Principled Toleration of Religion
May 30, 2006 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Why Tolerate Religion? Brian Leiter's new paper on the philosophical and legal justifications for toleration of religion. From the abstract: Religious toleration has long been the paradigm of the liberal ideal of toleration of group differences, as reflected in both the constitutions of the major Western democracies and in the theoretical literature explaining and justifying these practices. While the historical reasons for the special “pride of place” accorded religious toleration are familiar, what is surprising is that no one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion: that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral or other principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral treatment to religious practices. There are, to be sure, principled arguments for why the state ought to tolerate a plethora of private choices, commitments, and practices of its citizenry, but none of these single out religion for anything like the special treatment it is accorded in, for example, American and Canadian constitutional law. So why tolerate religion? Not because of anything that has to do with it being religion as such - or so this paper argues.
posted by monju_bosatsu (126 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why tolerate it?

Because the majority of the people in the U.S. and Canada have always been religious and, therefore, have demanded, expected, and received special consideration.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 10:54 AM on May 30, 2006


Yes, because we seck-yoo-lahr humanists are badly outnumbered, and like all threatened minorities we espouse tolerance of different viewpoints as a means not to get our asses shot off...
posted by twsf at 11:06 AM on May 30, 2006


Why tolerate unreason?

Why tolerate illogic?

Why tolerate insanity?
posted by oncogenesis at 11:07 AM on May 30, 2006


Why tolerate you?
posted by pmbuko at 11:07 AM on May 30, 2006


cause if you don't those following the religion, act all "teh Crazy" and burn stuff, you included sometimes. So basic survival says tolerate it a little at least.

Saladin, even figure that one out
.
posted by Elim at 11:08 AM on May 30, 2006


If you tolerate this then your children will be next.
posted by chunking express at 11:09 AM on May 30, 2006


Leiter himself seems to get the definitions he outlines at the beginning of the paper mixed up. I think he's wrong about the Constitutional and social perception of religion. It is not about tolerance. It's quite apparently about indifference.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:15 AM on May 30, 2006


I actually skimmed through the paper, and here is what bugs me:

Leiter spends the first 28 pages carefully & academically constructing a view of what toleration means, what a principled argument for toleration in society looks like, how toleration applies to religion as opposed to other forms of thought, etc. I don't really have the philosophical training to critique that, especially after a 10, 15-minute skim.

Then in the last paragraph he comes along and drops the standard libertarian argument that whatever a principled picture of tolerance of religion may look like, we can't trust the government to implement it, so better err on the side of not trying to do anything with the principles he just spent 28 pages outlining.

It's not a bad point, but speaking as a member of the audience who just got through those 28 pages to get to that point, GRRRR.
posted by furiousthought at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2006


Interesting paper; I think he misses the point early on, though. Goverment should not tolerate religion so much as be indifferent to it (using the terms as the author does). In fact, there are many instances where even a religion-friendly government such as the U.S. does not tolerate certain aspects of religion, as when parents deny their children medical care or otherwise abuse them in the name of religion.
posted by TedW at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2006


Suggesting that we not tolerate religion is like choosing to not tolerate gravity, or protesting the speed of light. It doesn't matter if religion is irrational and illogical. It's a fact of life. Live with it. Unless you've got a cure for the temporal lobe disorder responsible for religious experience that can be slyly introduced into the global water supply that is - in which case, let's talk.
posted by slatternus at 11:23 AM on May 30, 2006


Well, of course there is a practical concern. Religious people tend to get violent if you don't let them do what they want.

As long as they're not hurting anyone, why stop them? In fact, I don't see why you would stop anyone from doing whatever he or she wants, as long as they're not hurting anyone?

So perhaps I'm not in the target audience for the paper.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 AM on May 30, 2006


After hitting post I see that a couple of other people seem to feel that indifference is more appropriate than tolerance as far as government interactions with religion are concerned. For individuals, however, tolerance makes much more sense, because individuals have a sense of whether or not a given religious belief is correct; the government is incapable of having beliefs apart from those of the people who make it up.
posted by TedW at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2006


Religious people tend to get violent if you don't let them do what they want.

And Italian people tend to have mafia ties, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2006


Religious people tend to get violent if you don't let them do what they want.

I'm pretty sure this is true of non-religious people, too, historically speaking.

In fact, I don't see why you would stop anyone from doing whatever he or she wants, as long as they're not hurting anyone?


Ah, but who gets to decide whether or not someone is being hurt?

The paper certainly raises a thought-provoking topic, but it seems to me just to be academic writing for academic writing's sake.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:32 AM on May 30, 2006


Funny, and I thought *that* was the Libertarian argument. As long as they aren't hurting anyone, don't stop them from doing what they want.
posted by Talanvor at 11:33 AM on May 30, 2006


I have less and less patience with religion these days. Churches' tax-free status bugs me, too.
posted by wsg at 11:34 AM on May 30, 2006


academic writing for academic writing's sake.

Oh, c'mon now, when does THAT ever happen?
posted by slatternus at 11:35 AM on May 30, 2006


Or to put a finer point on it, the U.S. Constitution is based on the recognition that government favoritism in regards to religious matters was a recipe for civil warfare at that time and age. The reformation and counter-reformation produced tensions that make the modern-day partitioning of Israel and Palestine look tame. The references to religion in the Constitution are pragmatic rather than moral, a product of then-contemporary politics.

There shouldn't be a need to single out voting rights based on sex either. And yet, we had to pass an Amendment for that purpose.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:36 AM on May 30, 2006


Religious people tend to get violent if you don't let them do what they want.

Well, if what they want is to behead infidels, persecute gays and lesbians, fill childrens heads with lies about the natural world or shoot people dead for wearing shorts, then I guess that's as good an argument as any for non-tolerance.
posted by slatternus at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2006


Personally, I think any asylum inmate whose particular delusions happen to include God or some variant should be immediately released unless clearly dangerous to public safety and/or him or herself. After all, I can't very well judge the belief or reported experience of the divine, can I?
posted by dreamsign at 11:43 AM on May 30, 2006


The basic question is "why tolerate stupidity"? And the answer... well, you can't do anything else with it, so you pretty much have to. Short of totalitarian measures, you have to live with the things other people can't change about themselves. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to like it, and it doesn't mean you shouldn't tell them they're stupid.
posted by reklaw at 11:53 AM on May 30, 2006


Why tolerate arrogance?
posted by airguitar at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2006


Ah, but who gets to decide whether or not someone is being hurt?

Well, define 'hurt' first. Ironically, I was listening to a religious fellow on the bus complaining how the right to beat your children was taken away by the liberals and to "keep it below the belt." That is to say hit them so hard it leaves bruises and marks, but only where its covered by pants so teachers do not ask questions.

Also, Richard Dawkins has made some good arguments that teaching religion to children is a form of mental child abuse. How can telling a child that they will burn in hell be beneficial? How can telling a child that those who don't subscribe to your faith are below you or even your enemy be beneficial?
posted by skallas at 12:04 PM on May 30, 2006


There's a bizarre double conversation going on in this thread. It's clear that some posters have looked at the article and others...have not.

KirkJobSluder: you make an excellent point, but I think your analysis is exactly what Leiter is not interested in. He's working on a more rarefied intellectual plane: no realpolitik involved.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:05 PM on May 30, 2006


The basic question is "why tolerate stupidity"? And the answer... well, you can't do anything else with it, so you pretty much have to.

True. But do you have to give it a tax break?
posted by QuietDesperation at 12:17 PM on May 30, 2006


As long as they're not hurting anyone, why stop them?

My take on this is that what hurts another might not be readily apparent; is it a hurt to speak of the roll of women in the bible? Probably not, but does it hurt to take those opinions based on biblical lore and use them as the basis of a system that excludes women from the vote?

