Monday, June 13, 2011

What is tolerance?

I have been complained at more than once for being sharply critical of aspects of other religions that I consider to be abusive, and people have said that this is intolerant of me.

For example, if a tradition has a doctrine that women are less valuable than men, or that LGBT people are less moral than straight people, why shouldn't I (or anyone else) criticise it? And if that tradition has a doctrine that its leaders can do or say no wrong, then that doctrine is clearly going to lead to abuses of power, because there are no protections in the structure of that tradition for the laity. Or if the tradition has a cult of personality around one person, that can also lead to abuses of power. (I am thinking of more than one tradition here.)

It is supposedly the role of religion to speak truth to power, so if one's own tradition or another tradition is abusing its power, then there is nothing wrong with saying so - provided one couches one's criticism in constructive terms, and backs it up with facts. I dislike the intolerant view of some atheists that all religions are completely barking mad, because they can't be bothered to sort out the facts, or distinguish between traditions; or the view of some Pagans that all Christians are intolerant fundamentalists; or the view of some Christians that all Pagans are bad (and so on).

Being tolerant does not preclude criticising other traditions, provided it is done in a constructive and nuanced way (and I would be the first to admit that I do not always live up to the ideal of being constructive and nuanced in my utterances, although I hope my underlying views are constructive and nuanced). I would not want to give offence to anyone, because apart from the desire not to hurt people's feelings, giving offence just puts people on the defensive, and then they cease to hear what was actually being said.

Tolerance does not mean turning a blind eye to abusive practices, or ignoring the doctrines and power structures that give rise to those abusive practices. It does not mean sweeping things under the carpet and pretending they don't exist. It does mean engaging in constructive dialogue between groups, and acknowledging their right to exist and form associations with like-minded others. It also means acknowledging and celebrating the good aspects of different traditions, and not always picking on the bad stuff. It does not mean passive acceptance of things one disagrees with.

Also, tolerance goes hand-in-hand with freedom and reason. The freedom to reach different conclusions about things by using one's reason; to debate them in a courteous manner; and to engage in constructive dialogue rather than just projecting stereotypes on others.


Steve Hayes said...

If quoted it before (possibly even to you), but I'll quote it again - from Fr Thomas Hopko, former dean of the Orthodox Christiaj St Vladimir's Seminary in New York:

"Tolerance is always in order when it means that we coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own, even when to do so is to risk the impression that truth is relative and all customs and mores are equally acceptable (as happens in North America).

Tolerance is never in order when it means that we remain idle before wickedness which harms human beings and destroys God's creation.

To be tolerant is to be neither indifferent nor relativistic. Neither is it to sanction injustice or to be permissive of evil. Injustice is intolerable and evil has no rights. But the only weapons which Christians may use against injustice and evil are personal persuasion and political legislation, both of which are to be enacted in an atmosphere of respect. While Christians are permitted under certain conditions to participate in police and military actions to enforce civil laws and to oppose criminality, we may not obey evil laws nor resort to evil actions in defence of the good. This means that Christians are inevitably called to suffer in this age, and perhaps even to die. This is our gospel, our witness and our defence."

I like that definition" "coexist peacefully with people whose ideas and manners differ from our own."

Tolerance doesn't mean we have to agree with their ideas or adopt their manners.

So I don't think you are being at all intolerant with you disagree with the views of others and say so.

One common form of intolerance, however, is to caricature the ideas of others, and then to justify ones own intolerance of them by accusing them of intolerance.

Yewtree said...

I like that. Particularly the suggestion that an atmosphere of respect should be part of it.

Yewtree said...

Just found this great Viktor Frankl quote:

“Being tolerant does not mean that I share another one’s belief. But it does mean that I acknowledge another one’s right to believe, and obey, his own conscience.” ~ Viktor Frankl