Adam Snider

Where Does Tolerance End?

In Religion on November 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Author’s Note: This is only a half-formed thought, at present. I am writing this largely as a way to help myself explore these thoughts; I actually hope to come to a bit more of a solid understanding of my personal thoughts on this and then present something similar as a sermon at my church in the future.

Where does religious tolerance end? At what point does someone cross the line where I can no longer respect their beliefs?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot in recent months.

As a Unitarian, I am supposed to respect the religious beliefs and values of others. The 3rd and 4th principles of my faith talk about this, stating that Unitarian Universalists are to affirm and promote:

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth […]; and
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Now, that first one, technically, ends with “[…] in our congregations,” but I think it is fair to extend it beyond just UU congregations. We should at least try to accept all people and to encourage all people to grow spiritually (in whatever way they find meaningful).

But, at what point can I say, “No. I will not respect your beliefs.” At what point can I draw that line?

I believe that the line must be drawn in the sand at some point. I cannot simply say that, as a liberal religious person, I accept any and all beliefs. I do not. I cannot.

If you believe in a personal god who will answer prayers, fine. I don’t, but I won’t disparage your beliefs. This is not the sort of thing that I’m referring to when I talk about drawing a line.

I’m talking about beliefs and values which are hateful. When someone uses religion as an excuse for committing acts of terror, I will draw the line. When someone uses religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ people, I will draw the line. When someone uses religion as an excuse to eliminate democracy, to commit murder, or to otherwise commit acts of evil, I will draw the line.

These lines are easy to draw. And, I don’t feel that they are outside of the realm of that 4th prinicple that I mentioned above, affirmation and promotion of  “A free and responsible (emphasis added) search for truth and meaning.” Using faith and religion as a justification for evil acts means that you are no longer being responsible in your search, and so I am comfortable drawing these lines.

But what about more subtle lines?

What about the church whose members say that homosexuality is a sin but that they hate the sin, not the sinner? Do I have to respect and accept the beliefs of these people? If they are not actively harming anyone with their beliefs, do I have to accept them? Am I violating the principles of my faith if I do not accept them?

Technically, these people are not hurting anyone—not directly or intentionally, at least. But they are being discriminatory. They are claiming that something as inherent to a person’s identity as their sexuality is somehow wrong unless it matches a specific definition of heterosexuality (and, most likely, not any sort of queer heterosexuality).

It would be one thing if they were simply being exclusionary. By just about any definition, all groups are exclusionary to some extent or another. Even Unitarians are exclusionary. We would not accept into our fold, for example, the people I described earlier—the people who use religion as an excuse to promote hatred and evil.

And, in practice, we are likely just as exclusionary as most other religions, though we may not be willing to admit it (or even consciously aware of it).

So, I would be OK with beliefs which are exclusionary. That is the nature of most religions. I am not OK with beliefs that are discriminatory. And so I find it hard not to drawn a line in front of even that more “tame” form of religious homophobia—the hate the sin not the sinner variety.

But this, I guess, is where things fall apart for me. I’m drawing this line, but is doing so the “right” thing to do? Does doing so violate the principles by which I try to live my life?

I’m not sure.

And, because I often find myself on the side of religion in debates about ethics and morality, on the side of the religious person, saying that religion is not inherently evil or immoral but that human nature causes many of us to interpret it in a way that justifies our actions, I don’t necessarily know where to draw the line.

What if I draw the lines to rigidly and too close. Do I end up vilifying religion? Do I end up boxing myself into a situation where I end up saying that my faith is the only true faith?

More thoughts on this to come…please leave any comments that you may have…


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