Monday, December 05, 2005

Worst person in the world
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.

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