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History of the ReligiousTolerance.org website

Developing a mandate, goals & principles
of operation. Promoting religious tolerance

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Developing our mandate, goals and principles of operation:

These were derived from our beliefs about organized religion. As stated on our home page in 1995:

"Religion is a unique force in society. It promotes both good and evil. Historically, it has helped to abolish slavery. It has promoted racial integration, equal rights for women, and equal rights for gays and lesbians. It has motivated individuals to create massive support services for the poor, the sick, the hurting, and the broken. Conversely, it has been used to justify slavery, racial segregation, oppression of women, discrimination against homosexuals, genocide, massive crimes against humanity, extermination of minorities, and other horrendous evils."

"Religion drives some to dedicate their lives to help the poor and needy. (E.g. Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa.) It drives others to exterminate as many "heretics" as they can. Consider the mass murders and genocides in Bosnia, East Timor, India, Korea, Kosovo, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tibet, etc."

"Religion has the capability to generate unselfish love in some people, and vicious, raw hatred in others."

If we were writing those words today, we would include transgender persons and transsexuals to the list of discriminated against persons.

Most religious web sites portray a glowing picture of religion -- particularly of their own faith. Most skeptic and free-thinker web sites describe faith in negative, sometimes dangerous terms. We felt that our mandate would be to describe religion and religious ideas objectively, from all points of view. So, we explain abortion from both the pro-life, medical and pro-choice sides. We explain homosexuality from the gay/lesbian, therapist and religious conservative points of view.

We identified three main areas of religious intolerance:

bulletThat directed from persons of one faith group against another (e.g. by a Christian Identity group against Roman Catholics).
bulletThat directed from persons of one faith group against a secular group (e.g. by a religious group against gays and lesbians).
bulletThat directed from persons in a secular group against a faith group (e.g. by freethinkers against Christians)

Our goal is to eventually cover the entire field of religious tolerance, with clarity, accuracy and balance. We decided to concentrate on the United States and Canada as our main catchment area.

Promoting religious tolerance: 

Two of our members have worked in professions where precision in the use of language is of great concern. One was a professional engineer; another is a registered nurse. Misunderstandings can cause bridges to fall down, and patients to die from overdosage or underdosage of medication. With these personal backgrounds, the ambiguity of many religious terms came as a great surprise. Words such as Christian, Witch, God, Pagan, and messiah have been given multiple definitions by different groups; some of these meanings are mutually exclusive. The term religious tolerance is no exception:

bullet Some believe that a person is only religiously tolerant when they consider that all religious are equally valid, or that they believe that all faith traditions provide different paths to the same God. This definition is difficult to support, because various religions have entirely different concepts of God; various faith groups teach that there are 0, 1, 2, 3 or many deities, some male, some female, some beyond gender.
bulletOthers define that a person is religiously tolerant when they consider all religions and faith groups as equally "good." Again, this makes little sense, because some religions teach their followers to hate minorities and commit acts of violence against them, while other faith groups stress inclusiveness, love and acceptance. Some religious traditions promote racism, sexism and homophobia while others stress acceptance of diversity.
bullet Most people define "religious tolerance" differently. We view it as a civil rights issue: Religious tolerance requires that a person value freedom of expression, assembly and belief for followers of all religious traditions -- even those beliefs and practices that differ from the person's own faith. Religious tolerance is guaranteed by Articles 13, 14, and 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1 Unfortunately, although the countries of the world have signed this declaration, none have effectively implemented it completely.

In the late 20th century, there was in North America one lynching, one attempted mass murder by stoning, many fire bombings, shootings, physical assaults and economic attacks by some very devout, well meaning, but terribly misinformed people who were victimizing followers of minority religions. Outbreaks of anti-Semitism continue to plague both the US and Canada. They seem to be on the rise around the world. Muslims are badly misrepresented in most media accounts; the term Jihad is perhaps the most misunderstood religious term. 2 Conservative Christians are often discriminated against in job hiring and promotion. Children have been seized from families on the basis of a child-care worker's misinformed beliefs about the parent's religion. Parents have been prohibited from visiting their own children because of a judge's religious bias. These injustices need to be exposed.

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We decided to have our website concentrate on three main topics:

bullet Disseminating information on "hot" religious topics. These are matters over which various religious groups are in conflict with each other and with secular forces in society. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been with us ever since the time when Galileo (1564-1642) was persecuted -- perhaps before. Only the topics change. Current examples are: access to abortion; equal treatment of women; equal rights and protection for gays and lesbians; the debate among creation science, intelligent design, and the theory of evolution; differing views on human sexuality, corporal punishment of children, etc.

Here, our goal is to provide objective background information; explain the beliefs of all groups involved in the debate; cite applicable Biblical passages and describe how conservative and liberal Christians have interpreted them; discuss the beliefs taught by other religions, and list statements by professional organizations, where available.
 
bulletDisseminating accurate religious information: We try to provide clear, balanced, objective and complete descriptions of the beliefs, rituals, symbols, and political goals of many faith traditions. We attempt to have them reviewed by at least three of their followers before publishing them on our web site.

Our site concentrates largely on the Christian religion, because about 75% of Americans and Canadians identify themselves with that religion. The membership of the next largest organized religions, Islam and Judaism, include only one or two percent of the population. We also give priority to those minority faith groups that have been the target of misinformation and disinformation campaigns in North America. These include The Church of Scientology, The Family of Love, Jehovah's Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), Unification Church, Wiccans other Neopagans, etc.

By informing people about various religions (and counteracting misinformation spread by others) we hope that understanding and tolerance will increase, and bigotry will decrease. We also hope that our readers will better identify the good and evil practices in their own faith tradition, and be motivated to maximize the good and minimize such evils as racism, sexism, religious intolerance and homophobia.
 

bullet Exposing religious fraud, hatred and misinformation. There is enormous misinformation and disinformation to be found in textbooks, reference books, on the Internet and in the media about religion. Some is intentional religious propaganda; much is simple repetition of ancient stereotypes. Many official Internet sites belonging to religious denominations and the sites of their detractors do not give accurate information. Official sites tend to gloss over the negative activities of their faith group -- particularly events from the past. Many of the webmasters that attack specific religions seem to have little regard for truth or historical accuracy.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.  
  1. The text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is at: http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
  2. "Jihad" has two meanings "holy war:" the extermination of persons who follow a different religion. But its prime neaning refers to a personal, internal struggle with one's imperfections. The goal may be achievement in a profession, self-purification, the conquering of primitive instincts or the attainment of some other noble goal.

Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR-1
Latest update: 2010-APR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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