Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Religious Tolerance

I have always thought it curious how religion comes to assume the significance it does in our lives. Besides the believers, there are those of us who do not practice any organized faith, question or worse reject the tenets of their own religion. And finally there are undecided fence-sitters like me. We do not participate in anything ritualistic, oversimplify the religious canon until it is reduced to a set of positive affirmations. No matter where we stand in the spectrum as far as our relationship with religion, we cannot claim complete indifference to the question of faith and God. We also expect tolerance of our specific world view in a civilized state and society.

Brian Lieter of the University of Texas asks a very pertinent question "Why Tolerate Religion"
Here is 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?

It is a great article with a thought provoking conclusion where Lieter says:

The worry, baldly stated then, comes to this: there may be compelling principled reasons for the state to respect liberty of conscience, 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. Singling out religion for toleration is tantamount to thinking we ought to encourage precisely this conjunction of categorical fervor based on epistemic indifference. And it is hard to see what utilitarian rationale there could be for that.

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