With the creeping advance of religious bigots on the fart Right, it's hard to ignore how intolerant a country America is becoming, and how much more intolerant it may soon become if Frist succeeds in nuking the Senate and the judiciary corps is packed with activist judges who intend to legislate morality. We edge ever closer to a 21st century Test Act, where one must swear to believing in a particular religion in order to qualify for office. Then it will seem only natural to treat the unorthodox as second-class citizens, as individuals who really can't be trusted with the levers of society because they fall so far out of the "mainstream of American values." Certainly most religious folks are sincere in their faith, but just as certainly some wrap themselves in religion as demogogues wrap themselves in the flag, because it provides them an unassailable platform from which to pontificate. For those who feel required to bully with their faith via politics, religion is a pretense for power, as one draws personal authority from one's special relation to the Almighty (a la the President, who purports to receive divine instructions). Morality is a zero-sum game for the intolerant, they feel secure in their god to the extent they can make others feel insecure in theirs.
Liberals like to congratulate themselves for their own tradition of tolerance, which typically amounts to indifference or patronizing ackowledgement of those who choose to reject the status quo or fail to conform in some conspicuous way. But this tolerance is ultimately a "soft bigotry" of its own, "a mask for moral laissez-faire . . . never extended to protect serious threats to the prevailing order," as Martin Jay explains, articulating a Frankfurt school argument in his history of Critical Theory, The Dialectic Imagination. Tolerance is essentially a way of not caring if other people are persecuting some group as long as you can feel comfortable that you yourself aren't. Tolerance of this sort is self-centered indifference to life as others live it -- not in terms of what peculiar and concupiscent things they might be up to, not in terms of lifestyle choices, but in terms of what struggles they confront in simply trying to achieve everyday life. Tolerance ultimately means tolerating poverty and social injustice as well as pierced eyebrows and sex clubs. The sex clubs are the alibi for the poverty. (This may be what Michel Houellebecq was getting at in his novel Platform.)
It only emboldens the American Taliban (as blogger Atrios aptly calls the Republican right wing) when liberals are content with passive tolerance as a political outlook. It is quietist, uninspiring, negative, and a bit of a sham, belied by its own selfishness. No wonder the rigth attracts converts; they at least confront the world with their ideology and attempt to transform it into some kind of practice.