A Thorny Issue: Tolerance and Parental Rights  
email to Patricia Nell Warren 

Patricia Nell Warren's Personal Page 

Maggie Heineman here.

My email to Patricia closed with the line, "Okay, Patricia, what's the answer to the thorny question?"

Patricia had written  about her appearance on a talk show with a conservative Christian host, Ray,  who was respectful and good to  work with.  She said "We fenced around for half an hour on how safety in school could be achieved without abridging what he views as his right to teach his own kid thathomosexuality is a sin."

I wrote back asking, 
Were you able to wrestle it to the ground?  This is *central*. What I hear from glbt people is "if you don't accept my homosexuality (behavior and all) you cannot love me, and from the other side I hear "Yes I can." 

Why Patricia Nell Warren supports Bridges-Across

Prison Rape and the Spread of AIDS

Choice in Sexual Orientation: The Sword that Cuts Both Ways (re the APA resolution)

The Holidays: Ceremony for Everyone
TheRight to be Spiritual

"And Liberty for All"  in  the South

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A Thorny Issue: Tolerance and Parental Rights

Date: 12/19/97

Hi Maggie,

Thorny issue indeed. I have thought about this a lot. I have been doing some research on Western "civilization" trying to get a clearer fix on how it all started. 

Historically, there has always been an authoritative empire-minded main trend within all three of the religions that shaped the West. The unity of church-state within all three has meant that "religious authority" has incited civil violence against people with whom there was profound disagreement on "religion" and "morality." This is true not only of authoritarian empire-minded Christianity, but of authoritarian empire-minded Islam, and of the authoritarian Hebrews with their Law of Moses as portrayed in the early part of the Old Testament, with its bloody record of entire cities put to the sword because they did not believe in Jehovah and/or did not conform to the mandated morality. 

With Christianity, the intolerance started when  it took over the ruling power and infrastructure of the Roman Empire...which did not "fall", by the way, it became Christian. Some Christians went from being the persecuted, to being the persecutors. The main trend of Christianity, at that time, was to "de-Jew" itself and already under Constantine and Theodosius, laws permitting violence against Jews were passed. The roots of anti-Semitism in the West must be sought in these early times. From those earliest times, the fury of intolerance against Jews are fairly constant in the main line of Christianity. So is the fury of intolerance against any kind of sexual "impropriety," including homosexuals, which date back to that time also, as you can see from the Codex Theodosianus and other laws. 

When the Protestant Reformation happened, it is a curious fact that the authoritarian method was not abandoned by many Protestant rulers. Martin Luther was as anti-Semitic as the most anti-Semitic Catholics ever were. Cromwell's England was an unpleasant place to be if you were a Catholic. The Second Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II was an attempt to Protestantize the old concept of the Holy Roman Empire. 

This is not to say that all three religions didn't develop big branches from the main trunk that were way more tolerant and liberal...because they did, and these disagreements endure to this day. Thus we have the liberal democracy- minded Muslims and the hard-right anti-democracy Muslims at each other's throats, in different countries...Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan. Liberal Israelis and hard-right ultraorthodox Israelis are locked in disagreements that are starting to tear their nation apart, to the point where there will probably be civil war in Israel. Liberal American Jews who have given generously to Israel over the years are now shocked at some of the hard-line attitudes flourishing in their religion, and the disagreements may well tear Judaism apart along international lines. 

Our long Western history of cruel religious authoritarianism, and imposition of belief at swordpoint, has created a concept of "law enforcement" that operates unofficially in the general population as well as officially. Each person feels himself or herself to be the unofficial representative, on the street, of the official religious authority. People are taught that their belief automatically confers some kind of personal "authority" or "moral right" over others. When this happens, there will be violence on the street level. People who operate off these feelings feel that they don't have to wait for law enforcement officers to do their job. The lynch mobs who burned black men for sleeping with white women, the Orthodox Jews who hurl rocks at tourists wearing shorts, the Muslim man who throws acid in the face of a woman wearing no veil -- they all see themselves as "arms of the law." 

The gay-basher who attacks a lesbian on the street or a gay kid at school is the same kind of mentality. He (because it's usually a guy) is a lynch mob of one -- he fully believes that his personal outrage carries the full moral authority of his culture and his government, and often he assumes that the law will exonerate him because he acted out of moral outrage. Indeed, the other day in Fairfax, VA, we had yet another judge giving a light prison sentence to the murderer of a gay man...charges reduced to manslaughter and a sentence of 5 years, with possibility of parole. Gay life is held very can get that much time in prison for beating your dog. 

The street-level "law enforcement" is also a way of helping the formal law- enforcement authorities to enforce compliance to the mandated morality. When enough Muslim women have acid thrown in their faces, all women will tremulously don veils. When enough American men beat their wives, women generally will be docile. When enough queers are bashed and murdered, queers will generally comply, or disappear from sight. Or at least that is the theory and hope of street law. 

To my way of thinking, there are several ways of spotlighting the divide: 

1. People can believe in a thing without (here is the bridge) taking that kind of authoritarian, violent control over others' lives.  

