A poisonous hypocrisy exists within liberal thinking that threatens to undermine its credibility and usefulness.
The issue is the chasm between its ability to empathize with suffering and its unwillingness to admonish the beliefs that cause it. Liberal canon requires one to maintain two opposing thoughts simultaneously, which I call the first and second laws of Liberalism.
Assuming a dutiful observation of the world, it’s trivial for an average liberal to obey the First Law and encounter suffering. Here are a few examples:
A poor Middle Eastern country is ravaged by sectarian civil war, at the cost of millions of lives
Hispanic voters defeat marriage equality bill because they think God hates homosexuals
Islamists throw acid in the faces of young girls for the crime of going to school
Liberals have found these issues and know them to be horrible because of the First Law, but they’re unwilling to talk about what caused them because of the Second. And the contortions they’re willing to endure in order to avoid the topic would be admirable if they weren’t sickening.
In the first case, millions of people have died over Sunni and Shia differences, yet even atheist liberals who know Islam to be false refuse to endorse a sharing of this knowledge as a way to end the conflict. Why? Because they fear being called “condescending” or “patronizing” more than they care about ending suffering. They let the Second Law override the first.
Taking the second example, liberals are unable to criticize homophobia because it sits within the protective womb of religious belief, and attacking it would therefore—once again—violate the Second Law. To say Catholicism-based homophobia is wrong is to claim that secular beliefs about equality are superior to religious beliefs that gays should not have equal rights.
And to many liberals this is clearly unacceptable.
Finally, in the third case, conservative Muslims believe that Islam tells them women should not be educated. And once again, this primitive idea is wrapped in the armor of a “belief system”, which is—according to liberals—no different then their own 21st century secular humanist belief system.
So all someone has to do to frighten a liberal into impotence is wrap their Neanderthal, racist, homophobic, genocidal, or misogynistic views into a religion or ideology. Then the Second Law kicks in and they throw up their hands.
Hey, everyone has beliefs. I’m not going to claim mine are better than theirs. They’re just different.
It’s time we start calling this behavior by its real name: cowardace.
Liberals need to make a choice: either embrace the obvious truth that some belief systems are morally superior to others, e.g. Secular Humanism is better for humanity than Sharia, and be willing to promote the former over the latter, or resign yourself to moral impotence.
Suffering, in its worst forms, is caused by people embracing and implementing flawed belief systems. Believing that girls should not learn to read, or that certain races should rule over others, or that homosexuals are unfavorable to god—these are not peers in a pool of acceptable moral teachings. They are not respectable, they are not legitimate, and the tolerant and humble need not fear hypocrisy when discarding them.
Tolerance does not require the legitimizing of intolerance. Inclusion does not demand we invite wolves to eat with the sheep. And humility does not require that we consider throwing acid in the faces of young girls to be a possibly valid moral position.
Progressives can and will be wrong about the nuances of how best to construct a society. Mistakes will be made. Should young kids start reading at age 4 or age 5? What’s the perfect balance between spousal roles and responsibilities in a gender-equal household? We don’t have the answers to these questions, and moral humility and uncertainty is a beneficial when dealing with such subtleties.
But when the question involves the advantages of female genital mutilation, the cultural richness of honor killings, or any other overtly immoral behavior, liberals need not—and indeed must not—allow their humility and tolerance to become enablement.
To improve our shared human condition here on earth, kind people must do more than feel. They must act.