It was bound to happen. Whenever the nation experiences an orgy of hypocrisy and self-righteousness like the Don Imus affair, it so often turns out that a leader of some holy crusade lives in the proverbial glass house.
And so it was when the nation’s self-appointed religious maven from the left, Rev. Al Sharpton, seeking as always to outdo the fundamentalists on the right, found himself in precisely the same boat in which he’d placed, just a few short weeks ago, the hapless radio shock-jock. According to a blog item on The New York Times Web site, then reported by the Associated Press, our favorite race-hustler, the Rev. Al, said in a debate with Christopher Hitchens: “As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation.” The debate took place, ironically, in the exquisite building housing the main branch of The New York Public Library, one of the nation’s prime monuments to free speech, free thought, free belief, and tolerance.
Some criticized Sharpton for suggesting that Romney’s distinctly minority view of the Diety is somehow inferior to the traditional Christian view from which Sharpton has managed to make a quite decent living over the years. Sharpton’s defense of himself, remarkably, was that he was not criticizing Romney’s Mormonism but, rather, Hitchens’ atheism! (Now, there’s a principled distinction some of us can live with, but some can’t. I’m with the latter. Imagine: Defending against a charge of anti-Mormon bigotry by claiming to have been engaging in anti-atheist bigotry instead!)
But coming on the heels of Sharpton’s successful assault against Imus for insulting the African-American members of Rutger’s women’s basketball team, one would have thought that His Holiness’ hypocrisy might have attracted more attention. It didn’t, of course, because of the double standards in which we engage in this country with respect to “hate speech” – it matters when the speaker is taking on politically-incorrect issues involving race and gender. To insult a religious person or an atheist is, it seems, always fair game. How else to explain Sharpton’s status as “civil rights leader” in spite of his long history of thinly veiled anti-Semitism?
As a man of the cloth, the Rev. Al must be familiar with Jesus’ saying, “He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). If only this Biblical injunction applied to pundits like Sharpton and others of his ilk, the public discourse in this country would be far richer and infinitely more honest.
It would be better, of course, to have a single-standard: Either we are tolerant of speech that disturbs us (including so-called “hate speech”) in the public arena, or we apply consistent standards in seeking to censor both the politically correct and incorrect. The former is the only solution for a free society, but I have a feeling that if we insisted on a single rather than a double standard, eventually tolerance of dissenting points of view would become the rule.