Intolerant Tolerance: The Myth of Moral Neutrality
by Greg Koukl
General Peter Pace was vehemently denounced and condemned in 2007 for expressing a personal moral judgment that homosexual acts are immoral. The critics excoriated Pace for making a value judgment, while implying that their denunciations of him were themselves morally neutral. In reality, Pace’s critics expressed a moral judgment, too. They declared his comments wrong, not just factually but morally, and their moral outrage was palpable.
Let me make this clear up front: All people, regardless of their sexual orientation or other differences, should be treated fairly. We all have equal intrinsic value and dignity. But the goal of gay-rights advocates isn’t so much to gain rights that they are being denied as to gain societal approval. Thus, their loud denunciations when someone like Pace makes a moral judgment against them.
All the while, these advocates claim that their own position is morally neutral. It isn’t, and it really can’t be. But their objection to judgments like Pace’s reflects the assumption, held by many, that only their opponents are trying to “impose their morality” on society. In fact, it is in the nature of their own advocacy to do so.
Their view, however, reflects one of the most entrenched assumptions of moral relativism in our society today: that there is such a thing as morally neutral ground, a place where no judgments are made and where no one seeks to push his personal views on another; where, instead, everyone takes a neutral posture towards the moral convictions of others. This is the essence of tolerance, or so the argument goes.
Moral neutrality, though, is a myth, as the following illustration shows.
Tolerance and Moral Neutrality
One of the alleged virtues of relativism is its emphasis on tolerance. An articulate example of this point of view was written by Faye Wattleton, the former president of Planned Parenthood, in a piece called “Self-Definition: Morality”:
Like most parents, I think that a sense of moral responsibility is one of the greatest gifts I can give my child. But teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do—and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.
My parents’ morals were deeply rooted in religious conviction but tempered by tolerance—the essence of which is respect for other people’s views. They taught me that reasonable people may differ on moral issues, and that fundamental respect for others is morality of the highest order.
I have devoted my career to ensuring a world in which my daughter, Felicia, can inherit that legacy. I hope the tolerance and respect I show her as a parent is reinforced by the work she sees me doing every day: fighting for the right of all individuals to make their own moral decisions about childbearing.
Seventy-five years ago, Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood to liberate individuals from the “mighty engines of repression.” As she wrote, “The men and women of America are demanding that . . . they be allowed to mold their lives, not at the arbitrary command of church or state but as their conscience and judgment may dictate.”
I’m proud to continue that struggle, to defend the rights of all people to their own beliefs. When others try to inflict their views on me, my daughter or anyone else, that’s not morality: It’s tyranny. It’s unfair, and it’s un-American.
That is impressively and persuasively written, one of the finest expressions of this view available in the space of five short paragraphs. It sounds so sensible, so reasonable, and so tolerant, but there’s a fundamental flaw…
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