(not meaning to strawman here, i'm trying to cite a real example from the last century)

i suspect that for as long as there have been people, there have been those who would impose their personal moral structure on others.

Without that, we wouldn't have government or religion. For better or worse.
posted by quin at 12:24 PM on May 30, 2006


I was born a snake handler and I'll die a snake handler.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:29 PM on May 30, 2006


He's working on a more rarefied intellectual plane: no realpolitik involved.

Maybe that's the problem.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 12:36 PM on May 30, 2006


I really, really love how so very many of you equate 'religion' with 'right-wing religious fundamentalism'.

I'm deeply religious... do I want people to die? Do I get violent? Do I deny anyone any rights?

No.

So kindly stop tarring those of us who are religious with the same broad brush.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:38 PM on May 30, 2006


I find that ironic coming from you, dirtynumbangelboy.
posted by jon_kill at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2006


I'm deeply religious... do I want people to die? Do I get violent? Do I deny anyone any rights?

When you say you're religous, do you mean that you're Christian? That you venerate the Old and New Testements as the Word of God?

Then you should be aware that while you might be a religious moderate, your God isn't.
posted by bshort at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2006


Perhaps governments give religious folks a tax break because there is a perception that doing so is good for the population. The fact that the church does some good work for the poor and downtrodden (setting aside child molestation and other issues within the church), and that they help a society feel good and connected to one another is a pretty good reason to give it special considerations just like any non profit org who's aim is greater public good.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 12:47 PM on May 30, 2006


That you venerate the Old and New Testements as the Word of God?

That's a heretical notion, as it is quite clear that the "Word of God", the logos, was always identified with Christ in traditional Christianity.

It may be a popular in American Christishanity, but it is un-Biblical.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2006


I think the point is Government shouldn't be the one to mandate what is tolerable or not, (a view I disagree with in this case, as if not the people as a whole the who?)

My point was originally that toleration Not ignoring, is fundamentally a survival instinct, and a good one, Like predators and prey getting along at a watering hole in drought african plains.

Your religious rights end right at where my begin, or "As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, 'The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins" seems common sense. Alas we don't see a lot of that on the "louder" religions...
posted by Elim at 12:52 PM on May 30, 2006


In before Leviticus trot-out.
posted by brownpau at 12:54 PM on May 30, 2006


Churches' tax-free status bugs me, too.
posted by wsg


"I don't know how you feel, but I'm pretty sick of church people. You know what they ought to do with churches? Tax them. If holy people are so interested in politics, government, and public policy, let them pay the price of admission like everybody else. The Catholic Church alone could wipe out the national debt if all you did was tax their real estate." - George Carlin
posted by NationalKato at 12:56 PM on May 30, 2006


That's a heretical notion, as it is quite clear that the "Word of God", the logos, was always identified with Christ in traditional Christianity.

Ok, how about "directly inspired by God"?

Does that work better for you?
posted by bshort at 12:56 PM on May 30, 2006


Is the Bible translated into Klingon divinely inspired?
posted by Captaintripps at 1:02 PM on May 30, 2006


That is also a very recent notion. For instance, in Catholicism, there is no such notion; "correct" dogma is rooted in the divine authority of the Catholic Church, not the Bible.

Acceptance of some magical property of the Bible which distinguishes it from other purportedly sacred writings has only very recently become a fundamental belief of Christians, specifically Evangelicals. This is one of those things that 90% of American Christians believe, but none can tell you why they believe it. They mumble "Council of Nicaea" and change the subject.

Many of these Christians will deny one can "be a Christian" without accepting this arbitrary and ahistorical proposition. I bet there is some overlap with the creationist crowd here.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:03 PM on May 30, 2006


I'm deeply religious... do I want people to die? Do I get violent? Do I deny anyone any rights?

You as an individual, no.

The institution of religion? Absolutely.

Look no further than the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or the Salem Witch Trials, or if you prefer more modern examples; the current campaign against homosexuals, or the pro-life movement.

And that's just Christianity.

To read religious history is to read of violence and denial of rights.
posted by quin at 1:03 PM on May 30, 2006


So is reading atheist history.
posted by brownpau at 1:07 PM on May 30, 2006


what is surprising is that no one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion: that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral or other principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral treatment to religious practices.

Umm, no. I read the Constitutution and Bill of Rights as being indirectly obssesed with this issue, actually, in light of what KirkJobSluder is saying. Competing interests over land, money and politics weren't necessarily a threat to the country if the acrimony could be spread over enough competers, so to speak. The problem with religion is that it's a "conversation stopper" (Rorty), and once you start fighting over invisible deities you've got problems, and ones that you'll never be able to rationally and/or greedily resolve (enter Jihadists, Crusaders, etc., i.e. appeal to rationality nor an appeal to base self interest will ever stop the argument). So I don't really get the premise this paper is based on--the legal, philosophical, and theological debate is on-going and hardly new. An interesting subject though.

Jefferson famously took a copy of the Christian Testament and literally cut out any passage where Jesus did anything miraculous and/or magical (raising Lazarus, feeding hundres with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, rising from the dead after three days, etc.). He thought Jesus was an great moral guide, but once you make him the Messiah, you run into all kinds of problems. Which is to say, he had no problem with his fellow citizens going to church on Sunday and striving to live a moral life--he probably would have encouraged it. If it makes them more productive and kinder to the polity, it's a good thing (this would also be Franklin's take on the issue, IMO). He definitely saw a line in the sand though, so to speak. I'd argue it's being trampled on throughout the world today, unfortunately (in America less than other places, but still).
posted by bardic at 1:09 PM on May 30, 2006


To read religious history is to read of violence and denial of rights.

It's a bit obvious, but couldn't the same be said of government, or large groups of people in general?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:10 PM on May 30, 2006


The institution of religion?

There is no such institution, any more than there's an institution of mathematics, an institution of indie rock, or an institution of constipation.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:12 PM on May 30, 2006


mr_roboto: KirkJobSluder: you make an excellent point, but I think your analysis is exactly what Leiter is not interested in. He's working on a more rarefied intellectual plane: no realpolitik involved.

Except when he poses the question of why special protection is granted to religion. Certainly it is just a tangent, but I think it's an important one.

And to pull out a radical analysis on that tangent here, there is a danger in saying that *some value* is the self-evident general application of protection for *some dimension* (where *some dimension* can be race, sexual orientation, gender, etc..). It benefits the dominant group by making invisible the class dynamics in which one group is systematically privileged and others systematically disadvantaged.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:12 PM on May 30, 2006


brownpau, It's fair to call Stalin an atheist, but it's ignorant to deny that religion, especially the Christian clergy of his childhood, played a major role--he was a divinity student as a young man, and he likened himself to a Christ and/or Messiah figure thoughout his life.

More generally, it's highly disengenuous to play the "atheism is just as bad as religion card," because there's a major difference IMO. If you stab me, I would call the cops--appeal to authority based on a sense of common rights. If you stab me because your atheist principles demand it, well, I'm still stabbed, but I can still make the appeal to my rights as a citizen to be protected. If you stab me because Zoroaster told you to, or that I was unclean in the eyes of Baal, well, I still have my appeal, but if enough of you Baal-worshippers managed to take over the government and institutions of power, I'd be out of luck eventually.

That's a bit cursory, of course, but I gotta run. Yes, attrocities are horrible, but Stalin (and Hitler for that matter) didn't commit mass-murder in the name of atheism, they did it in the name of their own ideologies (Communism, Nazisms, etc.). That's not an attempt at absolution, just an appeal to your sense of intellectual honesty. Please notify when the great atheistic jihad begins, because frankly, it never will.
posted by bardic at 1:17 PM on May 30, 2006


So is reading atheist history.

