Disagreement, dislike and intolerance

Over the past few days, a few stories have been circulating concerning religious tolerance.  I’ve picked up on two of them.  First, there was the case of Kate Forbes and her bid to lead the SNP in Scotland.  Then there was the issue of tensions over treatment of a Quran in a school in West Yorkshire.

Marie Le Conte writes in the New Stateman that “Kate Forbes has the right to think what she likes – and we have the right to dislike her for it”[1]

Stephen Duckworth challenges whether or not we should dislike her here:

Well, I agree with Le Conte, at least so far as the headline goes, the article is behind a paywall so I cannot comment on everything she had to say. Yes, we are entitled to disagree with Kate Forbes and we are allowed to dislike her.

It is possible to disagree with someone whilst liking them.  That’s because what they believe about one specific topic does not tell us everything that there is to know about a person. I get the feeling having watched Kate Forbes on TV that I’d probably get on with her just fine.  Whether or not I’d like her as a person if I got to know her, I cannot say but it is possible that I would.  However, there are some things I would disagree with her on strongly.  Some of them are to do with her religious views, there are aspects of Presbyterianism that I have issues with.  More significantly, she is a Scottish Nationalist, I’m a British Unionist (owing more to m Northern Irish heritage than the English bit), I disagree passionately with the SNP’s agenda.  There are SNP politicians that I find myself taking a dislike to in terms of their media personality (though if I were to meet them in person, I might change my mind) but there are Nationalists I warm to, I find I can respect even as I disagree with them. 

It’s possible to agree with someone and dislike them.  I was a member of a political party back in my student days, I obviously agreed with the party’s overarching philosophy and many of its policies.  I still have some sympathies with that approach today.  There were people I got on well with in the party. However, there were also people I disliked. We didn’t get on.  They may probably disliked me too.  Indeed, some of the people I’ve found myself disliking the most have been those I’ve been closest to politically.  It’s true in church as well, I cannot insist tht you like me, just because we have the same faith.[2]

It is possible to both disagree with and dislike people.  This ism possible both because  we find that we clash in terms of personalities but also, it is possible that although one belief does not tell us everything about a person that it is so significant as to cause us to dislike them.  We cannot completely detach beliefs from character.  You can tell me that a person is charming, polite, great company but if they are committed to Antisemitism then I’m going to dislike them. 

The point is not that we cannot disagree with others nor that we must not dislike them. Rather it’s that simply because I disagree with or dislike someone does not give me a veto over their speech or actions. Nor does the dislike and disagreement of one section of society with another mean that a group within society or society at large can take punitive action against one minority group. 

Tolerance is not about accepting or even getting on with those that we like and agree with. Anyone can do that.  Tolerance is about recognising that there are those in society that I disagree with, there are even those I dislike but I choose to tolerate, accept and welcome them.

Tolerance means that we learn to disagree well.

[1] Kate Forbes has the right to think what she likes – and we have the right to dislike her for it – New Statesman

[2] This is different to loving our brothers and sisters.

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