Worst Person in the World
John McKay printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 05, 2005 at 03:13:12 PM EST

On Friday, Keith Olbermann gave his "Worst Person in the World" award to well-coifed Fox News host John Gibson for a stunning display of religious tolerance. This year, Gibson has been horning in on Bill O'Reilly's "only defender of the baby Jesus" shtick and has even authored an entire book on the evil liberal war on Christmas. This is how Olbermann introduced the award:

But the winner, and this one comes with great personal pain because we were friends when he worked here and thereafter: John Gibson. Selling his new book about this phony-baloney war on Christmas, John revealed a very ugly side to himself. He is one of those people who think all religions but his are mistaken. You know, the way a lot of these religious nutbag terrorists think. "I would think," Gibbie said on a syndicated radio show, "if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they are not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to."

I'd tell you which religion John thinks is the only one that's right, but what's the difference? It's not the faith that's the issue; it's the intolerance. John Gibson, today's "Worst Person in the World."

To some, simply saying that people who worship a false god will have to answer in the afterlife, might not sound extreme enough to merit "Worst Person in the World." In his favor you might say that there must have been someone worse somewhere else in the world that day. You might say that he didn't say it on his own show in his role as a newsman (a role that should at least maintain an appearance of neutrality); he said it on a talk radio show in his role as an author, hawking a book. Finally, you might say that he was honestly expressing an opinion held by many people of many religions. These are all fair criticisms.

But I think Olbermann let his past friendship with Gibson influence his report. The implications of Gibson's full conversation on Janet Parshall's radio show are far worse than the one line quoted by Olbermann. Gibson's intolerance reaches far beyond a religious belief. He is speaking against social and political tolerance.

GIBSON: The whole point of this is that the tradition, the religious tradition of this country is tolerance, and that the same sense of tolerance that's been granted by the majority to the minority over the years ought to go the other way too. Minorities ought to have the same sense of tolerance about the majority religion -- Christianity -- that they've been granted about their religions over the years.


GIBSON: No, no, no. If you figure that -- listen, we get a little theological here, and it's probably a bit over my head, but I would think if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.


GIBSON: And that's fine. Let 'em. But in the meantime, as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition.

PARSHALL: I agree.

GIBSON: In other words, they'd like it in return.

Gibson's statement that "as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us" is a grotesque repudiation of one of the most fundamental principles of American democracy. Gibson expresses the very immature attitude that the most important aspect of democracy is that that majority get its way. Majority rule is not a unique trait to democracy; any angry mob can produce majority rule. The unique aspect of democracy is the respect and protection that it offers to the rights and desires of the minority. A democracy guarantees a basic set of rights to all its citizens; no group within the democracy, majority or minority, can alienate the rights of another group without fatally compromising the democracy.

Gibson's limitation of a right to tolerance to only those who are "civil and behave" undermines other rights. Gibson suggests that the minority should not question the magnanimity of the majority. The right to criticize others is limited to the majority. What comes next? Will only testimony by members of the one true church be allowed in court?

Gibson's mind has taken a bold leap back to the Medieval church, whose spokesmen regularly congratulated themselves for not massacring all the Jews--yet. Of course, I don't have to go back hundreds of years to find a parallel for Gibson's be "civil and behave" brand of tolerance. In living memory a large portion of the American population had to be "civil and behave" to deserve tolerance. If they stepped out of line, they were branded "uppity" and risked a swift lynching by their self-proclaimed betters.

"Be civil and behave" attitudes are very common with religious supremacists. And they don't always define what they mean by 'behave' until one misbehaves.

I 'misbehaved' by asking to be treated fairly when I was in the USAF, and I paid dearly for it. 'Civil' would not be the word I'd use to describe how my simple request was taken.

I think that part of our work here should be to point out these very medieval attitudes, this fake tolerance, and what happens to people (like the professor at Kansas University who was beaten earlier this week for daring to stand up to the ID onslaught) who decide not to behave or be civil.

by Lorie Johnson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 10:08:45 AM EST

John, you make a key point long ignored - what it actually means to "tolerate" :

Gibson underscores the negative side of "tolerance" :   "as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions."

Here some etymological background to the "tolerance" concept :

1517, "permission granted by authority, license," from M.Fr. tolération (15c.), from L. tolerationem (nom. toleratio) "a bearing, supporting, enduring," from toleratus, pp. of tolerare "to tolerate, lit. "to bear" (see extol). Meaning "forbearance, sufferance" is from 1582. Religious sense is from Act of Toleration, statute granting freedom of religious worship (with conditions) to dissenting Protestants in England, 1689. [ from The Online Etymological Dictioary

In the most accurate original sense of the word - which was still in force in 1689 it seems, and likely much later even, up to today perhaps - to "tolerate" another, or the beliefs of another, is to suffer the existence of those. The implication is that the very existence of the other, or the beliefs of the other, constitute a weight which the one who "tolerates" is unwillingly forced to bear. From that claim emerges the spurious notion that to "tolerate" is a noble act, as in :

"We tolerate your continued existence ( and we can of course kill, or do whatever we want with, you if we wish ) and for that we are nobly magnanimous. You are lesser, flawed, corrupt or sinful, but perhaps not completely beyond redemption though we may reassess that judgement at any time."

[ The modern day financial analogue of this sort of "tolerance" is a zero percent credit card with, written in the fine print, the provision that the lender may raise the card's interest rate at any time to any rate for any reason under the sun including bouts of flatulence, a bad night's sleep, or the stubbing of a toe. ]

"Toleration" suggests power over that, or those, who are "tolerated" and I'd suggest that the word "tolerance" tends to be used in cases where power relationships are skewed such that the party which is "tolerated" is in fact disempowered. So "to tolerate" can code, as a euphemism, for "to allow continued existance" or simply "allow to live".

Gibson's attitude could be called "toleration" then, but to drag that term and its inherent meanings up from the basement to let it air out  in the light of day and be seen for what it really is and does.....

I'd say this :  Gibson tolerates other beliefs. Yes. And in this case "tolerance" amounts to an attitude of religious supremacy*


*Religious Supremacy : this term, a close relative of "white supremacy", is the belief in the inherent superiority of one's religious faith over all others and even extending to the extreme that all other faiths but one's own are illegitimate suspect, invalid, or simply evil - even in the strong sense.

In the extreme, some manifestations of American Christian religious supremacy cleave the spectrum of human religious faith with a battle axe of Manichean dualism, into absolutes of good and evil, and so place large swaths of humanity and faith in the realm of absolute evil. How is one to confront absolute evil ? Well, attaching to the profane, Earthly realm what is actually an transcedendant - or theoretical - belief or construct, absolute good or evil, lays the groundwork for absolutist solutions that can extend far beyond the realm of forebearance and "tolerance".  

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 10:18:33 AM EST


I think you brought up an important point about Gibson's archaic idea of toleration: those expressing this attitude feel that they are bearing a burden, yet being noble in doing so. They are fully aware of the disparity in power between the tolerator and the tolerated, and they approve that disparity. This form of toleration does not accept the tolerated as equals. The follow up to this attitude is that it can quickly turn to anger and violence if they feel the tolerated are not recognising their nobility with the proper expression of gratitude.

When he says, "as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate [their] presence" he is making an explicit claim to his majority being the only real Americans. Those who aren't part of his brand of Christianity are visitors who had damn well better behave, or else.

by John McKay on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 02:44:30 PM EST

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