The Verdict on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 14 August 2006 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve only just begun Sam Harris’s book End of Faith, which I am sure quite a few of you are familar with. So far, I do enjoy it - though I must admit his frank thesis in the very beginning of the book even had [b:07fce3d7b6]my[/b:07fce3d7b6] eyes widening.

So for any of you that are familar with the book- or really anyone that wants to throw in your 2 cents - here’s a question: Is religious tolerance dangerous? I know Mr. Harris makes this assertion and as stated above I’ve only just begun getting into his reasons why, but I wondered what kind of opinions some of you had on the topic.

Personally, I first thought "No way!" But then, as I read on and heard him out, I began to connect some dots. Still pondering the idea myself, so I was curious as to others’ reactions.

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Posted: 14 August 2006 05:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This is a great question, and one that Sam and others deal with extensively…  My view is more or less in line with Sam’s argument.  We can be pluralistic and tolerant of many things, from taste in food right up to race and political ideology.  The nature of religion and religious belief, however, leads me to believe that these beliefs requires a bit of skepticism and even intolerance.  Widely differing and evidence-immune opinions on the purpose of life, our origins, morality, life after death, and all that religious belief entails can be quite dangerous when thrown together in a mix of violent peoples and turbulent times.

And I don’t think we’re talking about institutional or legal intolerance; we’re talking about a cultural and/or personal intolerance for views which have no empirical or rational basis, and which could result in harmful consequences for others or for society in general.  In other words, I respect your right to be a racist, but I am intolerant of your views, and would rather they be wiped off the face of the Earth.  Because you see, you might influence others to become racists (since the concept, pre-evidence and pre-education, can seem appealing and even rational to some) and your beliefs will more than likely cause some harm to others at some point. 

Now, are all religious people as harmful as racists?  Of course not - many are overwhelmingly beneficial to society; but I am still intolerant of their views on religion and I would rather they cite the logical reasons for altruism and benevolence than have them stand as a pillar of good faith and divine inspiration…  All good can be achieved without the unnecessary sidestep of supernatural and superstitious beliefs.

And lastly, I don’t think non-believers can afford to sit quietly in tolerance as zealots from every walk of faith spend billions of dollars on missions in an effort to win the “conversion war.”  Believers certainly aren’t keeping to themselves, so why should we?  :wink:

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Posted: 15 August 2006 02:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, excellent question, Nelly. FWIW I did read and (mostly) enjoy Sam Harris’s book, but I think the word “intolerance” is just the wrong one here. “Tolerate” comes from the latin for “endure” or “put up with”, which to me doesn’t imply “acceptance”, and certainly not “respect”.

And the great problem with intolerance, after all, has been those religious fanatics who use their intolerance to stamp out atheism, homosexuality and any other belief or practice they see as ungodly. After all, if you aren’t going to “tolerate” something, you might as well not allow it. Conventionally this amounts to the same thing.

So I think Harris is dead wrong on his word-choice at the very least. We should tolerate or “put up with” religious beliefs, but that is all we should do.

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Posted: 15 August 2006 05:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thank you both for your imput. HolyAvenger - I liked your analogy using racism and Doug - your opinion on Harris’s word use. Both very helpful.

The ideas Harris is putting forth are tricky to me. My rational, more objective and admittedly more opinionated side largely agrees with his take on religious tolerance (Considering that he means something closer to Doug’s definition; not necessarily the need that it be expunged because I can’t stand it - but that I refuse to accept it as necessary or respect it) yet my bleeding-heart, journalistic two-faces-to-every-coin side is kinda taken aback. But I am learning while my major (journalism) has taught that there is a beauty in examining the different facets of a story, there also seems to be a boundary where things are less nuanced and more universal than even a general bleeding-heart like myself cares to admit.

For instance,  I rather recently (about a semester ago) came to the conclusion, that in my view, there are things that just don’t pass the “but it’s a different culture and way of thinking” test. Basic human rights, gross gentital mutilation, the subjugation of women, etc etc. I, moreorless, came to my humanist epitome.  smile

So when Harris speaks of the atrocites that, I am well aware, can be attributed to religion, I am realizing that in many ways a concern for all humanity and a faith in a Higher Being that requires worship of him exclusively ( the alternative being an eternity of flame-broiled misery) don’t really marry too well. Though I know there is such a thing as religious humanist (not too well-informed about the whole humanist schpeel), I cannot honestly see where a truly faithful religious person could cover both bases; one base being to better humanity and the other to serve the one and only true creator of the universe (as per one of the orthodox religions of Christainty or Islam etc). Unless of course their idea of bettering humanity would be to convert humanity into fellow church-goers, which I would not agree with being all that great for mankind.

Point being - I see where the guy is coming from. And I guess, as an afterthought - what the hell is a religious humanist?!?!  smile

Thanks again guys.


PS - Doug you said you “mostly” enjoyed Harris’s book. I want to know more of what you did not necessarily agree with or like about it when I am finished (don’t want to stain my brain with pre-concieved notions just yet). So be ready. Though, admittedly it may be awhile. School has a tendency to swallow one’s soul.  :( And it’s fast approaching.

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Posted: 16 August 2006 01:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“Nelly Bly”]For instance,  I rather recently (about a semester ago) came to the conclusion, that in my view, there are things that just don’t pass the “but it’s a different culture and way of thinking” test. Basic human rights, gross gentital mutilation, the subjugation of women, etc etc. I, moreorless, came to my humanist epitome.  smile

Well put, and an important realization.

[quote author=“Nelly Bly”]Point being - I see where the guy is coming from. And I guess, as an afterthought - what the hell is a religious humanist?!?!  smile

I wouldn’t say this was impossible. There are, after all, some religions that don’t involve a god and that don’t do proselytization. Think Zen Buddhism, for example. I could certainly imagine a humanist Zen Buddhist.

[quote author=“Nelly Bly”]PS - Doug you said you “mostly” enjoyed Harris’s book. I want to know more of what you did not necessarily agree with or like about it when I am finished (don’t want to stain my brain with pre-concieved notions just yet). So be ready. Though, admittedly it may be awhile. School has a tendency to swallow one’s soul.  :( And it’s fast approaching.

:wink:

I wrote in some post somewhere on this forum about a few of my disagreements, but happy to reiterate them whenever you like. On the whole I enjoyed it, and certainly would recommend it, however.

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