No compromise will ever be possible as long as zealots wield their rejection of prejudice as a weapon to practice prejudice
Prejudice [prej-uh-dis]. Noun. 1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. 2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable. 3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
According to these definitions from Dictionary.com, it's clear that there are two essential components to prejudice: first, it is a form of opinion, not fact; second, it must be unreasonable or preconceived.
Please follow closely here: this implies that, for any opinion to avoid being prejudicial, the one holding that opinion must be able to articulate three things: 1) why he believes his opinion is correct; 2) why those who believe otherwise think they are correct; and 3) why those with whom he argues are wrong.
This is a matter of simple logic. First, if I can't explain what I believe, then my beliefs are -- by definition -- prejudicial. Second, if I can't explain someone else's opinion, then rejecting that opinion is -- also by definition -- prejudicial. And third, if I can't explain why I disagree with someone else's opinion, that is -- again, by definition -- prejudicial.
But who am I kidding? We live in a world of sound bites and slogans, a world in which image trumps substance, in which feelings trump logic, in which the loudest voice drowns out all opponents and the most inflammatory rhetoric attracts the largest audiences. The new morality that rages against prejudice is mostly smoke-and-mirrors; indeed, the people who cry out against prejudice the loudest are the most prejudicial people of all.
Even worse, offenders of the new morality are not permitted to go quietly into the night and live their lives according to their principles. They are hunted down as thought-criminals and impaled upon the trident of litigation, social media pressure, and economic sanction. With prejudice.
ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE AND MARRIAGE
The great Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis wisely observed that, "We must be ever on our guard, lest we erect our prejudices into legal principles." But that was a long time ago.
More recently -- in June, 2015, as a matter of fact -- five Supreme Court justices conjured up a previously unnoticed constitutional right to gay marriage by rubbing the lamp of feelings and personal bias. And where was the outcry from the prejudice-zealots against the corruption of judicial process? There was none, of course, for the obvious reason that their side won.
Doubtless, the Framers of the Constitution would be horrified by the perversion of the hallowed document they crafted to buffer society against the winds of human impetuosity and moral relativism. They would certainly stand with Chief Justice John Roberts in his observation that "for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority's approach is deeply disheartening."
All the more disheartening is the predictable consequence that adherents of time-honored values are already being persecuted for defending their right to moral conscience -- a right that lies much closer to the heart of the Constitution than Justice Anthony Kennedy's purple ponderings about "unique fulfillment" and "profound hopes and aspirations."
The zealots did stir to action, however, when a majority of voters in Mississippi passed legislation to protect vendors from forced participation in functions that violate their own religious beliefs. These people were not voting to stop gay marriage or override the Supreme court ruling. They merely wanted to be free from having to endorse a practice that goes against their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
Without the force of law behind them, the prejudice-zealots moved quickly to apply economic pressure through the threat of corporations removing their business presence from those districts. If they could not impose their will through judicial fiat, they would collude in the the financial persecution of those with whom they disagree. All in the name of freedom from hatred, prejudice, and liberty. All under the banner of tolerance.
AN UNEXPECTED ALLIANCE
Although it will not be interpreted as such by many, the most lucid approach to finding common ground arrives in the form of apostolic exhortation released last week by Pope Francis titled "Amoris Laetitia" or "The Joy of Love."
In it, the Pontiff writes: "A pastor cannot feel that it is enough to simply apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular' situations, as if they were stones to throw at people's lives."
This is a brilliantly crafted statement, the nuances of which will pass largely unnoticed. It implies simultaneously that morality is what it is, but also that individual circumstances do not allow for a one-size-fits-all clerical response. There is a middle ground of acknowledging the various emotional and physiological realities that underlie homosexual attraction and validating the sincerity of those who long for the stability and support of a marriage-relationship without conceding that same-sex marriage is morally (or legally) acceptable. It is possible to empathize with those who want validation for the legitimacy of their relationships while maintaining that those relationships are nevertheless "irregular."
In a broader sense, Pope Francis offers a sober assessment of how to heal a society being torn apart by culture wars. Traditionalists are sometimes too eager to reach into other people's lives, and progressives frequently reject the moral boundaries necessary to protect the freedom of even the most ardently amoral people. As long as each side is determined to destroy the other, we will continue to slip inexorably toward the kind of chaos that will eventually deprive us all of the freedom we hold so dear.
No compromise will ever be possible as long as zealots wield their rejection of prejudice as a weapon to practice prejudice. Only by learning to treat even our ideological enemies with respect will we save the culture that allows us to live free.