The theatre blogosphere, including me, is currently arguing about atheism and Christianity. OK, fine. Putting it in broader terms, it seems to me that the issue here is how to find a balancing point between, on the one hand, tolerance towards people whose opinions and beliefs differ from your own (a necessary skill in a pluralist, multi-cultural society), and on the other, the holding and defending of strong beliefs. In many respects, these two values are bound to clash. If you believe in something strongly, then you are often going to find yourself wanting to argue with those who do not share your belief, and you'll not being willing to accept the validity of opposing beliefs. On the other hand, if you tolerate everything, then you probably will not be able to believe strongly in anything, because such beliefs will get in the way of your tolerance, and you won't take action to defend anything. As the King of Siam once said, it's a puzzlement.
A spectator strongly believes in certain values (that certain things should nto be said or discussed in front of young people, for instance), and when those values are violated he pours water on a performer's script -- that is plain wrong (because it violates laws against vandalism), and intolerant, but it is an outgrowth of a strong belief; it would have been sufficient had he voted with his feet and left the performance (or better yet, of course, not come to it in the first place). But is it wrong to hold the kind of values that would lead to such behavior in the first place? If so, according to whom? What values is it mandatory that we all share? Another person feels strongly that the kind of beliefs that would lead someone to pour water on a script and leave a performance are ignorant and narrow-minded, and he blasts those who don't share this view through his public blog. But is publicly blasting somebody in print any better than blasting them in person by leaving their performance? Had no water been poured, would leaving a performance and blasting someone in print be similarly intolerant?
Freshmen very often arrive at college with a bad case of naive relativism: you believe what you want, and I'll believe what I want, okay? But what this seemingly benign orientation does is eliminate the possibility of dialogue -- we all get to sit peacefully in our own solipsistic world never to be disturbed by an idea we haven't heard before. Not good. On the other hand, another type of freshman arrives believing that some belief system answers all the questions that could possibly be asked. And again the result is the elimination of the possibility of dialogue. Not good, either. The first freshman accuses the second of intolerance; the second accuses the first of wrong-headedness.
On a more personal level, I accuse David Cote of being intolerant because he has strong feelings about religion while at the same time I defend those who left Mike Daisey's performance as having a right to dobecause they...have strong feelings about religion! What????
Someone asks, in comments, whether one is expected to tolerate intolerance. And the natural response is to say no, one must take a moral stance against certain things. But viewed from another position, is one expected to attack strong feelings as wrong if one disagrees with them? Isn't it OK to feel strongly about, say, the arts and to defend their value in the face of attack? And isn't such a strong belief based on a moral value that is, in some ways, just as faith-based as a belief in God?
I'm just thinking out loud here, trying to come to terms with a contradiction that I am seeing in my argument about the whole Mike Daisey controversy. It is a contradiction that I see in other's opinions about this as well, and I also see it in many of the arguments that have blazed in the theatre blogosphere.
For instance, again using myself as an example, I want to make a point about how ineffective attacking is as a means to change minds. How do I do it? By attacking those who believe the opposite. Others strongly believe that attack is a useful and necessary artistic tactic, and they accuse me of...intolerance! Same pattern.
It seems to me that, until we come to some sort of grip with the issue of tolerance versus strong belief, this pattern will be repeated endlessly. So I'm stepping back to think a bit more deeply about this. How does one promote open dialogue between people with differing strong beliefs?