I was baffled by the New York Times‘s article on vegan weddings that revealed many vegans opted to serve meat at their wedding receptions. The article dwelt on the question of whether the vegans and vegitarians ought to serve meat despite their own preferences. Guests who were not placated with meat tended to be quite upset.
When Patrick Moore, a salesman from Attleboro, Mass., arrived at an old friend’s wedding in 1999 to discover nothing but vegetarian options, he made an excuse about leaving the gift in his car so he could visit a sandwich shop across the street…
“I know it’s your day, but it’s not all about you,” he said. “Why have a wedding if you’re going to be like that? Just print a bumper sticker.”
Most vegans I know have given up animal products on moral grounds. In some cases they believe that using animal products causes harm to the environment, but, in more extreme cases, vegans believe that killing animals for human use is intrinsically evil, regardless of environmental impact. For vegans of the second variety to serve meat at their weddings is roughly similar to pro-lifers asking that, in lieu of gifts, wedding guests donate to Planned Parenthood.
A number of the misunderstandings between different religious traditions stem from this seeming inability to believe that the opposing tradition has a different hierarchy of values. Convenience and taste matter little to a vegan who is trying to avoid doing violence to suffering animals. Similarly, we cannot expect Catholics to be moved by an argument that marriage ought to be available to everyone when their religion praises those who are called to religious life and serve in chastity.
Although we may know on an intellectual level that other people hold different premises than we do, most of the time, it is extremely difficult to comprehend that they can therefore rationally come to different conclusions. Or, in a milder case of this problem, we can’t really imagine that our opponent believes his or her values to be universally applicable. Like Patrick Moore, we’d prefer not to have other people’s values imposed on us, or, if we must be exposed to them, we prefer that it be in the anodyne, impersonal format of a bumper sticker or some other non-binding declaration of beliefs.
While reading Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, I found plenty to disagree with, but I found him to be spot on in his opening chapter, as he discussed how a desire for ‘tolerance’ was fostering relativism.
“The danger [students] have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue… The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think that you are right at all.”
Bloom is correct that we have tried to make a right out of our desire not to be offended. This is a mistake. We ought to be confronted by the beliefs of others, even if the contact may be offensive, so that we are forced to consider them. It is better for us to struggle with these ideas so that, if we are in the wrong, we have the opportunity to mend our ways.
If it turns out we are in the right, it is better to be confronted by the errors of others, so that the offence may serve as a spur to correct our fellow men, rather than to remain quietly insulated from the harm other people do to themselves.