or false, are absolute, there must actually be an absolute, objective standard outside of us. While sincerely regarding and respecting all people, we must be allowed to engage in honest conversations about erroneous world views.

Since the referendum for an LGBT seat failed, there is a petition going around that, if supporters garner enough votes, will result in a fly-by-night referendum. Vote as you will. But think first. Ask questions. Weigh arguments, not groundless emotional appeals, and then decide.

Downen is a sophomore majoring in marketing.

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