Absolutely. No argument what so ever. To me, the difference is that invariably, religion is cited as being a moral authority; that we should be kind and charitable to others.

And then in the name of that religion, acts that go against that very religions tenants are perpetrated.

"A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic"

Stalin was a sociopathic monster, but he wasn't a hypocrite.
posted by quin at 1:19 PM on May 30, 2006


Damn. As usual, bardic is faster and more eloquent than i.
posted by quin at 1:21 PM on May 30, 2006


Good thing Jesus doesn't tell me to stab you, eh?
posted by brownpau at 1:25 PM on May 30, 2006


Please notify when the great atheistic jihad begins, because frankly, it never will.

Of course not. By definition. But if I asked you to call me when people start being persecuted and killed because of their religious beliefs, you'd be calling me right now. Hence the importance of toleration of people's religious beliefs in a society where we don't think it's ok to kill people because of what they believe.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:27 PM on May 30, 2006


So is reading atheist history.

Right, Stalin was driven by atheism to be a murderous dictator... He wasn't driven by toppling the entrenched political power base that was the Orthodox church. No of course not. No the lesson here cannot be that secularism might be a good idea. No way. Just bash the atheists with a smart-ass runaway link. In the 1940s Stalin did not revive the orthodox church to help with the war effort. History is simple as religion vs atheism. Sigh...

The opposite of theocracy isn't atheism, its secularism. Youre an American right? What are you doing in Iraq? Or Vietnam? Maybe we should let Pat Robertson be President and be done with it, eh?
posted by skallas at 1:29 PM on May 30, 2006


What "principled" argument could there be for tolorance of religion...or science for that matter? Expedience, pure and simple. People get really worked up about it. It's important to them (and me). They don't want others messing with what they think. And, of course, a little religion rightly-understood is good for society. Keeps folks in line (unless it doesn't...)
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:29 PM on May 30, 2006


Because all Christians want Pat Robertson to be president.
posted by brownpau at 1:30 PM on May 30, 2006


Stalin is also germane to this discussion in that the only state to 'successfully' not tolerate religion (AFAIK) was the Soviet Union, and how did they do it? With the cult of personality, and by fostering a level of blind loyalty to the party, a combination which, in the end, is indistinguishable from religion. (Not that I'm saying a society without religion is a pipe dream... oh, I dunno, maybe I am.)

Force all religous people to convert to Quakerism, I say - all the God stuff they need; none of the shite!

Or, to put it another way, if religion was as tolerant of society as society is of religion, everything would be just dandy.
posted by jack_mo at 1:37 PM on May 30, 2006


Where did this beloved-of-Mefi religious strawman come from, and why is it embraced by so many?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:44 PM on May 30, 2006


The paper seems a bit circular to me, in that he proposes that there is no quality that distinguishes religion such that it warrants special tolerance, and then defines religion in a way that supports his proposal. I don't think his definition would stand the cross-cultural test.

MarshallPoe, he specifically distinguishes what you describe from "principled" tolerance.
posted by carmen at 1:46 PM on May 30, 2006


Where did this beloved-of-Mefi religious strawman come from, and why is it embraced by so many?

Indeed.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:48 PM on May 30, 2006


brownpau writes: Good thing Jesus doesn't tell me to stab you, eh?

Indeed. I chose a pretty cut-and-dried example. Now, let's turn to issues that people like Rawls have struggled with (and on managing to read the latter part of the essay, I'm more impressed but still wonder why the author seems to be talking "outside" the debate--tons of articles have been or are being published on the outcomes, good and bad, of what Rawls had to say in 1971.). What if your mythological belief compels you to limit my right to marry a person of the same gender? I'd say we can still manage to have the discussion with appeals to rationality and self-interest (i.e., greed), but it starts to get stickier and stickier--will two gay men living together give "teh gay" to the neighbor's kid? No, but let's say it does--so what? "Well, God doesn't permit that stuff is really what this is about." And once again, the conversation ends with a curtailment of rights and hurt feelings at best, violence at worst.

JekPorkins, as I'm sure you know, toleration is a two-way street, and in order to work it relies upon the ability of the state to promulgate notions of human worth (not always succesfully, I realize) that supercede mythology. My overly brief take is that starting with, oh, Hobbes (also mentioned in the paper), fairness and justice are not so much ideals to be achieved as they are minimum standards to prevent anarchy and chaos. Of course, "Fairness" and "Justice" then become important, motivating ideals, if not illusions, but they're illusions we can talk about with appeals to common suffering, and not have to get into that messy public religion thing. Privately, do as you will of course.

So if a religious person is suffering unfairly, I'd do what was possible to relieve their suffering because they're human, not because they make offerings to Baal.
posted by bardic at 1:53 PM on May 30, 2006


There is no such institution, any more than there's an institution of mathematics, an institution of indie rock, or an institution of constipation.

Actually, that's a pretty apt summary of everything Pitchfork embodies.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:54 PM on May 30, 2006


Hence the importance of toleration of people's religious beliefs in a society where we don't think it's ok to kill people because of what they believe.

I think people are conflating multiple meanings of 'tolerate' here (ie. allow vs. respect). I read "Why tolerate religion" as questioning why religion should be treated with respect, versus questioning whether people should be allowed to practice it.

As an example, we tolerate the rights of racists to hold and express their ideas. But as a society we do not tolerate or respect those ideas themselves.

Maybe it's time to treat the irrational ideas of religion the same.
posted by jsonic at 1:58 PM on May 30, 2006


Maybe it's time to treat the irrational ideas of religion the same.

Who gets to decide which religious ideas are rational and which are not?
posted by JekPorkins at 2:02 PM on May 30, 2006


Who gets to decide which religious ideas are rational and which are not?

MetaFilter. We have all of metaphysics figured out to a certainty.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:12 PM on May 30, 2006


I nominate Jesus. When he says "Worship me because I am the son of God," many would call bullshit. Live your life based on his teachings? Sure, no problem. Attempt to shape public laws based on one of many existing interpretations of his life? No. Never. Nada.

For what it's worth, the genius of many of America's founding fathers is that they understood this issue pretty darn well.
posted by bardic at 2:14 PM on May 30, 2006


George Washington on "tolerance" of religion:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
And on the idea that liberal policy can reduce religious conflict (spoken about upthread):
Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
source
posted by edverb at 2:19 PM on May 30, 2006


If you read the comments here first, then read the article, you'll have an excellent understanding of the crass attitudes to which the author is responding.

Dogmatism should be antithetical to a liberal mind.
posted by dios at 2:21 PM on May 30, 2006


Also, it would seem that people who are opposed to government toleration of religion wouldn't be the same people who favor the liberty of conscience to take drugs if one chooses. Nevertheless, I suspect that there is an overlap there which would would be facially inconsistent.
posted by dios at 2:33 PM on May 30, 2006


Who gets to decide which religious ideas are rational and which are not?

The same people who realized that Santa Claus isn't rational either: us.
posted by jsonic at 2:36 PM on May 30, 2006


Yes, I've found that the glib are generally well-equipped to seriously debate metaphysics.

So, is the pleroma "rational", or not? Will printing presses rolling out copies of the Mulamadhyamakakarika get raided by the feds under this glorious new regime?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:41 PM on May 30, 2006


Also, it would seem that people who are opposed to government toleration of religion wouldn't be the same people who favor the liberty of conscience to take drugs if one chooses.

I suspect that some of the people who oppose government "toleration" of religion are simply unable to find a non-arbitrary line between "religious" thought and other protected and non-protected speech. Many governments have tried, and most of it gets litigated in tax court. I have yet to see a convincing line yet be drawn between the religious and the insane, and when legal rights are at stake -- well you should know -- it matters whether that line is arbitrary or not.
posted by dreamsign at 2:55 PM on May 30, 2006


(the other subject area in which it is getting litigated is in the area of the "religious" use of illegal drugs, incidentally)
posted by dreamsign at 2:57 PM on May 30, 2006



“Why Tolerate Religion?”
Damned if I know.

