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Friday, December 24, 2010

Tolerance and Relativism

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas A. Ediso

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"Jay Newman identifies another prevalent misconception concerning the nature of intolerance, a misconception which is also found in the charge that religious schools promote intolerance. It is often assumed that tolerating a religious belief is primarily a matter of refusing to make a negative judgment about the content of that belief. This cannot be so, because when a Unitarian or an atheist tolerates a Catholic’s belief in, for example, the claim that God exists in three persons there is no way that they can accept this belief. The Unitarian or atheist rejects this trinitarian belief. Further, he or she believes that the Catholic ought to reject it too. As we have already seen, religious tolerance is not so much concerned with the belief itself as with “someone’s holdng” that belief. It involves the adoption of a certain attitude towards the Catholic’s "believing" in the Trinity...

Should the classification of another’s beliefs as false be viewed as a case of intolerance? No. Religious toleration necessarily presupposes that we disagree with another person’s beliefs.” Tolerance is required precisely because we do disagree and because we consider another person's position to be false. But, we must still respect and love the person who holds beliefs which we consider false. To determine whether or not those who criticize others are intolerant, we need to examine instead their attitudes and actions towards the actual people with whose beliefs they differ. Simply to label a belief is false is not to be intolerant...

There is one final conceptual error underlying the tendency to associate the religious commitment of religious schools with intolerance. It is often assumed that the only way to be tolerant is to adopt a relativist position with regard to truth. Indeed, historically liberalism has often associated tolerance with scepticism and relativism... What is being suggested... is that tolerance is necessarily linked with an epistemology which states that there is no right way, that different positions are equally positive or excellent, that there is flux in the markeplace of ideas, and thus we should avoid a blind and narrow commitment to a particular position. In other words, the only adequate foundation for religious tolerance is the acceptance of epistemological relativism. To be tolerant means to be a relativist’...

Religious tolerance, as we have seen, presupposes disagreement, and hence a negative attitude towards the beliefs of the person one is being tolerant towards. But, epistemological relativism undercuts the very possibility of having a negative attitude towards others’ differing beliefs. As such it makes the virtue of tolerance impossible. Tolerance is therefore replaced with indifference. But to be indifferent to the convictions of others is to fail to respect them as persons."

--- In defence of religious schools and colleges / Elmer John Thiessen
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