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Causes of religious intolerance/intolerance.
Opposition to religious tolerance.

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What causes religious tolerance/intolerance? 

With very few exceptions, religions promote their ethic of reciprocity which defines one's responsibility towards other people. 

bullet In Christianity, this is the Golden Rule, defined in one of the Gospels as: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12 
bullet In Judaism, it is found in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) and Talmud:
bullet "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.", Leviticus 19:18, and
bullet "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
bullet In Islam, this is found in #13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths: "None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." 4

If a person considers their religion's ethic of reciprocity to be of paramount importance, then they will want others to enjoy freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and other basic freedoms. They will give the highest priority to fundamental human rights, as listed in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other documents. They will be religiously tolerant, even of those who believe differently.

But many religious leaders promote hatred and restrictions of fundamental human rights, targeting the followers of other religions, sexual minorities, women, etc. The Bible itself contains many passages promoting intolerance. If people give greater importance to these teachings than to the ethic of reciprocity, the result is religious intolerance. We see the results throughout the world, including intolerance:

bullet Within a religion: In Northern Ireland, Roman Catholics and Protestants have assassinated thousands of followers of each other's faith groups.
bullet By Christians: In Bosnia, Serbian Orthodox Christians committed genocide against Muslims.
bullet By Muslims: In East Timor Muslims committed crimes against humanity against Christians.
bullet and in many other areas of the world.

In North America, religious intolerance still exists, but it tends to take a non-lethal form:

bullet Statements by Rep. Bob Barr and Governor G. Bush that Wiccans should not enjoy the same religious rights as others on army bases.
bullet Prohibition by school boards of religious jewelry: Crucifixes for Roman Catholics, Pentacles for Neopagans, Stars of David for Jews, etc.
bullet Religiously based campaigns mounted by religious groups to limit or reduce the rights of gays and lesbians.

Religious tolerance can only be enhanced when religions, governments, schools, agencies etc. emphasize ethics of reciprocity and fundamental human rights to a much greater degree than has been done in the past. Hopefully, individual members will be motivated to detect intolerance and discrimination within their own faith groups and either work for improvement, or leave. 

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Opposition to religious tolerance:

Racism has become socially unacceptable in many circles. So as sexism. It appears to be just a matter of time before homophobia will be seen as a form of hatred that is as evil as racism and sexism. But religious intolerance, or "religism" as we suggest, appears to be well entrenched. It will not be dissipating in the near future.

An article by Pastor Clarence Patterson condemns the growing influence that he feels tolerance is having upon conservative Christianity:

bullet Rather than condemn opposing beliefs, some advocate tolerance toward them.
bullet Instead of fighting abortion, some suggest tolerance towards pro-choice advocates.
bullet Instead of resisting physician assisted suicide, some recommend allowing others to make up their own mind.

Patterson comments: "As a concept, tolerance initially sounds pleasing and...(politically) correct. There is the notion that in a...melting pot society, great latitude must exist to accommodate a broad spectrum of thoughts and practices...The "tolerance" argument is a smoke screen that diverts attention from the issues at hand. When is comes to fundamentally wrong behavior, there is no tolerance. Wrong is wrong!" 1,2

At question is the degree of freedom that society should allow individuals who deviate from the majority. That, of course, is one of the functions of federal constitutions -- to limit the power of the government and of the majority to remove rights from minorities.

Some faith groups believe in absolute truth. Most teach their membership that they can determine the will of God through prayer and/or by reading their religious text(s), which is believed to be the inerrant word of God. Many conclude that deviant beliefs and practices:

bullet are universally sinful.
bullet will lead others to destruction.
bullet are damaging to society's morals.
bullet are offensive to their God.
bullet will cause others to remain unsaved; this will subject them to eternal punishment in Hell.

For example, Rev. Robert Fleischmann wrote: "Don't be sucked in by the world's cheers for tolerance. We are accepting of all people but we cannot tolerate that which jeopardizes their souls eternally. When framed within the eternal perspective of the human existence, tolerance of sin is intolerable! The price is too great." 2

A logical conclusion is that deviant beliefs and practices should be discouraged, suppressed or criminalized. This is seen as leading to the good of others, and the good of society. Religious tolerance itself becomes an evil, because it is seen as permitting other faith groups to degrade societal morals and lead individuals to eternal life in Hell. The concept that their paticular faith group possesses absolute truth, and that other religious groups are in error leads many people to oppose to religious tolerance for others. 

A person can believe in both absolute truth and in religious tolerance. But, sometimes they have to value individual human rights above the dictates of their own religious group and even of their religious texts.

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  1. Clarence Patterson, "Is it time for tolerance?," Article, Baptist Information Service, 2000-FEB-28.
  2. Mickey Anders, "Intolerant Religion," First Christian Church, Pikeville, KY, 2000-SEP-24. See:
  3. Rev. Robert Fleischmann, "Is it Time for Tolerance?," Christian Life Resources, 1999-JUL/AUG. See:
  4. This is Number 13 of a collection of 43 sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

    that was compiled by the great Islamic scholar Yahya bin Sharaf Ul-Deen An-Nawawi. It is is now known as "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths" See:

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Copyright 1998 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-SEP-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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