Archive for October, 2006

The intolerance and limitations of contemporary tolerance

The intolerance and limitations of contemporary tolerance

This clip recently came to my attention. I believe Bill Maher illustrates one of the classic logical fallacies of our age. He claims that because Christians believe they have a truth they must logically believe others are inferior to them. He is offended by this. The following is a snippet.

Bill: Do you think I have a truth that I do not see?

Rios: Yes.

Bill: Then aren’t I by logical means inferior

Later on Bill reveals some inconsistency. At one hand he is frustrated by these religious people who condescendingly think they know something he doesn’t, but on the other hand he agrees with his guest who says those who believe they know Jesus is the Son of God are mentally ill.


There isn’t actually any God talking to us…God doesn’t talk to you, you talk to him.

Brad: If you think you know God is talking to you, you are a schizophrenic.

Bill: Thank you, yes.

They believe they have an enlightened philosophy of tolerance, but by that philosophy that lay down the assumption that no religion can actually be true.

It isn’t a Christian ideology that has inspired the majority of conflict we see in the world today. Yes GW Bush pretends to be an evangelical, and evangelicals in the US have been duped. This conflict is primarily between two cultures. One heavily influenced by Islam which views all forces of pluralism and liberalism as a threat. The other is a post-Christian secular culture that traded in their “superstitions” for things like human rights or materialism. It is exactly our unchecked desire for wealth and perhaps security that betrays our high minded ideals about human rights and democracy.

To put the western world’s conflict with Islam squarely on the shoulders of religion is a cop out by non-religious people who fail to see their own culpability. It also seems to elevate American evangelicalism as the standard for Christianity every where.

That being said, I agree that religion can be a powerful vehicle for people to be coerced in to doing terrible things to each other. Recently I watched the movie Water. It is about Hindu Widows who have been treated very harshly based on the teachings of old Hindu texts. The whole movie deals with how religion is used to oppress people for the sake of convenience.

Most of the time when religion is used to exploit people it is when people used secondary elements of a religion, or the human tradition associated with that religion to leverage the ignorant.

I don’t think the answer to this is a philosophy of a specific brand of religious tolerance which by default assumes all devout faith is foolish or even a sign of mental illness.

I believe God speaks to people all the time and that there is likely some divine inspiration in many of the world’s religions. At the same time I believe that all our spiritual frameworks have flaws. If God is really God humanity probably couldn’t ever understand God perfectly. The further we get from the center of these divine inspirations the more we get sidetracked and easily manipulated.

While I believe that one particular religion leads me to a much better understanding of God than others, I’d say that there are people who hold tenaciously to the heart of other faiths that are closer to the heart of God than those in my own religion that over emphasize the secondary elements or the human tradition surrounding it.

It seems like in this world we are given two options. Either you believe your religion has a perfect understanding and everyone else is completely wrong. Or you react against that thinking and say everyone has the right to believe in their religion as long they don’t believe in it in such a way that it would influence anyone other than themselves. I think both positions are very limiting.