Discussing Tolerance

We held our book discussion today at lunch. We discussed two chapters from Psychology’s War on Religion, edited by Nicholas Cummings, William O’Donohue, and Janet Cummings. We’ve previously read and discussed some of the other chapters, including those that touch on the culture war, the relationship between psychology and religion, and the chapter on Islam. Today we discussed chapters 3 (“Intolerance in Psychology: The Problem of Religious Gays”) and 4 (“The Battle Regarding Sexuality”).

We all agreed that we prefer a different metaphor to “war.” I know I felt that way when I was drafting my chapter for the book (“The Battle Regarding Sexuality”). In fact, I opened the chapter explaining that very point but acknowledged that some conventionally religious people in psychology may feel embattled, and I pointed out some examples to illustrate why they might feel that way.

And I would say that many people do feel embattled. Unfortunately, people who feel embattled are not as inclined to engage. It is a challenge I suppose all Christians face, especially Christians involved in a broader field in which their worldview is not respected or tolerated and is often subjected to ridicule, bias, prejudice, and the like. But engaging others is important, too. Finding ways to enter into dialogue about what we hold in common, whether it is psychology itself, the role of science in informing our discussion of a specific topic, specific research findings, or some other thing, it is important to identify what we hold in common as well as those with whom we can discuss and share our common experiences.

I was struck, too, by a comment from one colleague who said that psychology could function more at the level of description as a science – it could describe experiences and human behavior – but that it is often functioning as though it had a vision for how people ought to live. In that way, some people may approach psychology in the way Don Browning wrote about clinical psychology in Religious Thought and the Modern Psychologies. That is, that the models of therapy actually function as moral philosophies. They suggest a way that people ought to live and provide a map for how to get from where they are to where they should go.

It is a real challenge for the so-called culture wars. One group of people will feel less embattled if they do not feel that the other group is advancing a vision for how people ought to live that runs contrary to the beliefs that the one people hold as true. This brings up the question of whether and how to live in a diverse society. This is the true test of diversity and of tolerance. Can we co-exist while we actually disagree? The ability to co-exist based on conformity to a single vision for how people ought to live says nothing about a person’s capacity to show tolerance.

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