In our schools, the authoritarian person doesn't just want the individual personal freedom of conscience to say that they believe homosexuality is a sin. They want to be in the official representative of authority, the ones who are in total control. They want school districts to be arms of the Christian Empire, as schools have been through most of Western history. Remember that public schools, as we know them, with all our bending over backwards to avoid religious expression, are a very recent invention. Even in the early days of the U.S., until the early 1800s, when the public school system began to evolve and free itself of religious control, all our schools -- including notables like Harvard Divinity School -- were church schools. 

Conservative school authorities know that gay-bashing in their schools unofficially helps hold the line on "morality." They know that the gay- bashers are operating as informal police. That's why they don't do anything to stop it. That's why they say things like, "Well, he asked for it," if a kid is beaten up. Or, "If she wants to be safe at school, she shouldn't be a lesbian." They are content to let the gay-bashing students operate like lynch squads, and help them maintain "moral order" at the school. 

2. People might believe intensely but (here is the bridge) they can give up the age-old idea of belief imposed on others at swordpoint.  

How much real value does a belief have if that belief is forced? If the believer is cowed into place and kept in line by threats of violence, prison, etc? For instance, how much positive human value did Catholic belief have in the minds of 10,000 citizens assembled in a city square, trembling in their shoes as they watched a dozen heretics being burned alive? How much value did the resulting surface conformist Christianity have in native tribes on the reservations, after they were forced to go to mission schools by the threat of having government rations withheld from them? (I have heard all the stories from my tribal relatives of how this was done on the reservation on the northern plains.) much value does "heterosexuality" have in the mind of a gay person who goes through the motions of being straight in order merely to stay alive and unhurt, to get through school and have a job and a life? 

In fact, I have always wondered why the authoritarians aren't embarrassed at the pitiful human record of enforced conformity. 

3. People have the right to think or believe what they will, but (here is the bridge) they must allow others that same right. 

After acting on those beliefs, they also have the right to learn how they feel about it and whether they want to go on believing that, or perhaps to change. Supposedly our concept of "religious liberty" in the U.S. guarantees that right to believe, and to evolve and change our personal belief. "Liberty of thought" has to be available to everyone, not just a controlling majority. 

The gay community has its own responsibilies here. I think that gays and lesbians who demand that others abandon the belief that homosexuality is a sin are making a serious tactical error. After all, those gays and lesbians want to believe what THEY believe, but they won't allow the opposite side to believe with equal intensity. This is dangerous, and it creates a justified outrage in certain Christians that leads to yet more tensions, and violence against us. Likewise, gay people who want to censor the right off the Internet, TV, etc. don't want to be censored themselves. This, too, creates justified outrage on the other side. get back to my show host Jay...I do think such a man should have the right to teach his son that homosexuality is a sin, and his son can have the right to go to school thinking and believing that. But such a man's son doesn't have the right to act on the age-old murderous imperative and beat up another kid on the playground because the kid is gay. 

If a parent doesn't have the right to teach belief to a kid, then what does it mean to be a parent? My parents were conservative Republicans, but they NEVER taught me that it was right to force others to my way. Indeed, I was taught to respect others' beliefs, and to sort belief out for myself. But if a parent's kid goes out into the world and commits violence against others, the kid's actions are a very negative reflection of the parent's teaching! Whenever I see a talk show where white supremacist families are the guests, and I see their little kids whose faces are already twisted with race hate, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Those parents will be reaping the whirlwind in terms of the violence that those kids will someday commit against others. 

This brings me to another point: 

4. A parent ought to have the right to teach belief, but (here is the bridge) there should be parent accountability on the results of those teachings.  

If your parent teachings result in your minor kid going out and having so much contempt for gays that he beats a gay kid to death, or having so much contempt for women that he rapes a girl, or having so much contempt for blacks or Jews that he commits race violence, then you as the parent should also be held accountable by the law. Maybe if parents knew they might go to jail for the racist or anti-gay violence of their kids, they might be more careful of what they teach. 

Remember the scandal about the Spur Posse, and their contemptuous sexual crimes against girls? I wonder what would have happened if the parents had also been held accountable by the court for the behaviour of their sons? Those boys didn't get their attitude out of the blue sky. 

The key concept here is refraining from violence against those with whom we don't agree. "Tolerance," to me, means just this. I don't ask that conservative Christians "accept" my way of thinking, because that would be asking them to give up their belief. But I do ask them to "tolerate" me, meaning that they refrain from trying to kill me or put me in jail for my thinking about sexual diversity. And I ask them to teach this kind of tolerance to their children. 

If we could have just one generation of American youth being taught real tolerance, our country would be a different place. 

The big question is: Is it possible to educate people into this kind of enlightened thinking...where they can believe, but refrain from violating the minds or persons of others in order to impose their belief? I would like to think so. But to do that, we have to undo two thousand years of accumulated attitude and history about Religious Empire. Not an easy task. 

Patricia Nell Warren 

Not an Easy Task: Undoing Religious Empire 

Date: Tue, 03 Feb 1998  From: Patricia Nell Warren 

If a parent doesn't have the right to teach belief to a kid, then what does it mean to be a parent?  

If we could have just one generation of American youth being taught real tolerance, our country would be a different place.  

The big question is: Is it possible to educate people into this kind of enlightened thinking...where they can believe, but refrain from violating the minds or persons of others in order to impose their belief? I would like to think so. But to do that, we have to undo two thousand years of accumulated attitude and history about Religious Empire. Not an easy task.


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