Tuesday, February 15, 2005

park slope1

Tempest in a Coffee Shop

Having spent some time on the lunatic fringe of the Left and the Right I can confidently report that neither has a total monopoly on idiocy.

But as you step away from the fringe it certainly feels as though the grip of extremism loosens sooner as you move toward the center via the conservative route than from the "progressive" side. Abortion, for example, is a matter of lively discussion on the right. On the left such wavering is considered profane.

I think this has to do with the difference between ascendant viewpoints and declining ones. The declining Left is more concerned with spotting heretics than with recruiting new members which the acendant Right particularly good at.

This alone would be unremarkable except that it is the Left that defines itself as the more tolerant, open-minded, and eclectic political persuasion even though experience and observation would indicate just the opposite.

A good example of this is a story buried deep in The New York Times by a reporter who is essentially covering her own neighborhood . . . the immaculately liberal Park Slope in Brooklyn.

It seems a coffee shop, The Postmark, has opened in Park Slope that features a book club for parents and their children where neighbors and families can gather, meet each other and share ideas and experiences over coffee. Perfect, right?

Perfect except for one fatal flaw. The coffee house is run by a church. And not just any church but Church!, a newage evangelical outpost of Red State hegemony.

The church sponsors story hours, jazz concerts and knitting lessons, according to Joy Canning, the organizer, "to let people know we are here and are accessible."

This is totally unacceptable to some neighbors.

"I think this is sneaky and deceptive, Stephanie LaTour, an atheist who is the mother of twins. "If Postmark wants to convert people to Christianity, they should be upfront about it and not lure families with seemingly neutral activities, and then spring the Christianity on them by surprise."
Yes, instead of simply springing that unconditional love for fellow-man stuff on unsuspecting fellow-men, these Christians deviously cloak it in unconditional love which can be a nasty surprise in New York City.

But, of course, there is much more:

Others worried about a hidden political agenda. "Ms. (Joanna Oltman) Smith (who has never taken her toddler to story hour) said she assumed the church was fundamentalist and that its beliefs might "pose a threat to our basic civil liberties and freedoms, and all the things we need to protect."
The sort of things this self-defined bigot wants to protect presumably are some deeply held but tenuously understood beliefs about freedom and the nature of voluntary association.

There is rich irony here but the question remains, why are people who regard themselves as progressive so often intolerant of "the other?"

I have my theories. One of which is that liberalism makes impossible demands on its acolytes. For example: one cannot be truly open-minded and tolerant without at some point embracing insularity and intolerance as well as everything else. Add affluence to the mix and most liberals will buckle under the strain of hypocrisy, inauthenticity, and class shame.

Conflict like this can either be expressed rationally or emotionally. When channeled into intellectual expression it results in some very engaging and energetic progressive thinking. But the emotional expression of the conflict is ugly.

One person The Postmark has managed to convert is Nilaja Troy who says:

"My personal experience with some (neighbors) is once you cross the line where you have a $1 million home, $800 stroller and a nanny, then deep down inside you are a Republican, and because you fear that, you lash out at anybody who seems to fit that persona . . . They have to hate Christians and Republicans because deep down they feel 'I'm afraid I could be one.'"
So the intolerant neighbors huddled together in Park Slope for protection from impure thoughts are actually tormented by lure of practicing their bigotry and intolerance openly as Republicans.

Strong and perceptive words for a mindless religious zealot.

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