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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious tolerance

Is religious criticism and analysis OK?
Status of religious tolerance.

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Is religious criticism OK?

It is our belief that we should tolerate other people's spiritual and religious beliefs. However, belief does not exist in isolation from the rest of the world. Beliefs can generate actions...and sometimes those actions harm others.

There is a fine line between religious intolerance, and the legitimate criticism of harmful religious practices. For example, it is our opinion that one can be religiously tolerant of beliefs even while being critical of a group or person who performs any of the following acts, or recommends, teaches, or advocates that others perform these acts:

bulletArbitrarily discriminates in employment on the basis of disability, gender, marital status, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
bulletReduces civil and human rights for women, sexual minorities, racial minorities, etc. in providing accommodation, allowing a couple to marry, allowing a candidate to be considered for ordination, etc.
bulletEncouraging people to be bitten by poisonous snakes as a test of faith.
bulletPhysically and/or psychologically abusing children while driving out "demons" during an exorcism.
bulletDepriving a child of badly needed medical attention in favor of seeking a cure through prayer, unless reliable studies show that prayer is at least as effective as conventional medical treatment.
bulletPhysically abusing a child on the basis of a religious belief that "sparing the rod spoils the child"
bulletExpressing hatred entire groups of people on the basis of their age, disability, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

In summary, we feel that

bulletDenigrating other individuals' or other groups' religious beliefs is not acceptable;
bulletActs which hurt others are unacceptable, even when they are religiously motivated;
bulletAdvocating that others perform harmful acts is unacceptable, even when religiously motivated.

Is religious analysis OK?

Each religion, and each tradition within a religion, teach a set or sets of beliefs. Some, like Unitarian Universalism and Wicca, may have very few required beliefs and leave it up to their members to derive their own religious convictions. Others, like Roman Catholicism, have thousands.

bulletMany religions have some beliefs in common. For example, almost all faith groups have an ethic of reciprocity (a.k.a. the Golden Rule) which calls upon their members to treat other people decently.
bulletBut faith groups differ greatly on the:
bulletNature of their deity/deities -- whether it, he, she, or they permeate the universe, are remote, are intimate, or are within the individual in the form of spirit possession.
bulletThe number of deities -- whether 0,1,2, a trinity -- three persons in one deity -- or many,
bulletThe nature of humanity -- whether we are inherently sinful, naturally good, or prone to evil due to lack of knowledge.
bulletOrigin of the universe: belief in the theory of evolution or belief in one of many hundreds of creation stories including intelligent design.
bulletAnd on hundreds of other topics.

We believe that friction and hatred between religions can be reduced through understanding. But understanding can only be reached if people learn about the tenets of other religions. They need to know how the beliefs of other faith groups differ from each other and from their own faith group.

Unfortunately, when we compare the beliefs of one religion to another, or compare one religion's beliefs with scientific observation, some people feel that we are criticizing their belief system, and are thus not religiously tolerant. That is their belief. They are certainly entitled to it. We disagree with it.

As noted above and on our home page, we specifically define religious tolerance as extending religious freedom to people of all religious traditions, even though they differ in their beliefs and/or practices. In turn, we define religious freedom giving liberty for people to:

bulletBelieve, worship and witness (or practice freedom from belief, worship and witness), as they wish;
bulletChange their beliefs or religion; and
bulletAssociate with others to express their beliefs
bulletWithin reasonable limits, to try to convince others to adopt their beliefs.

We feel that comparisons of beliefs and criticisms of practices that hurt others is allowable within the limits of religious tolerance.

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Status of religious tolerance:

There are few Internet sites (like this one) devoted to religious tolerance. One indicator of the lack of value given to tolerance in the religious sphere that we found within the large religious search engines during 1998-MAR. (Neither search engine appears to be online now.):

bulletGlobal Christian Network (GCN) had a data base of information on 16,000 Christian web sites. A search for the word "tolerance" came up with no entries.
bulletCross Search had a data base of 7,000 entries of Christian web sites. Two contained a reference tolerance: one dealt with racism; another exhibited intolerance against New Age beliefs in fellow Christians.
bulletMany internal search engines on religious sites have no listing when we used "tolerance" as a search word.

We have since attempted to register our own site with Christian search engines. Some accepted our site for its listing; others did not; some have a statement of faith that one must agree with before they will register a web site. 

We have compiled a partial list of organizations which promote religious tolerance. Essentially all of these groups are composed of secularists, religious liberals, or representatives of mainline Christian denominations. One conservative Christian groups actively promotes racial tolerance: "Promise Keepers (PK) is the first national Evangelical organization that has named racial reconciliation as a non-negotiable core value." 2 But PK does not appear to be particularly active in promoting tolerance of persons of minority sexual orientations or of women.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The first two are no longer active today.

  1. Jo Garcia-Cobb, "Celebration, Not Tolerance," at: http://www.areopagus.com/
  2. Rev. Dr. John Perkins, editorial on tolerance in Urban Family Magazine, 1995-Spring, as mentioned in the Unofficial 'Promise 6' Home Page at http://www.donet.com/
  3. President Clinton, "Remarks by the President to operation allied force troops," 19990JUN-22, at: http://clinton2.nara.gov/

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Copyright 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-DEC-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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