Many believe that a perfect world looks much like a kindergarten poster. Multicultural children holding hands wearing ethnic clothes singing together in peace and harmony. Wouldn't it be just wonderful if the world worked that way? The truth is that the Mexican boy in the sombrero is catholic only because conquistadors invaded his country and converted the natives to Christianity. The Muslim girl may be subjected to genital mutilation before her next birthday, and the 6 year old Indian boy may be married already. There are plenty of good people out there that believe we can have world peace. That everyone will be able to love everybody one day. They also believe that quickest way there is religious tolerance. I'm here to say that it's a pretty tall order and one that will not be filled through this myth.
Image by Amarand Agasi via FlickrDon't get me wrong, people that believe this are probably good people that just want to make the world a better place. It's not a bad goal. Unfortunately, religious tolerance as it is believed to be is a lie. Tolerance is believed to be the acceptance of other's faiths, and allowing them to practice it undisturbed. I say this is near impossible to accomplish if you are devoutly religious. It is believed that educating people devout in their faiths about other faiths is going to make them less intolerant. Unfortunately it doesn't tend to work that way.
If you believe that you are following the one true religion and that any other path is a path to hell, you can not remedy that. Educating the religious on other religions to bring peace is like attempting to educate homophobes about homosexuality. In theory it should work, but it often doesn't. It fails because their world view hinders on the belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong and headed towards a fiery afterlife. There are religions that don't believe in a hell, but they are often religions that don't uproot your entire life to follow them. Even so it's often near impossible for them to have a favorable, respectful view of another person's beliefs.
The irony is that when a religious person looks on another of a different faith they see things the way atheists do for a brief moment. This is the beauty of cognitive dissonance. They must, make light of the faiths of others and ignore information, question their own faith, or do away with their beliefs. Usually it's the first, and it's truly wonderful how the human mind can be such an amazing contortionist when it comes to faith.
You may be wondering about the part of tolerance that deals with letting other faiths be, to practice on their own. The place where this fails is in the fact that to do this, and be religious would be sadistic. Let me explain. If you are, say christian and you care about someone, you can't, not try to convert them. Doing so would be like saying, "I love you, but I don't mind your immortal soul getting raped by demons in hell for all eternity!"
You may then say, "but miss mayhem why then do we still have places of worship?" Well the answer is simple. Religion is maintained by a great deal of self-segregation. You avoid people of other faiths and differing beliefs as much as possible when you are a fundamentalist. You keep yourself and your family away from outside influences that would derail your faith's teachings. If you surround yourself with differing views you tend to become more moderate, which is really what the world needs. It is my theory that the reason we don't have people burning down US mosques and as many massive conversion attempts, is that there are more moderate religious people than we think here in the US. That there are many people who go to church only on holidays, people who are jewish only by birth, and non practicing muslims. So when the census comes around they put that down, because alot of people would rather put down a faith than admit to being agnostic or atheist.
People are afraid of admitting that they are more moderate in terms of faith or that they may not believe at all. We can not have this "let it be" kind of attitude without a combination of silent fundamentalists, a hell of a lot of lazy religious people, and non-believers in denial. The only way that a person can be truly tolerant of other faiths, is to say that their faith got it wrong in some places and there is some reasonable doubt to it's validity. They are altering religion to function in modern society. This is hypocrisy, but it is slowly creating more mild forms of religion and diluting it to more manageable levels.
Even being Agnostics or Atheists, we can't really be tolerant knowing what we know. We can't ignore what religion does to people. We can't "let it be" when it divides families and entire countries. We're not okay when people kill or die in the name of faith. Why would you want to be? What sort of reward is there for perpetuating something that is harmful to people? I do not by any means, promote bigotry, but I do promote sanity. Certainly people shouldn't be discriminated against for their beliefs, but it happens. Tell a workplace in the bible belt you're an atheist and see how long you keep your job.
Religious tolerance is a double standard. You can't get in trouble as much for being a witnessing mormon, but the second you say there's no such thing as a god, you might as well have shouted a racial slur at the top of your lungs. However religious tolerance is not the same as racial tolerance or respecting a person's sexual orientation. Those are things inherent to you, and can not be changed. Religion is not something nature gave you, it's what your parents gave you. It's what your community expects of you. So why must we aid in protecting other people's expectations of a human being? These are not character building expectations nor things that will make you better, and yet people believe that an Atheist is the worst thing you can be.
So if religion divides nations, ruins lives, and puts people in emotional turmoil, how is being tolerant of it, above all other things the path to peace? Authoritative parenting styles in religious upbringing, social isolation, and unrealistic expectations are raising kids to hide their desires, to be ignorant of reality, and makes them more prone to be violent. How the hell is that giving us world peace?
The next time you say that you doubt the existence of a god and some idiot calls you intolerant, know that they, are probably far more intolerant than you will ever be in your entire existence. You look that dumbass straight in the eye and say, "Yep, I sure am." "You may look at me and see someone bound for hell, but when I look at you I see someone who is cranky and obviously not getting laid enough. I know that you will never know the kind of freedoms this country can offer due to your self-imposed servitude to a deity that obviously doesn't give a crap about anybody. So you are absolutely correct in that statement my friend and I do hope that our meeting won't put a damper on your current activities. Have a nice day and it was lovely meeting you!" Then you top that with the biggest smile you can muster.
What we need to do, is not be afraid to be rational human beings. We need to be the kind of people moderates aren't afraid to be. If we hold our own and act with the sense we claim to have, those moderates will come flying out of the closet. We can not afford to be silent, and if provoked we must rise to the occasion. Encourage them to be moderate and it will sort itself out. Religious moderation is something I think most of us can support. They can not be forced. They must be allowed to take whatever baby steps they need to take on their own.
However most people need a catalyst for change. So when someone says we need to be more tolerant of other religions, we need to look at that person, and ask "Why?"