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Religious Tolerance logo

History of the ReligiousTolerance.org website

Initiating events; starting
the site; starting the group

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Initiating events, written by the founder, B.A. Robinson:

The concept of an Internet web site devoted to religious tolerance was triggered by three events in the spring of 1995:

bullet The war in Bosnia Herzegovina: The TV evening news reported at least one new atrocity every day from this part of the former Yugoslavia. No matter which network we watched, the war was continually described as an "ethnic" conflict. I was angered at this, believing it to be actually a religious disagreement, driven by intolerance of other faiths.

Yugoslavia was located between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox spheres of influence. It was also sandwiched between countries whose main religions were Islam and Christianity. So, although the people of the country were of one ethnic origin, they followed three different faith traditions: Islam, Roman Catholicism and Serbian Orthodox Christianity. Various political leaders capitalized upon the religious frictions in the country to pursue their nationalist aims. And so, the world watched the most atrocious attempts at crimes against humanity, including a return of World War II style death camps. All three religious groups were involved in attempts to exterminate the other two. However, only the Serbian Orthodox Christian mass murders and crimes against humanity are generally recognized to have risen to the level of genocide.

Prevention of more Bosnias in the future, requires the promotion of religious tolerance, a general understanding of the evil acts that religious belief can sometimes generate, and the reasons why such acts materialize.
bulletMy age: I was approaching the age of 60, nearing the end of my professional life as an electronics/computer engineer at a large multi-national company. I recalled my father's experience at this age. He was a bank executive and observed many of his contemporary co-workers retire to a life of leisure only to die within months. Retirement can be a life threatening transition. It seemed that those pensioners who kept their mind challenged lived the longest. "Use it or lose it" appears to apply to the human brain as well as to other organs. I had been looking for some type of challenging, demanding project, in the hopes of having a long and intellectually active retirement. Religion and/or spirituality seemed like a likely area in which to specialize. I had been fascinated with both since my mid-teens.
bulletMy religious faith: When I was born, my parents were Baptists. The family switched to the United Church of Canada a few years later. (The United Church of Canada is a liberal denomination, similar to the United Church of Christ in the U.S.) In my late teens, I experienced a religious conversion, and joined the First Unitarian Congregation in Toronto. The Unitarians are one of the most liberal religious organizations in North America. Some might describe this life history as a gradual slide towards an eternity being roasted by the fires of Hell. One effect of these transitions was to develop a heightened concern for human rights. Members of both the United and Unitarian churches are particularly active in this area, promoting equal liberty and justice for all.

One project that showed promise was a World Wide Web (WWW) site to promote religious tolerance. This would be an important project, because religious intolerance is a root cause of many of the world's small-scale wars and civil disturbances. E.g. Bosnia, Cyprus, East Timor, India, Kosovo, the Middle East, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and others. There would be a lot less killing in the world if people would become tolerant of other religions. In time, the public might actually be able to go beyond tolerance and actually value religious diversity.

The Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, was still in its infancy in early 1995. However, it was growing at a furious rate. From about 130 web sites in mid-1993, it had expanded to about 20,000 sites in the spring of 1995. 1 A scan of the WWW using the Lycos search engine produced only four hits for the phrase religious tolerance: two were essays by members of the Baha'i Faith; one was by a Baptist minister; the fourth described religious tolerance in ancient Egypt. A site promoting tolerance seemed to be an ideal project: There was a need for religious tolerance throughout the world -- a need that was not being met by the then existing web sites.

At the time, the vast majority of religious website promote only the religious beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring group. This situation continues today.