Actually, there were significant state reasons to tolerate it, or rather, give it more consideration than other practices as Leiter says, when it had more influence on society - when Church edicts could materially affect the socio-economic sphere through straight power rather than influence. When being ex-communicated meant something, or when being religiously oppressed was a real possibility (in the west).
Now that it’s waning, I don’t know that there is a good reason to, say, exempt Churches et.al from taxation.

But what kind of taxation? You see, if I slip a few bucks into the poor box to keep some people fed and off the street, I don’t want a percentage of that going into the state’s general fund.
Granted there are tax breaks given to non-profits and charities, but that’s where he leaves the road : “...but there is no moral reason why states should carve out special protections that encourage individuals to structure their lives around categorical demands that are insulated from the standards of evidence and reasoning we everywhere else expect to constitute constraints on judgment and action.”

On the surface of it - and indeed from a utilitarian standpoint - that’s a pretty reasonable statement. However no rational person with normal restraints on judgement and action would - say, become a monk.
Or set themselves on fire to protest government policy. Or any of the extreme things people do in the name of their religion without the standards of reasoning that would normally constrain their judgement and action - or that people do in opposition to their or someone elses religion (or - as seen here, religion in general).

But, yeah, to go with what has been amply expressed above, he pretty much negates the whole peice and admits the practical realities: “There may be, then, no principled reason to tolerate religion qua religion, but there may be compelling practical reasons to think the alternatives are worse.”

Gee, ya think?
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on May 30, 2006


Why is there a need for a "credible principled argument for religious tolerance". It's simply the only solution to a Mexican standoff among competing ideologies. If there's any itchy trigger fingers out there, we're all dead.
posted by klarck at 3:06 PM on May 30, 2006


re: rationality -- we're just getting to the interesting point -- at least in Commonwealth countries -- my US research is less extensive -- where these issues are being pushed to the limits of rationality, at which point there aren't really any non-arbitrary standards at all.

Some purposefully satirical groups have attempted to claim tax exempt status for this reason, including one who claimed to be submitting their factum to the court of appeal via telepathy.

I'm not kidding.
posted by dreamsign at 3:08 PM on May 30, 2006


“I have yet to see a convincing line yet be drawn between the religious and the insane...” -dreamsign

Similar demarcation between insanity and genius, in both cases the individual is far removed from the realm of “normal” thought - like an astronaut floating in space above the Earth. The difference is the genius (and the mystic) remains teathered and can return.
I would also argue that there are some quite useful states of consciousness elicited by illegal drugs.

“Today, a young man on acid realised that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves... here's Tom with the weather.” - Bill Hicks.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:08 PM on May 30, 2006


The difference is the genius (and the mystic) remains teathered and can return.

With respect, I'm not sure that is the difference. The mystic and the believer may both continue to hold largely commonplace world views, with one or two entirely different which may underlie a completely different but stable world view.

I didn't mean to suggest that tests haven't been proposed, but there is no adequate "sincerity" test to see whether a claimant (who wishes to use a narcotic for religious purposes, for example) is sincere. And the courts stay completely away from evaluating the substance of religious belief -- for obvious reasons. Any time either of these lines is crossed, it is done so unwisely (eg: Australia's current but outdated stance on tax exemption that belief in a "deity" is a necessary component of religious belief -- leaving out some obvious mainstream examples; and one commonly asserted indicator of "sincerity", length of practice, completely leaving out the "born again" who may be just as strong in their faith as a longtime practitioner).

My question/observation wasn't really about whether people should be able to use drugs for religious purposes, but how we are to decide what is religious belief (apart from political belief, satire, or lunacy). It's not an academic question when legal rights are riding on it.
posted by dreamsign at 3:23 PM on May 30, 2006


“...but there is no adequate "sincerity" test to see whether a claimant (who wishes to use a narcotic for religious purposes, for example) is sincere...”

Yeah, conceded.

/I used the mystic as opposed to the believer for just that purpose tho. No one’s going to doubt the old man who’s lived in isolation for 50 years and comes naked out of the mountains saying we should all be really nice to each other instead of killing for material gain. The T.V. preacher driving the Rolls - bit finer point. But I don’t want to drive into that argument without some serious tire chains.

“It's not an academic question when legal rights are riding on it.”

And agreed.

/I’ll say I do admire the satirical folks (I’m partial to the C of SubG m’self - ‘cause they’re non-tax exempt).
posted by Smedleyman at 3:30 PM on May 30, 2006


I am not against all religion: not all religion views nonbelievers as lesser beings, not all religion disallows leaving it, not all religion is dogmatic and prohibits critical thinking. So it's fine by me to follow some sort of Zen, Taoism or shades of Christianity, where mysticism isn't viewed as an opposing side to rationalism, etc.

I would even tolerate loony, but harmless, non-growing religious groups.

But other groups are definitely not harmless and I tolerate them only because they are too powerful, not because it is morally justified.
posted by vertriebskonzept at 3:38 PM on May 30, 2006


Also, it would seem that people who are opposed to government toleration of religion wouldn't be the same people who favor the liberty of conscience to take drugs if one chooses. Nevertheless, I suspect that there is an overlap there which would would be facially inconsistent.

If there is such an overlap, it would be a very small minority since the US government (and by extension, its majority-ruled voting base) tolerates certain scheduled drug use by specific religious groups. Likewise, you will find a small minority on the other side of your equation (example).

For the most part, these extreme minorities do not determine the laws we all follow, or the way most of us conduct our behavior, despite these fringe elements being given the pulpit of a vastly disproportionate amount of attention in the media as "crazies".
posted by Mr. Six at 3:38 PM on May 30, 2006


A really interesting article. I wish more of the people commenting here would actually read it. I think he makes a pretty good case. I particularly like his point that you can't build a principled toleration of religion on Rawlsian grounds (that is, that behind Rawls's famous "veil of ignorance" there is no principled reason to insist upon the protection of categorical moral imperatives whose bases are immune to counter-evidence).

It's important to note that he's not suggesting that religion should not in fact be tolerated, he is just saying that the basis on which we tolerate religion is purely historical and pragmatic. I doubt that anybody here in fact disagrees. A) However much we want to "tolerate" religious practice, we all agree that the state has a right to prevent people doing certain things, whether or not their religion commands them to do them (murdering children, drinking the blood of virgins, forming Christian Rock bands etc.) B) It is difficult to find a strict principle according to which we can determine what constitutes an "acceptable" (or "non-harmful") expression of religious faith. If a religion sprang up which demanded that all adherents have a special sign tattooed on their children's foreheads, would we allow that? Or would we say that the children are not in a position to make an informed choice about it, and should be protected from such indelible marking until they are adults? Does the same argument apply to circumcision? It's not hard to see that the arguments we reach for in deciding such a case are largely cultural and historic, not based on first principles; C) It is clearly not inherently irrational (i.e. self-contradictory) to hold that the mere inculcation of religious belief is harmful. In other words, even if you yourself do not hold this to be true, you must accept that it is not inherently absurd to hold that it is true. Thus, it is imaginable that a state would collectively decide that the inculcation of religious belief in children was inherently a "harmful" consequence of religious belief, such that no institution for the propagation of religious belief should be permitted to exist, and no parent would be allowed to deliberately inculcate religious precepts in a child.

It seems to me that his point is that if you say "no, only an oppressive state would do such a thing" your argument will necessarily be historical or sociological (or political), it will not be based on any clear philosophical principle.

