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Religious tolerance

Compared to other types of tolerance.
What it involves / doesn't involve.

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First, consider the opposite to religious tolerance:

The English language has many words to describe various forms of bigotry, including racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. But it has no single word to refer to forms of bigotry based on a person's religion or faith group.

We feel that the English language needs a new word. We suggest:

"Religism", meaning "the expression of fear towards, hatred towards, or discrimination against, persons of a specific religion affiliation, usually a minority faith."

The word is gradually catching on. Until English speaking people reach a consensus on a new term we can always use "religious intolerance."

More information on "Religism."

In this website:
The meaning of the term "religious tolerance" does not involve:

bulletBelieving that all religions are the same. In fact, religions differ greatly in their beliefs and practices. So do divisions (denominations, traditions, etc) within a given religion.
bulletBelieving that all sets of religious beliefs are equally true. Again, religious differ greatly. Many people consider their own beliefs to be true and others to be at least partly false.
bulletBelieving that all faiths are equally beneficial and equally harmless to society. In our opinion, some religions are less beneficial to society society because they teach racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, religism, etc.
bulletBelieving that all religious groups are equally beneficial and equally harmless to their followers. Some religions expect their members to follow practices that are hazardous to their mental and physical health, and may shorten their lives -- avoid medical assistance, spouse beating, child beating, etc.
bulletRefraining from criticizing religious practices of others. Some religions teach their followers to actively discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. Such practices, in our opinion, should be open to analysis and criticism.
bulletRefraining from talking about your beliefs to others. One should feel free to discuss beliefs of all types. Of course, if the other person indicates that they don't want to talk about religion, then continued proselytizing would  degenerate into harassment.
bulletIgnoring your own religious ideas. It is not necessary, nor is it desirable, for an individual to suppress their own religious beliefs, in order to accept the right of another person to follow a different religion. It is not necessary to accept others' beliefs as valid. A tolerant person merely extends to all people a fundamental human right: freedom of religious belief.

In this website:
The meaning of the term "religious tolerance" does involve:

bulletAccepting that followers of various religions consider their own beliefs to be true. Most people believe that their religious beliefs are true, perhaps even true on an absolute basis.
bulletAllowing others to hold religious beliefs that are different from yours. No society is truly free unless there is freedom of religious association, speech and belief for everyone.
bulletAllowing others to freely change their religion, or denomination or beliefs. Freedom of religion includes the right to change one's faith.
bulletAllowing others to practice their religious faith, within reasonable limits. Religion is more than belief; it involves practices as well.
bulletRefusing to discriminate in employment, accommodation etc. on religious grounds. People who follow minority religions have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace and society generally.
bulletMaking a reasonable effort to accommodate other people's religious needs. For example:
bulletAllowing an employee to work overtime in order to take off a religious festival or holy day that is significant to them.
bulletScheduling meetings so that they do not conflict with common holy days.

You, of course, may wish to define religious tolerance differently. In the field of religion, there is often no consensus on the definitions of terms. We have seen as many as 18 definition for the term "witch" for example.

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Various definitions and discussions of "Religious Tolerance"

bullet The Concise Oxford Dictionary's (1960) defines religious toleration as, in part:
bullet"recognition of right of private judgment in religious matters,
bulletliberty to uphold one's religious opinions and forms of worship, or
bulletto enjoy all social privileges etc. without regard to religious differences."

This definition views religious toleration as a human rights issue. A person is tolerant when they respect the right of others to hold different religious beliefs. A person might believe that their own faith is the only valid religion - the one fully approved of and created by a particular God. They might consider all other religions as profoundly evil. Yet, they can still be religious tolerant towards others if they recognize that all individuals and religious groups have the basic human right of religious liberty - to freely follow their faith's beliefs and practices.

bulletApologetics Index: This is an Evangelical Christian counter-cult web site. Webmaster Anton Hein defines religious tolerance 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." 1

bulletThe Free Dictionary discusses religious tolerance: "Historically, religious tolerance has been the most important aspect of tolerance, since religions tend to be intolerant of each other, and religious intolerance has led to innumerable wars, purges and other atrocities. The philosophers and writers of the enlightenment -- especially Voltaire and Lessing -- promoted religious tolerance, and their influence is strongly felt in Western society. Nonetheless, the lack of religious tolerance causes problems in many regions of the world today.

We are religiously tolerant when we give others the freedom to do things and believe things, even though we feel that they are wrong! To some people, this is not easy. Some feel that their religion is the only true faith, and that to oppress followers of another religion is to promote God's will in society. We support their right to believe this. But we oppose them if they want to take action to oppress others. That path leads to the killing fields of Bosnia- Herzegovina, massacres in East Timor, the gas chambers of Nazi Germany and numerous other horrors.

The difference between religious tolerance and religious validation:

People in religiously diverse cultures like the United States and Canada have different and conflicting religious beliefs and practices. In order to make society work, we do not all have to agree on religious matters; we do not have to accept all religious beliefs as valid. But, in the opinion of the OCRT -- the group that publishes this web site -- it is important that we respect the rights of other individuals and groups to hold different beliefs. Unless we respect the right of others to follow their own faith group, there is no reason why we should expect them to reciprocate by respecting our freedom to be different from them. The Supreme Court of Canada expressed this well in a 2002 ruling concerning the access to books by students in the Surrey School District in Surrey, British Columbia:

"...the demand for tolerance cannot be interpreted as the demand to approve of another person's beliefs or practices. When we ask people to be tolerant of others, we do not ask them to abandon their personal convictions. We merely ask them to respect the rights, values and ways of being of those who may not share those convictions. The belief that others are entitled to equal respect depends, not on the belief that their values are right, but on the belief that they have a claim to equal respect regardless of whether they are right. Learning about tolerance is therefore learning that other people's entitlement to respect from us does not depend on whether their views accord with our own. Children cannot learn this unless they are exposed to views that differ from those they are taught at home." 2

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Anton Hein, "Religious Freedom, Tolerance, and Intolerance," at: http://www.gospelcom.net/
  2. Supreme Court of Canada, "Chamberlain v. Surrey School District," No. 36 [2002] 4 S.C.R. 710, Paragraph 66. Online at: http://www.lexum.umontreal.ca/

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Copyright 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2009-JUL-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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