I’m a big fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and recently they did a little segment I enjoyed on an exercise center known as Planet Fitness. The segment was done by one of the “investigative reporters” interviewing a man who had been “expelled” from his local Planet Fitness for being a “Lunkhead.” For those who don’t know that terminology, Planet Fitness tries to establish a laid back environment without all those intimidating, roid-popping, muscle-bound, grunting meatheads. In fact, the clubs have a “Lunk Alarm” which will sound if someone grunts or drops a weight. Yes, it’s a bit weird, but if you’ve ever dealt with some *@#! (fill in your own word) at a gym, you know where they are coming from.
So, sure enough, this guy interviewed on the daily show was one of those huge, burly guys. A classic meathead, he even wore a “dew rag” (which also is not allowed). He had been asked to leave the gym for all the reasons above: dew rag, grunter, lunkhead… So The Daily Show brought to its viewers this man’s story of discrimination… (Ok, I’m laughing as I type this! Why anyone would actually sit down with a Daily Show reporter and expect to be taken seriously is beyond me. Just know you are part of the joke dude!)
After sharing the sad story of this poor man (ok, try not to laugh!) the story moved to get the perspective of the gym management. Comically, the interviewer asked the Planet Fitness rep how this gym that bills itself as “The Judgment Free Zone” actually passes judgment themselves on who can or can’t work out there! It’s quite funny watching the Planet Fitness rep answer these questions. This place that ends their mission statement with the words “You Belong!” actually has a habit of telling people they actually don’t belong! (Please tell me you see the irony here!)
Funny thing is that it reminds me a bit of the word Tolerance. It’s a nice little word that seems innocent at first but can have some pretty big implications. When folks use the word, we think of everybody getting along and playing nice, of respecting one another and valuing each other’s opinion; that is unless your opinion doesn’t agree with our opinion. Let me explain.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty conservative Christianity has with the word Tolerance is the apparent irony wrapped up in the word (spoiler warning: I am purposefully using “apparent” …more to follow). Those who wear the coexist t-shirt and wave the flag of tolerance are fully willing to tolerate other perspectives, as long as those other perspectives don’t tell them they are themselves wrong. They tolerate other perspectives because those other perspectives allow for other perspectives (did you catch that? Re-read if you didn’t, it’s important). Let me try to say it a bit simpler, I tolerate your opinion because your opinion also is tolerant of my opinion; when your opinion defines my opinion as wrong and won’t allow for the possibility that my opinion may be ok, well, things get interesting.
This is where conservative Christianity finds itself in the world of tolerance, and conservative Christianity feels like it has been unfairly kicked out of the circle by an ideology that is itself hypocritical (remember, “you belong, but no lunkheads allowed?). The question is then asked is whether an ideology such as “tolerance” is actually intolerant. If I remember correctly, conservatives point out that to be truly “tolerant,” one must be intolerant of those who are not tolerant. Seems a bit off, right? According to post-modernism (at least a conservative’s understanding of such) all views are equal and no one can determine truth for another. Total hypocrisy. It seems…
In regards to post-modernism, it should be pointed out that conservatives are largely operating within a modernistic mindset, so to be fair, for all their challenges to the post-modern mindset, the same challenges should be leveled back at the modern mindset (see my “Rob Bell” post for more on this). Remember, post-modernism is post (after) something, that being modernism. So if we’re going to start pointing out weakness of one mindset, we should also point out weakness in another (modernism) as well as note that the arguments conservatives are making are straight out of that modernistic ideology. Just as tolerance is a product of postmodernism, conservative Christianity is also a product of modernism.\
Here’s the explanation for the apparent paradox regarding the judgment free zone, but no lunkheads aloud. Planet Fitness doesn’t want lunkheads because they make people uncomfortable, intimidated, perhaps even afraid; they’re way of exercising essentially hinders the exercise of another. They are fine to work out in a Planet Fitness, they just must work out in accordance to the rules of the gym. It’s the same way within post-modernism, Christians are welcome to exist and practice their religion within the pantheon of religion, yet when they start judging, condemning, and telling people their wrong it sort of hinders the religious exercise of others. And that’s the problem; conservative Christianity denies the meaningfulness of any other religion besides itself.
Post-modernism does not allow for the KKK because it denied the meaningfulness of another race, Nazism because it denied the meaningfulness of another religion, Patriarchalism because it denied the meaningfulness of another sex, and post-modernism does not allow conservative Christianity because it denies the meaningfulness of another’s religion. For someone to deny the legitimacy of what gives another person meaning is to deny the legitimacy of that person. The phrase has been in regard to homosexuals, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but in hating that “sin” one is hating what provides meaning to that person; one is asking a person to stop being who they are.
So is conservative Christianity and post-modernism incompatible? I say no. One can still keep one’s own exclusive beliefs, but one must also be willing to respect and allow the beliefs of another. Sharing one’s beliefs is welcome within post-modernism, but telling someone what they believe is wrong or what you believe is the only right thing isn’t. I respect and appreciate those who hold strongly to their conservative beliefs, but I have a difficult time (as a post-modern) accepting someone who tells me that what gives me meaning is worthless, because they are telling me that I am worthless for believing such.
Post-modernism does have an “absolute truth” and it’s “truth” is that what I find meaningful must also allow for the meaningfulness of what another finds to be meaningful. Post-modernism is the “judgment free zone,” but no judgers are allowed!