Saturday, November 22, 2008

One-way Tolerance=No-way Tolerance

Some of you probably read this article in the Saturday (11/22) edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. To be sure, it is a wonderful gesture, one of those "diversity" things that cause us to all join hands and sing "Kum Ba Yah". But when I read the article I found it gave me a sense of vague uneasiness. Something was missing. That something is: reciprocity. Where are the Islamic boys being lectured by the Jewish people about the Jewish religion? Where are the Jewish boys being lectured by the Christians about Christianity?

This whole program smacks of what I call "one-way multiculturalism". Apparently the folks who initiated this program have determined that only one group of people is capable of intolerance and in need of training. Honestly now, who could blame the boys who are the subject of this article for being a bit resentful and rebelling at this training? To be sure, the guy who started this program probably feels all warm and fuzzy. But is he really accomplishing anything when only half of the folks involved are exposed to learning "tolerance"?

The sheer arrogance of these programs appalls me. It closely parallels the "soft bigotry of low expectations", the concept that says that if you, say, live in the inner city that you are automatically incapable of excelling on your own and without a special government program simply because you are a resident of the inner city. Programs such as this one in question apparently feel that kids who are Jewish and Islamic are incapable of being intolerant and bigoted. They may be in the minority, but just as African-Americans can be racist towards white Americans, Jewish and Islamic folks can be prejudiced against Christians. One look at the Middle East will tell you that Jews and Muslims can be intolerant (at the very least!). No matter who has power, bigotry is bigotry and intolerance and intolerance. Simply to fix half of the equation does more damage than to fix none of the equation.

The other problem that I have with these sorts of programs is that they assume that all Christians are the same, believe the same things, and are motivated for the same reasons of belief. That is incredibly wrong and is totally ignorant of history. Just off hand as I write this I can think of churches that fit the following streams of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, evangelical Protestantism, liberal Protestantism, fundamentalist Protestantism, Pentecostal Christianity, charismatic Christianity, Greek Orthodox Christianity, Russian Orthodox Christianity (note to "Seinfeld" devotees: there is no "Latvian Orthodox"). A Christian who attends, say, Elmbrook, would have a pretty tough time grasping the complexities of the Greek Orthodox faith. A Russian Orthodox Christian might well feel uncomfortable with the worship at a Pentecostal service. So, to paint Christianity with a broad brush is not quite being fair, or tolerant, or multi-cultural.

Indeed, I have first hand experience with internal intolerance among Christians, Christians who brayed about how tolerant and multi-cultural they were at that. Quite a few years ago, when I was still a member of the ultra-liberal (theologically and politically) denomination called the United Church of Christ, our daughter at age 13 was scheduled to begin confirmation classes. The pastor told us about the program and how the kids were going to visit a mosque and get lectured by the imam about the Islamic religion, then go to a synagogue and be lectured by the Rabbi about Judaism, and that a Native American shaman was going to lecture the kids about his religion. Anyone see a problem here? No where in that program were the kids getting exposed to and lectured by evangelical Christians, Pentecostal Christians, charismatic Christians, Roman Catholic Christians. When I asked the pastor about this he made it quite clear that he felt that question was out of line. In short, our daughter was going to end up knowing all about those other religions, direct from the source, and be totally ignorant of what other Christians believe. That was the last straw in a long and painful separation from that denomination. My wife and I vowed that our daughter was never going to go through confirmation in the UCC. We left the church and denomination shortly afterwards and have never regretted it.

For all of the vaunted rhetoric about multi-culturalism, tolerance, and diversity it is always a one-way street. I'm not claiming that I'm aware of every program, but I can't think of an instance of kids from a mosque or synagogue being lectured by a pastor from, say, Oak Creek Assembly of God, Milwaukee Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Elmbrook Church. When is the last time that you heard about a busload of Hindu kids going to the Cousins Center to be lectured by Archbishop Dolan? Perhaps they have and I'm just ignorant of it.

Any multicultural program that pats itself on the back for running kids down a one-way street is, IMHO, seriously misguided.

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