Monday, June 13, 2011

What is tolerance?

I have been complained at more than once for being sharply critical of aspects of other religions that I consider to be abusive, and people have said that this is intolerant of me.

For example, if a tradition has a doctrine that women are less valuable than men, or that LGBT people are less moral than straight people, why shouldn't I (or anyone else) criticise it? And if that tradition has a doctrine that its leaders can do or say no wrong, then that doctrine is clearly going to lead to abuses of power, because there are no protections in the structure of that tradition for the laity. Or if the tradition has a cult of personality around one person, that can also lead to abuses of power. (I am thinking of more than one tradition here.)

It is supposedly the role of religion to speak truth to power, so if one's own tradition or another tradition is abusing its power, then there is nothing wrong with saying so - provided one couches one's criticism in constructive terms, and backs it up with facts. I dislike the intolerant view of some atheists that all religions are completely barking mad, because they can't be bothered to sort out the facts, or distinguish between traditions; or the view of some Pagans that all Christians are intolerant fundamentalists; or the view of some Christians that all Pagans are bad (and so on).

Being tolerant does not preclude criticising other traditions, provided it is done in a constructive and nuanced way (and I would be the first to admit that I do not always live up to the ideal of being constructive and nuanced in my utterances, although I hope my underlying views are constructive and nuanced). I would not want to give offence to anyone, because apart from the desire not to hurt people's feelings, giving offence just puts people on the defensive, and then they cease to hear what was actually being said.

Tolerance does not mean turning a blind eye to abusive practices, or ignoring the doctrines and power structures that give rise to those abusive practices. It does not mean sweeping things under the carpet and pretending they don't exist. It does mean engaging in constructive dialogue between groups, and acknowledging their right to exist and form associations with like-minded others. It also means acknowledging and celebrating the good aspects of different traditions, and not always picking on the bad stuff. It does not mean passive acceptance of things one disagrees with.

Also, tolerance goes hand-in-hand with freedom and reason. The freedom to reach different conclusions about things by using one's reason; to debate them in a courteous manner; and to engage in constructive dialogue rather than just projecting stereotypes on others.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Stonewall: It Gets Better... Today

I am very glad to see that Stonewall have started a UK version of the It Gets Better Project.

Stonewall's version is called It Gets Better... Today. It gets better today because you can get support by calling Stonewall's helpline number: 08000 50 20 20

Two thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people have experienced homophobic bullying. However, where schools have said homophobic bullying is wrong gay pupils are sixty per cent less likely to have been bullied.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The complexity of marriage law

The subject of marriage and what is legal and what is not is getting increasingly more confusing, especially since a Liberal Jewish synagogue was in the news recently for performing a same-sex marriage (which is recognised by Liberal Judaism but not by the state). Apparently Scotland is just about to begin a process of consultation about same-sex marriage. So here's a list of what is and is not currently legal:

Legal (permitted by law and recognised by the state):
  • Opposite-sex church weddings (couple legally married and registered)
  • Same-sex civil partnerships in a register office / registered premises for weddings
  • Opposite-sex marriages in a register office / registered premises for weddings
The law allows, but there's no mechanism for implementing:
  • Religious civil partnerships (civil partnership ceremonies in a religious building)
Not forbidden by law, but not recognised by the state
  • same-sex blessings in a church / synagogue
  • same-sex marriages in a church / synagogue where the marriage is recognised by the church / synagogue  but not by the state
  • Pagan handfastings (weddings) in England & Wales - both same and opposite sex
  • Pagan same-sex handfastings in Scotland
  • Blessings of polyamorous relationships
Illegal (not permitted by law):
  • Same-sex church weddings (couple legally married and registered)
  • Opposite-sex civil partnerships in a register office / registered premises for weddings
  • Same-sex marriages in a register office / registered premises for weddings
  • Marrying more than one person
Another difficulty is that if a transsexual married to a person of the opposite sex to their original sex wants to change their birth certificate to reflect their new sex, they would have to divorce their partner (whereas if same sex marriage were legal, they could stay married).

Legal (permitted by law and recognised by the state) in Scotland only:
Have I missed anything?