Tolerance needs to go: the Humanist Club challenges Whitworth norms

by Nathan Tegrotenhuis

Cultural tolerance is a terrible virtue. I’m not ethnocentric or bigoted, but I think tolerance has to go. If you are not allowed to criticize other cultures, but must accept them unqualified, how can you say that American slavery was evil? It was an integral part of the culture. What can you say about racism and forced segregation? You must call them evil, but within certain cultures they were sterile and normal.

You might say examples are extreme, but think about modern cultures. From a western perspective, Islamic culture grossly oppresses women, controls speech, and institutionalizes violence through terrorism and abuse. Yet Islamic culture has fair criticisms of the West. We sexually objectify one another, we obsess over material gain at the expense of the spirit, and we exploit the poor through usury.

Nobody actually wants tolerance. Tolerance is condescending. Western tolerance says to the other, like an insect under a microscope: “Your culture is so interesting! I can’t criticize it. I just want to learn about it.” The insect, flattered by the interest in his culture, wonders why this scientist is only inspecting from a distance instead of adopting the culture himself. The obvious dishonesty of tolerance betrays the hidden self-superiority of Westerners.

Tolerance is an ideal of western culture, but any conviction in it evaporates under fire. It is not surprising that Islamic culture is intolerant of western free speech, as displayed by Europe’s unrest over the Danish Muhammad cartoons. In the western response were some calls for censorship, but the more popular opinion was that free speech is important intolerance. Today, anti-Islamic trends in Europe show that tolerance is only given to cultures who reciprocate it. What value does it have then?

Given the error of tolerance, and keeping in mind that all cultures have evils, how should we relate to other cultures? When your culture is criticized by an outsider, you are likely to dismiss their objections as naive. The evils of the outsider’s culture further will undermine their argument.

If you have a problem with another culture, I tell you “Physician, heal thyself!” Cultures are not isolated. They influence each other. If you change your own culture for the better, those changes may spread like a virus.

You can’t reject your culture. To do so would be to reject the only way you know how to get along with people. Without a culture, you are without an identity. You must embrace your culture with the love of a parent, and discipline it, reinforcing what is good and correcting sins.

How can you change your culture? Just thinking about it won’t work. To know the good isn’t to do the good. You know the good by doing it. I think that materialism and capitalism are wrong, but I still want to make money and I still buy products that I know sustain violence and inequality. I don’t really believe these are wrong in my heart. I only think they are wrong intellectually.

Talking about it won’t work either. If you are the culture you want to change, talking is just like screaming into a pillow. To change yourself, change your deeds. If you want to change those around you, your words will only alienate them. Nobody is going to be converted by an obviously immoral preacher. Instead, his hypocrisy leads to his rejection.

If you are a alone in a foreign land, you have no choice but to adapt to the surrounding culture.  This is very traumatic. The ways you learned as a child don’t work anymore. You are wrenched from your old culture and forced to integrate.

Members of the Humanist Club at Whitworth reject cultural castration. Their legitimate criticisms of Christianity disconnect them from the culture of Whitworth. Fortunately, they are not lonely aliens. They are more common than they may realize. It is easy to assume every Whitworth student is a Christian, but that is far from true.

At Whitworth, if you do good deeds, people assume you do them for Christian reasons. The Humanist Club wants to challenge that cultural assumption, to show you can change the world for the better through human effort, without relying on a deity. Thus they seek to change their broader culture by changing their behavior. Part of that change is making it safer to be a non-believer at Whitworth.

Refugees are intentionally resettled in cities with communities of their own cultures. That gives them a safe place to give and receive support, air frustrations and feel at home, embracing their own cultures.  The Humanist Club is such a place for those who self-identify as religious outsiders. Finding solidarity helps them realize they are not alone. It should help them strengthen their voice to speak up in discussions when they think differently. Maybe someone listening agrees and may realize they are not alone.

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