My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 27 January 2012

What do we mean by tolerance?

Here's a story:
If someone is making what I consider to be a huge din next door, playing loud pop “music” that I find disturbing, I may put up with it or I may bang on the wall between us, ask him to turn it down. I am tolerating his noise, or perhaps not. And that is what tolerance is; putting up with something. But supposing he wasn’t really playing his music that loud; just that I prefer Mozart and find that his type of music doesn’t speak to me in the same way. How is he to know that? So I go next door and speak with him. Suppose I tried to understand why he enjoys what to me is anathema. Suppose he comes to understand that I am writing, and there are times when I need quiet for concentration and for thinking. And let’s suppose that through dialogue we can come to a mutual accommodation. He’ll try to turn his music down on the days and times when he knows I am working at my laptop, perhaps close his window. I may never appreciate his musical taste, but I can respect it. I now know that this is his type of release when he gets home from work, an essential part of him “winding-down.” Of course none of us should have to tolerate antisocial behaviour within the norms of society, and neither of us intended to be anti-social! But I’ve discovered through dialogue that he’s not too keen on my bonfires either, because they don’t help his asthma. And we have built up a mutual respect through the dialogue we had, because actually now I know him better he’s a pleasant guy – I’d been a little nervous about him before we talked - and I’ve found we do share a passion for growing our own vegetables and for reading books on spirituality! Respect and understanding achieved through dialogue is much more powerful than mere tolerance.

The Dalai Lama once suggested to a multifaith audience that they should go on pilgrimages with each other, to each other’s holy sites, where they should pray together or at least meditate together. “This is a very effective way to understand the value and power of other religious traditions,” he said.

Gustav Niebuhr, great nephew of Reinhold Niebuhr, calls for an end to what he calls the “rough trade in raw insults” between religions, for example as seen so often on the Internet, and agrees that we need more than mere tolerance; we need a more committed effort to really get to know and respect our religious differences, he writes, to recognize that we can all learn from others, to understand that whatever those differences we are all of equal worth and value across class, race, ethnicity and religion. Respect, a warm acceptance, a mindfulness of everyone’s role in society, is called for, akin to the teachings of Gandhi on tolerance, respect and ahimsa.

So isn’t it just a little demeaning to talk of religious tolerance? Tolerance will never be the full answer. We should be talking in terms of respect, understanding, acceptance, appreciation. Mere tolerance is simply not enough.

And that respect and understanding is only going to come from dialogue between faiths.

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