Starting the OCRT web site:

I signed up for Internet access through a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Kingston ON Canada during 1995-MAY. The web site was assigned a directory on one of their computers with a rather complex name: http://www.kosone.com/people/ocrt/. This was a computer directory that was normally reserved for individuals rather than companies. I anticipated relatively little traffic on our web site -- a level of activity closer to that of a personal web site than of an organizational site. Being rather naïve with Internet technology, ocrt_hp.htm was selected as a file name for the main home page. The site's full URL thus became: http://www.kosone.com/people/ocrt/ocrt_hp.htm. A standard default file name like index.htm or welcome.htm would have been much better. When a standard name is used, file name does not have to be included in the address. That would have shortened our total URL considerably to: http://www.kosone.com/people/ocrt.

Inexperience led to a second error. At the start-up of the web site, I did not consider renting a full domain name, like the one that we eventually selected: http://www.religioustolerance.org. A full domain name has certain advantages:

bulletIt is easier for visitors to remember.
bulletIt is transferable from one ISP to another.
bulletIt looks more impressive to visitors.

We soon switched to another ISP, Canlink Interactive Technologies. Our new URL was http://web.canlink.com/ocrt/ocrt_hp.htm. This move left hundreds of orphan kosone listings in various search engines. As late as 2010, the Google search engine lists about 325 hits for our original kosone/ocrt URLs -- all broken links. 2

We strongly urge that people who are starting up a web site give their home page a default file name like index.htm, and rent a full domain name before start-up.

Starting up the OCRT group:

From the beginning, I felt that the OCRT should be a multi-faith group, whose members followed as broad a sampling of religious faiths and theological positions as possible. Our group would be living proof that persons from a wide range of theological beliefs can cooperate on a religious project. I am an Agnostic. Another member is an Atheist. Two friends, a Christian and a Wiccan rounded out the Ontario Consultants. (Wicca is a Neopagan religion, which resembles Native American spirituality, but is based on ancient Celtic Pagan beliefs.) We decided from the beginning that we would not publish the names of the group members, other than that of the coordinator. That is because of the high level of animosity in North America by some very devout, very intelligent but terribly misinformed religious conservatives towards Wicca. Although Wicca is a gentle and spiritual faith, many misguided individuals link it to the witchcraft and Satan worship hoax of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Books filled with misinformation about Wicca can be found in most Christian bookstores. This hatred has been responsible for arson and economic attacks against two Wiccans in our city. We felt that name confidentiality would give our Wiccan member some degree of safety.

The next task was to select a name for the organization. "Ontario Centre for Religious Tolerance" (OCRT) had a nice ring to it. Since our original goals were small, we initially expected no significant expenses and no revenue. We did not even bother to register the name with the government as an agency or business. The web site was treated more as a personal hobby of its coordinator than an actual agency. In case we later wanted to register the OCRT with the government of Ontario, we arranged search of all of the businesses and agencies in the province. There was only one organization that included the word "tolerance" in its name. It was a high-quality machine shop that made precision metal parts. By using "Ontario" as a prefix, we were fairly confident that we would not conflict with any other existing agency working in the religious tolerance field -- unless of course they happened to be located in a region of California that is also called Ontario.

In late 1996, we were asked by Lucent Technologies, the former Bell Laboratories, to visit their facility in Columbus OH and deliver a lecture on religious tolerance. This would involve some financial transactions, as they offered to pay for our out-of-pocket traveling expenses. The OCRT then required a bank account in order to cash Lucent's check. However, we could only open a bank account if the group had been first registered with the Government of Ontario. Creating a legal organization as a non-profit agency is a rather involved process in Ontario, involving the creation of a constitution, a community board, etc. So, we registered the OCRT as a sole proprietorship -- an organization that theoretically could generate a profit. This only takes a few minutes of time and payment of a modest fee. Unfortunately, the government ministry refused to register our suggested name because they reserve the term centre for non-profit organizations. They suggested consultants instead. So the Ontario Centre for Religious Tolerance became the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. In retrospect, a much shorter name would have been preferable.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.  
  1. "Web growth summary," at: http://www.mit.edu/people/mkgray/net/web-growth-summary.html
  2. Google, our favorite search engine, is at: http://www.google.com 

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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