Topics covered in this essay:
First, what is religious tolerance?
The meanings of "religious intolerance" and "religious tolerance"
are closely tied together. Unfortunately, the latter has two distinct meanings:
- Religious and social conservatives often interpret the phrase as related to
a persons beliefs about other people's different religious beliefs. It means that, to be tolerant, one must accept
all religions as
equally valid and true.
This is close to a religious concept called "pluralism"
which states that all religions are true and valid within their own cultures." One
problem is that if diverse beliefs are all true, then
absolute truth does not exist. This conservatives generally
find unacceptable. Also, taken to a logical extreme, this definition of
tolerance would require people to accept the existence of Yahweh, Allah, the
Wiccan Goddess, Thor, Re, Jupiter, Venus, Diana, Fergus, etc. as real Gods and
- Among other individuals and groups, "religious tolerance"
is related to a person's actions in response to other people's different
religious beliefs and practices. It means that one must avoid oppressing
or discriminating against persons whose religious beliefs happen to be
different from yours.
It is a statement of fundamental human rights. It is like
racial tolerance, gender tolerance, etc. You probably don't agree with what
other people believe, but you extend them the freedom to believe and act as
their religion requires.
An excellent definition of "religious tolerance" is published on
"Apologetics Index," an evangelical Christian
counter-cult web site.
Webmaster Anton Hein defines it as:
"Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the
right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate
practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices."
We use the second definition. However, we are continually criticized because
some of our visitors assume that we use the first meaning. This is a common
problem in the field of religion where some words have multiple meanings.
"Witch" and "Witchcraft," for example, have at least 19 different and sometimes
mutually exclusive definitions. "Pagan" has at least five.
There are many other commonly used religious words that
are defined quite differently by religious/social conservative when compared
to others in the culture.
Escalation of religious intolerance:
The followers of most religions (and of no
organized religion) feel that their beliefs are true and that the
beliefs of other groups are, at least to some degree, false. By
itself, this stance is not dangerous to public order. However,
profound evil can result when they also
oppress other religious groups, discriminate against them, or
disseminate hatred against them.
If they go to the next step and believe that
followers of other faith groups are sub-human, then all the
prerequisites are in place for mass crimes against humanity,
genocide, and still another Holocaust. We have seen such criminal acts in
recent decades in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus,
Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, East Timor, India, Sri
Lanka, Philippines, etc.
|Webster's New World Dictionary (1995) defines intolerant as:
|"not tolerant; unwilling to tolerate other's opinions, beliefs, etc..."|
|Webster's defines tolerate in part as:
|"to recognize and respect others' beliefs, practices etc. without sharing
|Our working definition of religious intolerance is a combination of the
|"not respecting the fundamental human human right of other people to hold
religious beliefs that are different from your own."|
We divide religious intolerance into four forms, depending upon the perpetrator
and the intended target:
- Inter-faith intolerance (e.g. a Hindu - Christian conflict)
- Intra-faith intolerance (e.g. Shi'ite vs. Sunni Muslims)
- Intolerance by from a faith group against a secular group (e.g. Christian
fundamentalists vs. Agnostics,
Homosexuals, Transsexuals, loving, committed
same-sex couples who wish to marry, etc.)
- Intolerance by a secular group against a religious group. (e.g. feminists vs.
some organized religions)
A given instance of religious intolerance may be considered inter-faith by
some groups and intra-faith by another. For example, some fundamentalist
Christians do not consider Roman Catholicism, The Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church), liberal
Christian denominations, progressive Christianity, etc. to be a legitimate part
of Christianity. Thus, an attack by an evangelical group on Roman Catholicism
might be considered inter-faith by the evangelical and intra-faith by a Roman
We consider the following actions as exhibiting religious intolerance:
|Spreading misinformation about a group's beliefs or practices even though the inaccuracy
of that information could have been easily checked and corrected;|
|Spreading hatred about an entire group; e.g. stating or implying that all
members of a group are evil, behave immorally, commit criminal acts, etc.;|
|Ridiculing and belittling an entire faith group for their sincerely held beliefs and practices;|
|Attempting to force religious beliefs and practices on others against their will;|
|Restricting human rights of members of an identifiable religious group;|
|Devaluing other faiths as worthless or evil.|
|Inhibiting the freedom of a person to change their religion.|
A related type of tolerance/intolerance:
The above text refers to intolerance:
|Between two faith groups, |
|Between two secular groups, or |
|Between a faith group and a secular group. |
However, tolerance and intolerance takes another form as well. This is
"religiously motivated intolerance." For example, a religious group may believe
on the basis of their beliefs that God hates
homosexuality and that homosexual behavior is chosen, changeable,
disordered, immoral and a criminal act. They might well be motivated to to
oppose equal rights for gays lesbians and bisexuals; they may
oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Because they believe that such intolerance and motivation to discriminate
against a group of people is God-ordered, they generally believe that it is good
and moral. They are often distressed when they are called homophobes because
their worldview calls upon them to discriminate.
What do religions teach?
All major religions teach a "Theory of Reciprocity,"
commonly called the "Golden Rule."
|Christianity' urges that we: "Treat others as you want them to
treat you." (Luke 6:31).|
|Confucius said "Do not do to others what you do not want the others to do to
|Hillel the Elder, the famous Jewish rabbi from the 1st century BCE and CE summed up the
Torah with the expression "What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend."|
|Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede which allows them to: "Do whatever you wish, as
long as it harms nobody, including themselves."|
Unfortunately, throughout history, we see people of different religions applying
the Golden Rule only to
members of their own religion. People of other faiths (and even those of other
denominations in the same religion) are sometimes actively
discriminated against. The most vicious civil disturbances and wars often have a
religious component (as in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo,
Middle East, Sudan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and East Timor).
Jesus sometimes promoted religious tolerance of non-Jews by his words and actions. He
is also recorded as having been severely intolerant of the religious beliefs and
practices of Pharisees and Sadducees. He even committed aggravated assault in
the Temple against people with whom he disagreed. There are
many specific references in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old
Testament), by St. Paul, and by the author of Revelation that teach intolerance:
|People who follow another faith are to be executed in organized acts
|Their Gods are said to be demons.|
|They are described as unrighteous and unclean.|
|Their priests were murdered.|
|Christians are warned to not associate with them.|
On the whole, the Bible promotes intolerance of other faiths. There are only
a few passages which promote religious tolerance.
Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Last update and review: 2009-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson