As you consider voting, a minimal standard

We Canadians are about to vote in the imminent national election, and many of us are rather desperate to find leaders and parties to support with anything like enthusiasm. A lot of us seem to be clearer about whom and what we don’t like than about whom and what we do.

Here, therefore, is one good question to ask: Which leader and party seem most prepared to live with, and even work with, those they don’t like?

These are bad days for tolerance. To be sure, they’re much better days than many other countries in the world are experiencing, and they’re better than many days in Canada’s past as well. Our society, however, seems to be souring on the very idea of tolerance. “Affirmation!” we cry, since it’s such a positive word. And yet affirmation draws a much smaller circle than does tolerance. Tolerance is, in fact, the more expansive, more accommodating word.

One can look south for intolerance and see our American cousins coming apart yet again in anticipation of what may be in 2020 the most polarized election in a generation. “Zero tolerance” is everywhere, it seems.

Meanwhile in Britain, a panel of judges recently upheld the firing of an experienced Christian physician for refusing to promise that he would use feminine pronouns for a large, bearded man simply because that man indicated his preference for a female identity.

According to the New York Times, the tribunal decided that “belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.” Thus traditional Christian ethics were ruled out of court as literally intolerable.

Meanwhile, Quebec has its discriminatory Bill 21, Ontario has its colleges of lawyers and physicians who refuse to countenance conscientious objection, and all of us have a Supreme Court that nods toward religious freedom only to set it aside when it conflicts with the reigning orthodoxy of post-Christian liberal secularism.

A generation ago, sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann observed how different social worlds—different views of things as held by different groups of people—often had trouble recognizing each other as even sane, let alone as legitimate alternative outlooks. Indeed, psychiatry itself depends on one or another social world to determine whether this person’s opinion is “reality-oriented” or not. And if your views don’t happen to be legitimated by that social world, by definition you’re crazy.

What we’re encountering more and more, it seems, is not simply a preference for one viewpoint over another, let alone a thorough and compelling argument for one viewpoint over another, but flat denials that other viewpoints are even rational or moral. No more, “I beg to differ” or “Come, let us reason together.” And moral relativism of the hippie era—“Do your own thing”—is gone with the wind.

No, now it’s “We’re right; you’re wrong; go to hell.” Or, if not hell, then away from your job, away from your professional licence, away from your law school, and away from any recognition that your worldview deserves the slightest respect.

There’s more than one kind of tyranny, and more than one degree of it. In this election, since freedom to proclaim the gospel and to live as God wants us to live has got to be a priority for Christians, we might well look at which leader and which party demonstrates at least a measure of respect for alternative views. Who shows a willingness to work with other ideas and people as partners, rather than as mere obstacles worthy only of contempt, suppression, and even removal?

It’s not the only value to prize in this election, but it’s one we need—perhaps for the first time in a long time—to consider.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).