Well, there it is. The two words everyone agrees is unacceptable behavior. Or do they all agree?
The only thing a tolerant society cannot tolerate is intolerance.
We believe equity for all must be demonstrated by intolerance of acts of discrimination or belittlement.
And yet everywhere you go you find people intolerant of those who express their religious beliefs openly. The religiously intolerant desire for those who openly practice and preach their religions to keep it to themselves. They believe that religious practices should be about inner personal experiences that forever remain unexpressed.
What is intolerance all about?
According to the dictionary it is:
Unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different races or backgrounds, etc.
Everyone is intolerant about some subject or another. No one can be tolerant of everyone else’s beliefs or personal choices. However the mere statement on the part of a religion that its own beliefs and practices are correct and any contrary beliefs are incorrect does not in itself constitute intolerance. Actually Religious intolerance, occurs when a group (e.g., a society, religious group, non-religious group) specifically refuses to tolerate practices, persons or beliefs on religious grounds or even anti-religious grounds.
The constitutions of some countries contain provisions expressly forbidding the state from engaging in certain acts of religious intolerance or preference within its own borders; examples include The First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Other examples are Article 4 of the Basic Law of Germany, Article 44.2.1 of the Constitution of The Republic of Ireland, Article 40 of the Estonian Constitution, Article 24 of the Constitution of Turkey and Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, and Article 3 Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. Finland has the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and Finnish Orthodox Church as its official state religions, yet upholds the right of free expression of religion in article 11 of its constitution.
Some countries retain laws forbidding defamation of religious belief. Some retain laws forbidding all forms of blasphemy (e.g., Germany where, in 2006, Manfred van H. was convicted of blasphemy against Islam). This is seen by some as official endorsement of religious intolerance, amounting to the criminalization of religious views. The connection between intolerance and blasphemy laws is closest when the laws apply to only one religion. In Pakistan blasphemy directed against either the tenets of the Qur’an or the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by either life imprisonment or death. Apostasy, the rejection of one’s old religion, is also criminalized in a number of countries, notably Afghanistan with Abdul Rahman being the first to face the death penalty for converting to Christianity.
The United Nations upholds the right to free expression of religious belief in articles and 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while article 2 forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. Article 18 also allows for the freedom to change religion. The European Convention on Human Rights, which is legally binding on all European Union states (following the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 in the United Kingdom), makes restricting the rights of an individual to practice or change their religion illegal in article 9, and discrimination on the basis of religion illegal in article 14.
Within those countries that openly advocate religious tolerance there remain debates as to the limits of tolerance. Some individuals and religious groups, for example, retain beliefs or practices which involve acts contrary to established law, such as the use of cannabis by members of the Rastafari movement, the religious use of eagle feathers by non-Native Americans (contrary to the eagle feather law, 50 CFR 22), or the practice of polygamy amongst the LDS Church in the 19th century.
There is only one verb ‘to tolerate’ and one adjective ‘tolerant,’ but the two nouns ‘tolerance’ and ‘toleration’ have evolved slightly different meanings. Tolerance is an attitude of mind that implies non-judgmental acceptance of different lifestyles or beliefs, whereas toleration implies putting up with something that one disapproves of.
In the Old Testament, the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy make similar statements about the treatment of strangers. For example, Exodus 22:21 says: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”.These texts are frequently used in sermons to plead for compassion and tolerance of those who are different from us and less powerful. Julia Kristeva elucidated a philosophy of political and religious toleration based on all of our mutual identities as strangers. The New Testament Parable of the Tares, which speaks of the difficulty of distinguishing wheat from weeds before harvest time, has also been invoked in support of religious toleration. In his “Letter to Bishop Roger of Chalons”, Bishop Wazo of Liege (c. 985–1048 AD) relied on the parable to argue that “the church should let dissent grow with orthodoxy until the Lord comes to separate and judge them”.
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466–1536), was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and Catholic whose works laid a foundation for religious toleration. Although Erasmus did not oppose the punishment of heretics, in individual cases he generally argued for moderation and against the death penalty. He wrote, “It is better to cure a sick man than to kill him.”
Sebastian Castellio (1515–1563) was a French Protestant theologian who in 1554 published under a pseudonym the pamphlet Whether heretics should be persecuted (De haereticis, an sint persequendi) criticizing John Calvin’s execution of Michael Servetus: “When Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings.” Castellio concluded: “We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace, pending the day when we shall attain unity of faith.” Castellio is remembered for the often quoted statement, “To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.