(On preview: I got interrupted for an hour or so writing this, so the discussion has moved on way past the point where I was first intervening. I can't be fagged adjusting it to fit the current state of the discussion, so my apologies to those who've already made these points)
posted by yoink at 3:46 PM on May 30, 2006


yoink writes: It's important to note that he's not suggesting that religion should not in fact be tolerated, he is just saying that the basis on which we tolerate religion is purely historical and pragmatic.

Exactly, which is why I wonder why it took him a whole essay to make the point klarck does in one comment: Why is there a need for a "credible principled argument for religious tolerance". It's simply the only solution to a Mexican standoff among competing ideologies. If there's any itchy trigger fingers out there, we're all dead.

The intention is good, but his scholarship is shoddy. Getting rid of first principles doesn't mean you go back into the metaphysical wilderness looking for first principles. Modernity is this compromise, precisely--we base societies on our needs rather than our wants (Plato would shudder at the thought, but still). What we "need," after Hobbes, is restraint on that which we are willing to kill each other over--religion is guilty of this. So is property, but with enough banks and lawyers and tax shelters, we can resort to a broker before we resort to a hitman and/or jihad.

As for religious toleration, I don't see more than two or three rather ignorable comments that call for an end to that. Religion away, believers. Just don't seek to impose your non-falsifiable claims regarding Deity X upon the rest of us. Or rather, do it as long as you don't interfere with our own liberties, but be prepared for ridicule (which isn't a crime. I should know--American Christians routinely ridicule me for many things, and they suffer no practical consequences.).
posted by bardic at 4:01 PM on May 30, 2006


As an atheist myself, these threads always give me the creeps. I thought the Christian fundamentalists had the intolerance market all sewn up, but the Mefi community proves me wrong once again.

As an example, we tolerate the rights of racists to hold and express their ideas. But as a society we do not tolerate or respect those ideas themselves.

Maybe it's time to treat the irrational ideas of religion the same.


If you really think that's a useful comparison, or that "irrational" is an insulting description, you have no idea what religion is about. There are many questions that simply can't be answered through rationality alone. Some of those questions are arguably quite important, like "but for our own self-interest, why should we not kill our fellow human beings?" If you think that's an easy question to answer using rationality alone, you probably haven't thought it through very thoroughly.

Attempt to shape public laws based on one of many existing interpretations of [Jesus'] life? No. Never. Nada.

You've confused state support with tolerance.

tolerate them only because they are too powerful ...

You've confused impotence with tolerance.

... not because it is morally justified.

It is somewhat difficult to discuss what it means to be "morally justified" in the absence of a higher power or a reliance on self-interest. And, if you fall back on self-interest - no matter how generalized - as your justification, that's a pretty flimsy foundation for morality.

It is clearly not inherently irrational (i.e. self-contradictory) to hold that the mere inculcation of religious belief is harmful. In other words, even if you yourself do not hold this to be true, you must accept that it is not inherently absurd to hold that it is true. Thus, it is imaginable that a state would collectively decide that the inculcation of religious belief in children was inherently a "harmful" consequence of religious belief, such that no institution for the propagation of religious belief should be permitted to exist, and no parent would be allowed to deliberately inculcate religious precepts in a child.

It seems to me that his point is that if you say "no, only an oppressive state would do such a thing" your argument will necessarily be historical or sociological (or political), it will not be based on any clear philosophical principle.


I think that libertarianism is a pretty clear political philosophy, and if you replaced "religious belief" with anything else you like in the above paragraph, you would quickly come to the conclusion that, yes, only an oppressive state would do such a thing. Of course, all states are oppressive - some less than others, that's all.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:05 PM on May 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


But, yeah, to go with what has been amply expressed above, he pretty much negates the whole peice and admits the practical realities: “There may be, then, no principled reason to tolerate religion qua religion, but there may be compelling practical reasons to think the alternatives are worse.”

Gee, ya think?


I don't see that he "negates" his point here at all. He has no interest at all in suggesting that we should not be tolerant of religious practice. The purpose of the paper is to enquire whether or not that tolerance can be grounded in a clear principle or is always simply a matter of political negotiation. This is not an idle philosophical question, but one with real consequences--particularly, I think, in legal arguments about the place of religion in society.

One of the clear implications of his argument, for example, is a pretty stiff rap over the knuckles for the "freedom of religion is not freedom from religion" crowd--the ones who say that they're being oppressed unless they get a chance to force their religious beliefs down everyone's throats. Take, for example, the increasingly common argument that in the name of "free speech" school children should hear the same amount of anti-gay "Christian" propaganda as they do "pro-gay" stuff about diversity and tolerance and so forth.

It seems to me that Mill disposes nicely of this argument in the passage quoted by Leiter:

"[E]ven opinions lose their immunity when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous [i.e., harmful] act. An opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn dealer."

We should tolerate the beliefs of those who hold that their God demands that they not engage in homosexual acts, but Leiter makes a good case that there can be no principle under which I should ever allow those people to incite the schoolmates of young gay people to make their lives miserable.
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on May 30, 2006


I think that libertarianism is a pretty clear political philosophy, and if you replaced "religious belief" with anything else you like in the above paragraph, you would quickly come to the conclusion that, yes, only an oppressive state would do such a thing.

I doubt you believe that, me & my monkey. Let me see if I can find a counter-instance. If a parent were inculcating a belief in his/her children that they were invulnerable to harm because God had willed it so, and that the only way they could prove their faith to God was to put their lives in jeopardy at least once a day (crossing the street with their eyes closed, playing russian roulette etc.) do you think that only an "oppressive" state could possible interfere?

Please note, by the way, that neither I nor Leitner are saying that any state SHOULD refuse to tolerate religion. All he is saying is that the BASIS on which we make that decision is political (the negotiation of competing interests) rather than out of some clear and incontrovertible ethical principle.

Oh, and if "libertarianism is a pretty clear political philosophy," tell me how libertarianism clearly defines religious belief as something that must necessarily be tolerated in a free society? Specifically, tell me how it demonstrates the inherent absurdity of protecting children from inculcation in belief systems which we might plausibly consider harmful to their full development. And remember, you have to do so without engaging in any historical argument of the "most people who believe X are pretty harmless" type.
posted by yoink at 4:17 PM on May 30, 2006


“I don't see that he "negates" his point here at all.”

‘piece’ not ‘point’. I think he spent too much time dancing rather than getting to brass tacks, not that he utterly reversed course - but it is an academic paper.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:21 PM on May 30, 2006


Specifically, tell me how it demonstrates the inherent absurdity of protecting children from inculcation in belief systems which we might plausibly consider harmful to their full development.

Every belief system, including those based on the most current scientific advances and knowledge, might plausibly be considered harmful to their full develoopment. Protecting children from everything is inherently absurd.

And when you use normative and undefined terms like "clear philosophical principle" and "oppressive," I don't think you can rationally argue that a cited example fails to fall within those undefined terms.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:25 PM on May 30, 2006


There are many questions that simply can't be answered through rationality alone.

And there's the rub; religions don't provide 'answers'. Religions simply make assertions, and then treat those assertions as if they are written in stone.
posted by jsonic at 4:25 PM on May 30, 2006


all states are oppressive

Actually, me & my monkey, I just realized that you conceded Leiter's argument in that line. If you think that all states are necessarily oppressive, then I assume that you agree that there is no "principle" by which the state decides what is an "oppressive" regulation of religion and what is a "legitimate" regulation of religion. You think that they're all "oppressive"--but that some are more egregious than others--a claim that could only be based in political/historical/cultural calculations, and could not possibly rooted in philosophical "principles."
posted by yoink at 4:28 PM on May 30, 2006


Because god said so, dammit!
posted by nyxxxx at 4:30 PM on May 30, 2006


Every belief system, including those based on the most current scientific advances and knowledge, might plausibly be considered harmful to their full develoopment.

