"There shall be no slavery of the mind." --- Victor Hugo
As the number of "new religious movements" continue to increase
in membership, the necessity to defend the right of people to
worship as they please, as long as they do not harm others, is
also increasing. Religious bigotry stems mostly from ignorance,
fear, and spiritual competition. None of these need be reasons
for engaging in religious intolerance and bigotry. Iíll address
why this is so here. But first, I would like to write about
"tolerance" itself. The word is defined here as
1. The capacity for or the practice
of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of
2.a. Leeway for variation from a standard. b. The permissible
deviation from a specified value of a structural dimension,
often expressed as a percent.
As Robert Green Ingersoll pointed out, to "tolerate"
someone is to make an "assumption of authority" and
it is therefore invalid to say to another "I tolerate
you" or "I tolerate your religion / beliefs."
One does not have the authority to "tolerate" someone
else's religious beliefs: that is the default condition, and
requires no act or largesse on anyone's part. Therefore when I
write about religious tolerance, I am speaking about the fact
that one has no right to perform any wrongful act against a
person or group based only upon that person's or group's
religion, religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs.
The default is if they cause no harm, leave them alone.
Note that harmful actions caused in the name of a church,
religion, or religious belief are certainly open to criticism:
it is not being intolerant or bigoted to castigate criminal,
unethical, and immoral behavior. Indeed, it is a human beingís
duty to oppose criminal acts regardless of who commits them.
Crimes committed in the name of religion are still crimes, and
must therefore be denounced.
Molko v. Holy Spirit (46 Cal. 3d 1092; 762 P.2d 46; 1988 Cal.
LEXIS 236; 252 Cal. Rptr. 122) to wit: "However, while
religious belief is absolutely protected, religiously motivated
conduct is not." (Sherbert v. Verner (1963) 374 U.S. 398,
402-403 [10 L.Ed.2d 965, 969-970, 83 S.Ct. 1790]; People v.
Woody (1964) 61 Cal.2d 716, 718 [40 Cal.Rptr. 69, 394 P.2d
813].) "Such conduct remains subject to regulation for the
protection of society." (Cantwell v. Connecticut, supra, 310
U.S. at p. 304 [84 L.Ed. at p. 1218].)
- IGNORANCE. Discriminating against someone for their
harmless religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs) out
of ignorance is probably the second greatest "reason" religious
discrimination and bigotry occurs. People may believe they
"know" something about a church, religion, or religious belief
that they do not in fact know; what they believe they know may
be inaccurate. It is often the case that the only sure way to
know what a religion actually teaches is to watch how members
actually behave: if they do no harm, and do not cost
non-members their time, money, and other resources, then
ignorance is not a valid excuse for intolerance and bigotry.
Education is the cure for ignorance. That education must come
from the church or religious individuals themselves, as well as
from the community that church resides in. (However, it is very
often the case that the best information about a church or
religion comes from people who have once been members but are
no longer members.) If the community is not being harmed by a
church, one must TOLERATE THAT CHURCH. One has no moral or
ethical reason to do otherwise.
- FEAR. People trust what they know, and distrust that which they
are not familiar with. If one encounters an unfamiliar church
or religion, it is only fair, ethical, and moral to withhold
judgment for or against that church or religion until it has
demonstrated itself worthy of fear--- which the vast majority
never do. When the "newness" of the church or religion wears
off, the fear will diminish.
- SPIRITUAL COMPETITION. The worse offenders against
religious tolerance are members and leaders of competing
religions. This is a shame, as those who are religious bigots
have failed to understand the fact that to be accepted
themselves, they must accept others. There are many reasons why
people belong to the religions they do: the chief one being
geography and familial tradition. If they are happy with their
religion, and if they harm no one, there is no reason to object
to their choice of spirituality.
If someoneís religion "does not break your bones or pick your
pocket," you are ethically and morally obligated to LEAVE THEM
ALONE and thus tolerate them. It costs you nothing to do so,
and it is wrong to do otherwise.
David M. Rice