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Robert Kirby is on vacation. This is a reprint of an earlier column.

Last week, I asked a group if they had read a recent novel by a best-selling author. The title doesn't matter. Choose one.

"No,'' a woman said. "It has, well, I won't say it, but that word in it.''

The book does have the F-word in it and assorted other obscenities as well, but it's also a powerful story. I suggested reading around the objectionable parts.

The woman and a few others in the group said they couldn't. They also made it clear that no self-respecting Mormon would, either.

The conversation immediately segued into exactly what makes a film, a book or any work objectionable. Most agreed it was nudity or obscenity. A work that included either of those deserved an R rating and was therefore to be avoided.

Me, I avoided the rest of the conversation. Some things are indeed just too irritating to tolerate.

I'm OK with personal choice when it comes to choosing what to see and read, or even what church to attend. What troubles me is why such logic doesn't also work the other way around.

How much badness should you be willing to get past before the larger good is completely compromised? And why doesn't this work on everything?

For example, if you find something objectionable at church, why isn't the entire organization equally flawed? After all, a word or a glimpse is enough to do it for an otherwise excellent book or a movie.

It's a fair question, because zero tolerance is such an important way of looking at things for some people. If a word or a peek can evaporate the spirit in one area, shouldn't it be equally effective in others?

Suppose you discover that some religious point you believed your entire life was in fact wholly fabricated or so utterly distorted that it amounted to the same thing. Happened to me.

Like the title of the novel, the specifics are not important. A bit of apocrypha repeated so often in church that it was widely viewed as gospel turned out to be untrue.

That's when the hollering started from the other side of the street. If that gospel story wasn't true, then none of it was. The entire organization was therefore, by extension, something to be completely avoided.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I don't dump essentially positive things just because I have to periodically turn on my B.S. filter. I can't think of a single thing involving human beings that doesn't require this.

Granted, some things are so far out of line they can't be tolerated. Personally, it will be a long time before I watch another Pauly Shore movie.

But I suspect that the deeper question is how fragile are we? How much bad should we be willing to get around before an entire relationship or project becomes unsalvageable?

Depends on the relationship, doesn't it? Does your love for someone disappear simply because he hurt you? Do you reject other people because they don't share your idea of life?

It's a good thing most of us are more tolerant — and tolerable — than we let on.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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