Er, positions that are "based on the most current scientific advances and knowledge" are not "belief systems." A "belief system" is not a "belief system" if it is open to evidence-based correction. So, no, I don't think one can say "willingness to concede the reason to the best of ones ability with the facts at hand" is plausibly "harmful." At least, if one does hold such a position one is clearly not remotely interested in whether or not there is a rational basis for the tolerance of religion. One is not interested in the "rational" at all.

However, even if I were to grant your claim, it would have no bearing on the argument. Or, rather, it would merely indicate that you agreed with the argument. You seem to persist under the misapprehension that this is some covert call to active persecution of religions. It's not. It's simply a recognition that when we draw the line between "acceptable religious practice" and "dangerous religious nutjobism" we are always making a common-sense judgment rather than bringing these practices under some clear concept.

If you hold that "every belief system might plausibly be considered harmful" then you've conceded Leiter's point. If belief system A might "plausibly be considered harmful" then a government might--operating under that plausible inference--reasonably seek to extirpate the institutions that propagate that belief system. Right?
posted by yoink at 4:38 PM on May 30, 2006


A "belief system" is not a "belief system" if it is open to evidence-based correction.

I disagree. But then, you're apparently using "belief system" as a term of art, to which only you know the definition, so who am I to disagree?

If you hold that "every belief system might plausibly be considered harmful" then you've conceded Leiter's point. If belief system A might "plausibly be considered harmful" then a government might--operating under that plausible inference--reasonably seek to extirpate the institutions that propagate that belief system. Right?

Right. I concede to Leiter's point. It's you I'm disagreeing with, not Leiter.

You seem to persist under the misapprehension that this is some covert call to active persecution of religions.


I do? What have I written that led you to draw that impression?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:43 PM on May 30, 2006


Only Christ is the saviour, god is a c*nt, mohamed is a tosser, and most the rest are unreconstructed Jews. Jesus the Christ told me so. We are all going to heaven anyway, so why give a crap. Yes even that Dawkins fellow. A little fact, Jesus is the only human male to make it to adult hood, without ever having an erection. He told me that too.
posted by econous at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2006


you're apparently using "belief system" as a term of art, to which only you know the definition, so who am I to disagree?

I'm using "belief system" to mean "a systematic construct of beliefs." Any position that builds itself on scientific inquiry is, by definition, not a "belief system" because it does not assert "beliefs" in any "systematic" way. That is it posits "beliefs" only in the limited sense that "I believe this to be true on the current evidence"--if the evidence no longer supports that "belief" then the "belief" is discarded. I find it puzzling that this strikes you as me constructing a "term of art." When you hear someone say "let us talk about beliefs" do you really assume that they're about to discuss recent scientific findings? Have you really never encountered phrases like "this is a matter of belief, not of scientific fact"? Or do you not concede that there can in fact be "evidence" for any kind of "belief," scientific or religious?

Right. I concede to Leiter's point. It's you I'm disagreeing with, not Leiter.

Well then, help me out, because I can't see what I'm asserting that I'm not getting from Leiter. What assertion have I made that you disagree with? It can't possibly be the claim that it would be plausible for someone to hold that the inculcation of religious belief in children is harmful, because you've already acceded to that claim.
posted by yoink at 4:56 PM on May 30, 2006


The purpose of the paper is to enquire whether or not that tolerance can be grounded in a clear principle or is always simply a matter of political negotiation.

Typical false either / or proposition.

On Principle: government supposedly exists to serve the people, if people want to practice various religions then, on principle, the government must 'tolerate' their wishes on this account among many others (assuming they're not trampling other's rights yada yada). The church must be protected from govenment intereference (answers the why tax-free status btw, to tax is to control).

In Politics: governments exist to exist, to remain in power. As long as 'tolerating' religion helps 'em do that, it's tolerated - when religion harms their continuance in power, guess what, it's not tolerated any more. And this of course is how and why religion becomes used, abused, and confused.
posted by scheptech at 5:11 PM on May 30, 2006


mohamed is a tosser,

Old Ezekiel, of his own free will,
after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Buddha, they say, could stick it away,
'alf a crate of whiskey every day!
Spenta Mainyu was a bugger for the brew,
and Christ was fond of his Dram.
And Elohim said over his canteen:
"I am the one who am."

Yes, Mohammed himself is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.
posted by Feral at 5:17 PM on May 30, 2006


On Principle: government supposedly exists to serve the people, if people want to practice various religions then, on principle, the government must 'tolerate' their wishes on this account among many others (assuming they're not trampling other's rights yada yada)

You "yada yada yada" right over the entire purview of the paper.
posted by yoink at 5:22 PM on May 30, 2006


What assertion have I made that you disagree with?

These ones:

It is clearly not inherently irrational (i.e. self-contradictory) to hold that the mere inculcation of religious belief is harmful.

It seems to me that his point is that if you say "no, only an oppressive state would do such a thing" your argument will necessarily be historical or sociological (or political), it will not be based on any clear philosophical principle.

(I think you've misunderstood what his point is, and I disagree with your statement)

Any position that builds itself on scientific inquiry is, by definition, not a "belief system" because it does not assert "beliefs" in any "systematic" way.

I disagree with that one, too. Scientific inquiry is nothing if not systematic. But I suppose you have some alternate definition of the term "systematic," too.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:42 PM on May 30, 2006


Blah blah blah, blah blah blah...


(I figured no one gives a crap about what's posted this far down anyway.)
posted by HTuttle at 5:53 PM on May 30, 2006


Frankly few give a crap about what's posted at the top. But diamonds are a girls best friend, and 'is' is a current indicator of a third party elements presence.
posted by econous at 6:00 PM on May 30, 2006


Scientific inquiry is nothing if not systematic.

JekPorkins, yes, science is systematic. It is not a system of "beliefs" however. When I say that "X is not a Y-system" I am not calling into question its systematicity per se.

These ones:

It is clearly not inherently irrational (i.e. self-contradictory) to hold that the mere inculcation of religious belief is harmful.


Jek, here are your own words:

Every belief system, including those based on the most current scientific advances and knowledge, might plausibly be considered harmful to their full develoopment.

So, either you disagree with yourself, or you don't in fact think I'm wrong about this or there are two people called "JekPorkins" posting in this discussion. No wait--there is a fourth option: you don't think that religion is a "belief system." But then that would make your original statement something of a non-sequitur.

See--what you disagree with is the proposition that "the mere inculcation of religious belief is harmful." You disagree with it so strongly, I'm guessing, that it distorts the way you are reading my argument (I admit I'm guessing about this bit--I can't read your mind). If you just let your dander down a peg, though, you'll see that I am not making that proposition. I'm making the proposition that it is not inherently absurd to advance that claim. Please realize that by "inherently absurd" I mean exactly that. Not that it is "not absurd" but that it is "not inherently absurd" (i.e. not "self-contradictory" as I helpfully added). If you do think it is "self-contradictory" to make that claim, I'd like to see how you would make the argument.
posted by yoink at 6:15 PM on May 30, 2006


The basic question is "why tolerate stupidity"?

Anybody who thinks "why tolerate stupidity?" is the same question as "why tolerate religion?" is part of the problem.

