The end of tolerance
by Zac Alstin
The illusion that moral diversity is a viable social strategy is at its last gasp.
A British Member of Parliament has given voice to the idea that religious organisations should be forced to perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, Conservative MP Mike Weatherly wrote: “As long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples, there will be inequality. Such behaviour is not be [sic] tolerated in other areas, such as adoption, after all.”
Weatherly’s reference to adoption is apt, since the British government passed anti-discrimination laws in 2007 that prohibit adoption agencies from refusing to adopt children to same-sex couples. These laws were met with protest from Catholic adoption agencies in particular, some of which have since chosen to comply.
Another noteworthy case featured a Christian couple with a good track record as foster-parents who lost their approval as carers after the High Court found that their “traditionalist” religious views on homosexuality could conflict with the welfare of foster children. As the couple in question protested: “We are prepared to love and accept any child. All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing.”
Many people are understandably concerned about these attempts to drive religious groups from the public square, or to make them conform to moral principles they cannot accept. But these signs of growing intolerance to moral diversity are part of a deeper change that is inevitable and will be beneficial in the long run, as society is forced to take ethics seriously once more.
Let me explain: for about sixty or so years, Western culture has been engaged in a protracted rebellion against whole swathes of public ethics. For whatever reason, our culture has effectively disdained to engage in moral debate on subjects that pertain primarily to matters that prick the individual conscience, or invoke personal moral responsibility.
Ethical reflection has instead been consumed with ‘big picture’ social issues, the kinds of moral problems that fall upon whole societies to remedy: class struggle, poverty, and disadvantage; racial prejudice, civil rights, and institutionalised racism; gender equality; environmental issues; the problem of nuclear weapons and disarmament. Of course the individual plays a role, but his efforts are fruitless without profound social and cultural change.