Religious toleration

Religious toleration

Religious toleration is the condition of accepting or permitting others' religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one's own.

In a country with a state religion, toleration means that the government permits religious practices of other sects besides the state religion, and does not persecute believers in other faiths. It is a partial status, and might still be accompanied by forms of religious discrimination. Religious toleration as a Government policy merely means the absence of religious persecution; unlike religious liberty it does not mean that religions are equal before the law. Toleration is a privilege granted by Government (which it may do by law or charter), not a right against it; governments have often tolerated some religions and not others.

Religious toleration "as a government-sanctioned practice — the sense on which most discussion of the phenomenon relies — is not attested before the sixteenth century", which makes it rather difficult to apply the concept to topics like Persecution of religion in ancient Rome.

Historically, toleration has been a contentious issue within many religions as well as between one religion and another. At issue is not merely whether other faiths should be permitted, but also whether a ruler who is a believer may be tolerant, or permit his subordinates to be. In the Middle Ages, toleration of Judaism was a contentious issue throughout Christendom. Today, there are concerns about toleration of Christianity in Islamic states (see also dhimmi).

Proselytism can be a contentious issue; it can be regarded as an offence against the validity of others' religions, or as an expression of one's own faith.

The element of objection

For individuals, religious toleration generally means an attitude of acceptance towards other people's religions. It does not mean that one views other religions as equally true; merely that others have the right to hold and practice their beliefs. This element of objection is important. People, who take these matters seriously, often experience distress when they are confronted with religious beliefs that they regard as idolatrous, superstitious, heretical or schismatic.

Contexts of religious tolerance

At least five contexts of religious tolerance can be distinguished. Religious tolerance as a state sanctioned practice can more precisely termed civil tolerance. Civil tolerance is concerned with "the policy of the state towards religious dissent". In contrast to this, ecclesiastical tolerance is concerned with the degree of diversity tolerated within a particular church. Without this distinction, the Christian debate on persecution and toleration in England could not be adequately understood.

Furthermore, there is also a social and a polemical context of religious tolerance. The grand theme of divine tolerance is the emphasis on "the patience and longsuffering of God" as it is frequently portrayed in the Christian Bible; This image of God has been invoked by early Christian advocates of toleration.

The polemical context

Contemporary authors such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel C. Dennett have all challenged the tolerance of religion. In The End of Faith, Sam Harris asserts that we should be unwilling to tolerate unjustified beliefs about morality, spirituality, politics, and the origin of humanity. In his preface to The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says, "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." Such secularism is often perceived as in itself intolerant by people of faith.


See also

Further reading

  • Barzilai, Gad (2007). Law and Religion. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-2494-3.
  • Beneke, Chris (2006). Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-530555-8.
  • Coffey, John (2000). Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558-1689. Longman Publishing Group. ISBN 0-582-30465-2.
  • Curry, Thomas J. Church and State in America to the Passage of the First Amendment. Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 19, 1989). ISBN 0-19-505181-5.
  • (2000). Toleration in Enlightenment Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521651967.
  • Hamilton, Marci A. God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-85304-4.
  • Hanson, Charles P. (1998). Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England. University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0813917948.
  • Kaplan, Benjamin J. (2007). Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe. Belknap Press. ISBN 0674024303.
  • (1997). Beyond the Persecuting Society: Religious Toleration Before the Enlightenment. University of Pennsylvania Press (December 1997). ISBN 0-8122-3331-X.
  • Murphy, Andrew R. (2001). Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-02105-5.
  • Walsham, Alexandra (2006). Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719052394.
  • Zagorin, Perez (2003). How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12142-7.


External links

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