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Can Truth make us intolerant?

By Paul So ~

I often hear from people that asserting certain statements as true in regards to religion can make someone intolerant. This isn’t entirely hard to understand since in the domain of religion truth and value are often so mixed together as equivalent. If your religious belief is not true then it follows that it has no value, if it is true then it follows that it has value. To say that it is false you are implying that the religion has no value which happens to be insulting people with religious sensibilities. In this sense I understand why claiming that a certain religion is false is considered not only rude but intolerant.

However I want to point out that truth does not make people intolerant: what people do with that truth can lead to intolerance. Intolerance is thrown around so much by so many people, including those with strong multicultural sensibilities that it has become a meaningless rhetorical word. The term has become so broad that even calling a religion false is considered intolerant. What I want to point out is that intolerance just means unwilling to harmoniously co-exist with another member of society but rather perpetuate conflicts with another member of society through discrimination, harassment, violence, and abuse due to the member’s culture or religion. That is very different from simply disagreeing with another member of society. Disagreement just means that not only you do not share the same beliefs with another member of society but your beliefs can conflict with that of other members. But conflicting beliefs among members does not have to lead to harmful conflicts among members, such conflicts can be managed with through civil and rational discussion. Responsibly managing conflicts in more constructive manner prevent harmful and unnecessary conflict. Responsibly managing conflict is essentially part of what it means to be tolerant.

If you refuse to manage conflicts responsibly in order to opt for a more harmful confrontation that reduces civil relationships into a verbal dog fight then you are intolerant. However, if you want a higher moral high ground then manage the conflicts like a responsible human being, but if you cannot then just avoid those conflicts. What is most important here is that we manage such conflicts through rational and civil discussions. I admit, it’s a slow and gradual process than simply landing your fist on someone else’s jaws or throwing ad hominem attacks in front of someone’s face. But it’s still a much more mature and better approach.

So truth does not make people intolerant, what makes people intolerant is how they deal with conflicting interests and beliefs. How people deal with conflicting interests and beliefs pertains more or less to personal disposition and motives rather than simply the truth. The truth is just simply what the case about reality is, it doesn’t have emotions, and it is indifferent to our feelings and opinions. 2 + 2 = 4 and a triangle has three angles do not really ‘feel’ anything, they simply are the case, regardless of how we feel. It’s not as though “2+2=4” believers hate the “2+2=5” believers, but there are certain statements such as “God exists” or “God probably does not exist” that fires us up because we develop emotional attachment to such statements due to our personal experiences. So truth as a whole has very little to do with intolerance, it is simply our arbitrary attitudes to certain statements that is potentially responsible for intolerance.

Tolerance, then, requires temperament and self-control of our personal tendencies in favor for civility and rationality. If you disagree with someone simply state your reasons why, and hopefully that person will respond likewise. It should be as simple as that but unfortunately this is not always the case.