Last week in Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, openly gay leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, scored a surprise election victory good enough to form a majority government.
Political pundits predicted a closer race with a minority Liberal or Progressive Conservative government as the likely outcome. In the post-election analysis, another surprise outcome surfaced.
Political observers cite the fact that Wynne’s sexual orientation as a gay person did not become an election issue.
As a matter of fact, observers note that there was very little mudslinging throughout the campaign. The conclusion drawn by these observers is that in the past decade or so the people of Ontario have become more tolerant than ever before.
This begs the question, what do we mean by tolerant?
Well, let’s consider one online dictionary definition I found: ” showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with“.
On the one hand, I cannot argue with the definition itself, but I found the wording to be saddening. A tolerant person is “willing to allow the existence…” of beliefs, religions, moral codes, sexual orientation, etc. I’m saddened because the concept is intellectually arrogant.
Who am I, as a person, to disallow another human being the right to believe as they see fit? Who am I to deny the existence of another person’s sexual orientation?
It has been my experience during more than five decades of living that there are individuals and communities who feel the need to control other people’s lives. I honestly believe that the need to control others, on the part of some, is at the root of intolerance. Because they feel this need to control, they assume they have the right to control others.
In other words, their compulsion to control others eradicates the right of others to follow their beliefs, etc. Those people who refuse to fall into line are marginalized at best and become victims of discrimination at worst. In my mind, this is just wrong.
I was raised in the 1950s and 1960s as a Roman Catholic. Among all the doctrines and morals we were taught, was the overriding concept that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church. Therefore it follows that all other Christian churches and major religions throughout the world were in error.
Catholics had a monopoly on the truth. Pope John XXIII softened that position by championing the cause of ecumenism, which, it was hoped, would someday lead to the unification of the Christian denominations. That was back in the 1960s and the movement resulted in some dialogue but not much else. Because we belonged to the one, true faith, Church law forbade us to attend any non-Catholic services without the express blessing of the local bishop.
Earlier I stated that intolerance is wrong. I take this position because it serves only the interests of the controllers. Too often I’ve witnessed families torn apart because a member chose to leave the Catholic Church, or “outed” themselves with regard to their sexual orientation.
I’ll never forget the Sunday morning when it was announced from the pulpit that the Prime Minister of Canada was excommunicated from the Church because he sponsored Canada’s gay marriage law. The priest even went so far as to suggest that we married folks in the congregation no doubt felt that our own marriages had been debased by that law. I was outraged! I waited until after the service to shake the dirt from my sandals and decide not to return again.
These kinds of things sadden me. But the really vicious manifestations of intolerance frighten me no end! Too often we’ve witnessed wars fought in the name of religion. “Death to the infidels, or unbelievers!” We bore witness to the holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe.
In previous centuries there was the series of wars between Islam and Christianity known as The Crusades. In our own time, we have nations being torn by civil war due to religious and/or cultural differences. These are complex issues that bring bloodshed to Syria, Iraq, and the Ukraine, to name a few.
Yes, they are complex because when you begin to peel back the layers of problems besetting these nations, you’ll find at their root the same cause: intolerance and the need to control.
On election night last week, Kathleen Wynne was also being hailed as the first woman to be elected as Premier of Ontario. Now that is no mean feat! It is interesting to note that two of the three main political parties had female leaders. Happily, the gender of the leaders was not an election issue either.
It would seem clear that Ontario is more gender tolerant than at any other time in its history. In my own riding of Kitchener-Waterloo, the four main candidates seeking election to the Ontario Legislature were women. Fascinating! And yet throughout many parts of the world today, this could not happen.
We’re all aware that women are banned from formal education in countries ruled by fundamentalist religions.
We have borne witness to the countless women who defied those laws and suffered torture, rape, enslavement, and even death as a result.
In my upcoming series of novels, The Genesis Saga, I write about a futuristic society that is still grappling with religious and gender intolerance. The struggle for reform is met with opposition in the form of violent terrorist attacks.
Why is this the case in a human society in the 2790s?
Why aren’t they more advanced than that?
Why must they exert great effort to protect their elected female President?
The answer to that also saddens me. Throughout human history, amid all of the advances in knowledge, science, and technology, there is one unchanging constant: human nature. We are built to fear that which is different. Some of us can overcome that fear, while others among us succumb to it.
As well, we seek to control others as an affirmation of our own beliefs and sense of personal worth. As my dear religious studies professor, Father Henry Hall, used to say: “We live in hope.”
The Earthers live by that… in The Genesis Saga.