It doesn't matter whether or not you're actually right about the number of Gods that exist. If your approach to discussing the matter relies on telling yourself stories about religious people that necessarily includes disparaging their intelligence, then you don't understand the issue, and you're as unequipped to help build a tolerant society as, say, someone who's understanding of homosexuality is based largely on It's Not Gay.
posted by namespan at 6:16 PM on May 30, 2006


and you're as unequipped to help build a tolerant society as, say,

Yes, it's just illogical: the either/or premise is constructed to hopefully lead us discover there's no principle behind tolerance of religion, that such tolerance is merely negotiable - so, lacking any preventative principle we can safely cease being tolerant and build a tolerant society. A basic have your cake and eat it too proposition - something of a lie really?
posted by scheptech at 6:53 PM on May 30, 2006


Discussions of religion on mefi rarely ever go well.
There are a lot of decent, tolerant religious people around.
There are a lot of decent, tolerant atheists around.
Sadly few of them ever get involved.
posted by nightchrome at 6:59 PM on May 30, 2006


so, lacking any preventative principle we can safely cease being tolerant and build a tolerant society

I don't know who you think you're paraphrasing here, but it certainly isn't Leinart's argument. He is saying that there is no principled argument for toleration of religion, so we should continue to tolerate it on all the grounds we normally would: i.e., that it is a great comfort to many people, a source of much that gives their lives purpose and meaning; that it is an institution through which many people choose to channel their charitable donations and works and that therefore it does much for the common good of society; that to establish a body who "chooses" which beliefs are acceptable and which are unacceptable would likely do far more harm than religious institutions do etc. etc. There are all very good and very persuasive reasons. They certainly persuade me (along with many others)--they just aren't "principled" reasons in the narrow sense that Leiter means. They are reasons that have to do with a posteriori reasoning about the world we happen to find ourselves in, not with a priori reasoning about any possible human world we might find ourselves in.
posted by yoink at 7:11 PM on May 30, 2006


Toleration or fear
Compression of danger
Left with a nucleus of an idea
More powerful
posted by econous at 7:37 PM on May 30, 2006


'Course, what we really want to know is when Leiter will ask the *important* question: when will "religion" become better known for tolerance, and overcome a reputation for dogma and illiberality.

Oh, and by the way: nice post -- which post, alas, amounts to a single link to nothing more than a wordy editorial.

I enjoyed it, and particularly enjoyed that the usual folks who whine endlessly in thread about single link editorials, tags, or whatnot (because other single link editorials and posts don't correspond to their own views) were strangely (and hypocritically) quiet in this particular thread.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 8:14 PM on May 30, 2006


UNTILL U SHOWED UP. Are you being an ass with for-thought or was your comment something gut related; perhaps instinctualt?
posted by econous at 8:54 PM on May 30, 2006


Bananas are not relevant. instinctualt was once a word.
posted by econous at 8:56 PM on May 30, 2006


Well, clearly there are different things being discussed here:

-- "tolerance" of the monstrous -- evils done in the name of religion or anything else
-- "tolerance" equalling special privilege, let's say holidays, or tax exempt status
-- "tolerance" of belief itself.

The first one is easy. The second is tricky, if only because it's hard to draw the line between religious and non-religious belief. The third would appear easy, but I ask you: does "tolerating" all belief not equal condoning all belief? We already live in a society where "all opinions are equal" is fast gaining ground on all communities including the scientific. If your belief in a Christian God, Travolta's belief in Xenu, and my belief in little green (universe creating) men can't be distinguished according to content, then WTF? I mean, I guess it doesn't matter if I believe that the world works on magic, or miracles, so long as I don't let it influence how I go about fixing that aircraft, or setting that government interest rate. But isn't propping up one superstition going down the road of propping up them all?

Let's take the first (that I'm aware of) case of banning evolution from the classroom in Canada. Inuit population. This is not about one particular belief or theory. This is about a system of empiricism versus a system of hereditary teaching and faith. Do we "tolerate" the belief system and not teach what we believe to be true, giving younger members the chance to embrace the scientific method? Or is teaching evolution -- particularly as a different kind of belief than ancestor tales -- intolerance?
posted by dreamsign at 9:12 PM on May 30, 2006


that it is a great comfort to many people,

i agree.

a source of much that gives their lives purpose and meaning;

i don't disagree.

that it is an institution through which many people choose to channel their charitable donations and works

True enough.

and that therefore it does much for the common good of society;

Here we are beginning to part ways.

that to establish a body who "chooses" which beliefs are acceptable and which are unacceptable would likely do far more harm than religious institutions do

And here we hit the crux of where our differences lay. Religion is largely based on dogma, this can be a real problem if that dogma encourages exclusionary or judgmental behavior. (see my earlier post concerning gays and abortion.) i concede the point that creating a body to 'choose' acceptable versus unacceptable beliefs would be difficult, but consider this; such a body would, at least, be answerable to someone.

Religion isn't, and that is the problem.

When your answers come from a 1700 year old book which no one questions because it has origins in the Divine, it's really difficult to get a fair hearing if your issue is something that is something that breaks with the established dogma.

While it would be difficult in the extreme to create, at least our hypothetical deciding body would not have preconceived notions based on millennia old traditions and possible mistranslations. In an ideal world, such a body could be petitioned and if the facts fit, it could change it's mind.

And while i am fully biased in this area, i find that most institutionalized religions are really reticent to change their minds on anything.
posted by quin at 10:08 PM on May 30, 2006


"Sadly few of them ever get involved." -
posted by nightchrome

Relatively pointless. People are very attached to their dogmas and catmas.

/Generally devolves into word definitions and epistomology - which not too many folks are equipped to deal with. Just a general statement - dreamsign, yoink, et.al. focused thinking aside.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:20 PM on May 30, 2006


i look forward to the day when spirituality is more tolerated than religion
posted by pyramid termite at 12:46 AM on May 31, 2006


tolerate them only because they are too powerful ...

You've confused impotence with tolerance.


Yes, it's not a real tolerance then.
I've asked myself, how far would I go to enforce this in-tolerance of the intolerant. Right now I think, I would prohibit the education of certain dogmas and encourage the "indoctrination" of openmindedness and critical thinking. I think this is the only indoctrination which is justified, because it ends all indoctrinations. Critical thinking is learned, and if you don't teach it systematically, you can only hope that people somehow stumble upon it.


... not because it is morally justified.

It is somewhat difficult to discuss what it means to be "morally justified" in the absence of a higher power or a reliance on self-interest. And, if you fall back on self-interest - no matter how generalized - as your justification, that's a pretty flimsy foundation for morality.


I don't think that some kind of "greatest good for the greatest possible/stable number" is flimsy. If taken seriously.
posted by vertriebskonzept at 4:33 AM on May 31, 2006


I am concerned how easy it is to unthinkingly continue to diadvantage a group that historically has been treated unequally.

Speaking very broadly, Society's default setting for religion is "Tolerate", and religion's default setting for women and girls is "Discriminate".

Think about the majority religions around you. Are some positions reserved for men and boys? Who are at the top?

Religious toleration is not praiseworthy where it means ignoring the fact that people are being taught to believe that an accident of birth has made them second class citizens. ("Equal but diiferent" -- ha ha -- does anyone know of an example that offered equal access to resources, equal access to positions making the decisions that mattered?)

Yes, there are worse abuses of individuals. But claiming that half the entire poulation have no rght to equal treatment is not merely a little quirk which should be accepted without a second thought on pragmatic grounds
posted by Idcoytco at 7:14 AM on May 31, 2006


Was it pre-school or first grade where we all learned that the Pilgrims who came to the United States to settle did so to avoid religious intolerance and persecution for their beliefs?

Yet here we have people, products of the country they helped start, arguing that religious tolerance is irrational, improper, and somehow evil all wrapped up in pseduo-epistemological loquacity.
posted by dios at 7:34 AM on May 31, 2006


I'm just sayin -- "tolerance" sounds self-evident until you have to actually make desicions based on it.
posted by dreamsign at 8:11 AM on May 31, 2006


Yet here we have people, products of the country they helped start, arguing that religious tolerance is irrational, improper, and somehow evil all wrapped up in pseduo-epistemological loquacity.

