Initiating events; starting
the site; starting the group
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:
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.
My 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.
My 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:
It is easier for visitors to remember.
It is transferable from one ISP to another.
It 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
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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.