Dios, there are a few people here arguing that religious tolerance is "improper," but most are not doing so. Because you choose just to sigh in exasperation rather than actually argue with anyone it's impossible to tell whether or not you are mischaracterizing the arguments of those who agree with Leiter. But just in case, let me stress once more that Leiter is NOT saying that religious toleration is "improper"; he is saying that the basis for supporting religious toleration is empirical, historical, and sociological rather than rooted in any systematic ethical or legal principle (i.e., that we cannot offer a principled account of the basis on which we choose to tolerate certain religious practices and do not choose to tolerate others).

To say this is in no way to make a surreptitious argument for suspending or limiting religious toleration. There are countless aspects of social, political, and legal practice which cannot be defended on any unarguable philosophical principle, and which are nonetheless crucially important to our identities as citizens, as family members etc. William Godwin famously attempted in his _Political Justice_ to delineate a social order founded on strictly rational principles. Among the conclusions he drew was the claim that if your mother and a great philosopher were both stuck in a burning building and you could rescue only one of them, you would clearly have to choose to rescue the philosopher, because there is no rational grounds for preferring your blood-relative to someone who could be a benefactor to so many more people. This is logically unassailable within the terms of his system, but nonetheless appears to almost all people (atheist and believer alike) to me morally repugnant.
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on May 31, 2006




klangklangston,

Yes, Locke gives a terrific principled basis for the toleration of religion in general, as long as by "religion in general" we mean variations on Protestant Christianity:

"Again: That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince. For by this means the magistrate would give way to the settling of a foreign jurisdiction in his own country and suffer his own people to be listed, as it were, for soldiers against his own Government. Nor does the frivolous and fallacious distinction between the Court and the Church afford any remedy to this inconvenience; especially when both the one and the other are equally subject to the absolute authority of the same person, who has not only power to persuade the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely religious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire. It is ridiculous for any one to profess himself to be a Mahometan only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate, whilst at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor and frames the feigned oracles of that religion according to his pleasure."

Roman Catholics and Muslims need not apply. This hardly seems to solve the problem, does it?
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on May 31, 2006


Right, and that he was tied up with the religious hierarchy of the day shouldn't be discounted (his religious justification in 2nd Treatise is mostly handwaving). But aside from some things, which I regard more as historical artifacts than actual argument, he's got a pretty solid case AND his argument was the basis for a lot of the views of the founding fathers.
posted by klangklangston at 10:09 AM on May 31, 2006


he's got a pretty solid case--he just doesn't understand it himself? Actually, I think Locke really makes Leiter's case for him. When one tries to make a "principled" defense of religious toleration, one will inevitably draw limits to that toleration which are NOT derived from any clear principle, but which are in fact "common sense," political, historical etc. Where Locke's "common sense" boundaries lay were at Roman Catholicism and Islam--that no longer strikes us as "common sense." The point is, though, that the boundaries could be shifted back so far on a "common sense" basis that nothing that you or I would recognize as "religion" would in fact be permitted. So, if you want to make a case that this practice should be tolerated and that that practice should not, you can only do so with the same kind of "handwaving" that Locke employed. You cannot enunciate some principle according to which this practice clearly demands toleration and that practice does not.

Put it this way, if Locke was unable to work this one out, it's unlikely any of us will do better.
posted by yoink at 10:25 AM on May 31, 2006


Much of the difficulty in understanding 'religion' and 'spirituality' (and hence in understanding, say, modern Muslims who take such things seriously) lies in the faulty equation of 'religion' and 'faith.' Religion is supposed to be a kind of knowledge; in fact, it's supposed to be the highest kind, and it's supposed to grant a kind of knowledge that science must admit it can't offer. As such, the question Mr. Leiter wants to ask isn't "should we tolerate religion?" but "should we let people believe things that aren't true?"

The answer to that question is so obvious that even the shallow and hollow-eyed followers of modern materialistic American Christianity in all its forms know it. If you care about someone, you do everything in your power to prevent them from believing a lie. The truth is good, and 'true religion' generally means 'good politics.'

If you ask me, false religions, false prophets, et cetera, shouldn't be tolerated for a second. The crusades, the stalinist murders, all of the evils perpetrated by mankind against mankind, have been the result of false religion. It should be replaced by true religion by any means necessary.
posted by koeselitz at 3:13 PM on May 31, 2006


If you ask me, false religions, false prophets, et cetera, shouldn't be tolerated for a second.

But again, who gets to decide authoritatively which are false?

And when you replace all the religions, prophets, etc. that you deem false "by any means necessary," how are you any different from the genocidal maniac true believers that preceded you? Many, though certainly not all and maybe not even a majority, of the "evils perpetrated by mankind against mankind" have taken the form of one person or group replacing religion they thought was "false" with what they deemed "true religion," by any means necessary.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:27 PM on May 31, 2006


I'm with yoink that y'all need to read the article we're arguing about. (Not that anyone cares about this thread anymore) The question isn't asking why we put up with religion at all, but why we put up with religion simply because it's religion. There's plenty of reasons to defend religious freedom for the same reason you defend political freedom, but it's hard to come up with a reason why matters spiritual get some sort of extra boost. So everyone can stop pontificating now. Everyone but me.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:53 AM on June 1, 2006


Not that anyone cares about this thread anymore

Oh man, I care, I care....
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on June 1, 2006


According to the author of the paper a "religious belief" is a belief with the following properties:

a) are insulated from evidence: such belief neither are founded on nor are affected by evidence. If evidence is offered, usually only the favourable one is collected and presented, while unfavourable evidence is discarded (Intelligent Design)
b) often don't even aspire to offer evidence
c) are usually normative: the faithful needs, for some reason, to do something or not do something.
d) imperatively demands action : like converting, killing, not tolerating or converting the unfaithful

At the end of the paper he argues that

1) the french laicité is maybe the only principled approach to the legal and constitutional treatement of religion

2) yet he suggest laicité may not be the best approach as it rests on the assumption that the government will be able (or its components will be intellectually honest enough) to detect religious belief among others, including current-government-friendly beliefs ; something apparently NOT done in France with anti-semitic and xenophobic beliefs.

There may be, then, no principled reason to tolerate religion qua religion, but there may be compelling practical reasons to think the alternatives are worse.

This seems to be an appeal to not-so-clear frightening consequences of NOT tolerating religion ; the outlook seems to be, imho, that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't do. Maybe government isn't the level and the location at which the negative effects of religious beliefs should be handled, which excludes law as a potential tool.

Yet if tolerating religion instead of confronting it directly may be a prudent, second best policy, tolerating its effects may not. If one can't and won't strike certain beliefs, certain behaviors could be.

For instance it is well known that indoctrination works best in less prepared, less skeptical minds : such are often the minds of youngsters or adults who weren't educated in ways making them more resistant to suggestion. A next step seems to be not letting public school become a ground in which any religious belief can be planted , maybe by exploiting the hamrful dogmatic nature of religious tought, showing that it is not compatible with analyzing and receiving different point of views.

Similarly, isolation of individuals in closed communities, homeschooling certainly helps religious "tribes" survive or expand ; restricing access to certain venues of communication because it is not compatible with some traditional religious teaching or community standard shouldn't be a tolerated behavior.
posted by elpapacito at 9:07 AM on June 2, 2006


I can't be bothered to wade through what's happened here since the last time I posted, but:

Why do so many of you equate 'religion' with 'Christianity'?

Why can't one be deeply religious without belonging to an Abrahamic religion? Ever noticed how Buddhists, for example, are deeply religious without being any of the fundamentalist types that North American Christianity is infested with?

Prejudice, people. Just as ugly when leftist liberal types are doing it as when some rich white asshole says he won't let his daughter date a nigger.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:20 PM on June 4, 2006


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