The International Day for Tolerance is observed annually on 16 November. It was declared by UNESCO in 1995 to generate public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. Intolerance is the opposite of Tolerance, this is the acceptance of an action, object, or person which one dislikes or disagrees with, where one is in a position to disallow but chooses not to. The word tolerance was first used in the 15th century. It is derived from endurance and fortitude, used in the 14th century. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word was first used to describe having permission from authorities in the 1530s. Random House Dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own”. Toleration may signify “no more than forbearance and the permission given by the adherents of a dominant religion for other religions to exist, even though the latter are looked on with disapproval as inferior, mistaken, or harmful.” Tolerance is a state of mind that implies non-judgmental acceptance of different lifestyles or beliefs, whereas toleration indicates the act of putting up with something that one disapproves of.
Historically, most incidents and writings pertaining to toleration involve the status of minority and dissenting viewpoints in relation to a dominant state religion. However Religious toleration was present in the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. In the Old Testament, king Cyrus the Great was believed to have released the Jews from captivity in 539–530 BCE, and permitted their return to their homeland. Cyrus the Great assisted in the restoration of the sacred places of various cities.
The Hellenistic city of Alexandria, founded 331 BCE, contained a large Jewish community which lived in peace with equivalently sized Greek and Egyptian populations. According to Michael Walzer, the city provided “a useful example of what we might think of as the imperial version of multiculturalism.” The Roman Empire encouraged conquered peoples to continue worshipping their own gods. “An important part of Roman propaganda was its invitation to the gods of conquered territories to enjoy the benefits of worship within the imperium.” Christians were singled out for persecution because of their own rejection of Roman pantheism and refusal to honor the emperor as a god. In 311 CE, Roman Emperor Galerius issued a general edict of toleration of Christianity, in his own name and in those of Licinius and Constantine I (who converted to Christianity the following year).
In the Old Testament, the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy make similar statements about the treatment of strangers. For example, Exodus 22:21 says: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”. The New Testament Parable of the Tares, which speaks of the difficulty of distinguishing wheat from weeds before harvest time, has also been invoked in support of religious toleration.
In the Middle Ages, there were instances of toleration of particular groups. The Latin concept tolerantia was a “highly-developed political and judicial concept in mediaeval scholastic theology and canon law.” Tolerantia was used to “denote the self-restraint of a civil power in the face of” outsiders, like infidels, Muslims or Jews, but also in the face of social groups like prostitutes and lepers. Heretics such as the Cathari, Waldensians, Jan Hus, and his followers, the Hussites, were persecuted. Later theologians belonging or reacting to the Protestant Reformation began discussion of the circumstances under which dissenting religious thought should be permitted. Toleration “as a government-sanctioned practice” in Christian countries, “the sense on which most discussion of the phenomenon relies—is not attested before the sixteenth century.
Paulus Vladimiri (c. 1370–1435) was a Polish scholar and rector who at the Council of Constance in 1414, presented a thesis, Tractatus de potestate papae et imperatoris respectu infidelium (Treatise on the Power of the Pope and the Emperor Respecting Infidels). In it he argued that pagan and Christian nations could coexist in peace and criticized the Teutonic Order for its wars of conquest of native non-Christian peoples in Prussia and Lithuania. Vladimiri strongly supported the idea of conciliarism and pioneered the notion of peaceful coexistence among nations—a forerunner of modern theories of human rights. Throughout his political, diplomatic and university career, he expressed the view that a world guided by the principles of peace and mutual respect among nations was possible and that pagan nations had a right to peace and to possession of their own lands.
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466–1536), was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and Catholic whose works laid a foundation for religious toleration. For example, in De libero arbitrio, opposing certain views of Martin Luther, Erasmus noted that religious disputants should be temperate in their language, “because in this way the truth, which is often lost amidst too much wrangling may be more surely perceived.” Gary Remer writes, “Like Cicero, Erasmus concludes that truth is furthered by a more harmonious relationship between interlocutors. Although Erasmus did not oppose the punishment of heretics, in individual cases he generally argued for moderation and against the death penalty. He wrote, “It is better to cure a sick man than to kill him.”
During the Diet of Worms (1521), Martin Luther refused to recant his beliefs citing freedom of conscience as his justification. the individual’s freedom of conscience became the hallmark of Protestantism. Luther was convinced that faith in Jesus Christ was the free gift of the Holy Spirit and could therefore not be forced on a person. Heresies could not be met with force, but with preaching the gospel revealed in the Bible. Luther: “Heretics should not be overcome with fire, but with written sermons.” In Luther’s view, the worldly authorities were entitled to expel heretics. Only if they undermine the public order, should they be executed. Later proponents of tolerance such as Sebastian Franck and Sebastian Castellio cited Luther’s position. He had overcome, at least for the Protestant territories and countries, the violent medieval criminal procedures of dealing with heretics. However Luther stuck to the Anabaptist beliefs, refusing to take oaths, do military service. However some felt that the rejection of private property by some Anabaptist groups was considered to be a political threat to the public order which would inevitably lead to anarchy and chaos. So Anabaptists were persecuted not only in Catholic but also in Lutheran and Reformed territories. However, a number of Protestant theologians such as John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Capito, and Johannes Brenz as well as Landgrave Philip of Hesse opposed the execution of Anabaptists. Ulrich Zwingli demanded the expulsion of persons who did not accept the Reformed beliefs, in some cases the execution of Anabaptist leaders. The young Michael Servetus also defended tolerance since 1531, in his letters to Johannes Oecolampadius, but during those years some Protestant theologians such as Bucer and Capito publicly expressed they thought he should be persecuted. The trial against Servetus, an Antitrinitarian, in Geneva was not a case of church discipline but a criminal procedure based on the legal code of the Holy Roman Empire. Denying the Trinity doctrine was long considered to be the same as atheism in all churches. The Anabaptists made a considerable contribution to the development of tolerance in the early-modern era by incessantly demanding freedom of conscience and standing up for it with their patient suffering.
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had a long tradition of religious freedom. The right to worship freely was a basic right given to all inhabitants of the Commonwealth throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries, however, complete freedom of religion was officially recognized in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1573 in the Warsaw Confederation. The Commonwealth kept religious-freedom laws during an era when religious persecution was an everyday occurrence in the rest of Europe.
The Warsaw Confederation was a private compact signed by representatives of all the major religions in Polish and Lithuanian society, in which they pledged each other mutual support and tolerance. The confederation was incorporated into the Henrican articles, which constituted a virtual Polish–Lithuanian constitution.
The Edict of Nantes, issued on April 13, 1598, by Henry IV of France, granted Protestants—notably Calvinist Huguenots—substantial rights in a nation where Catholicism was the state religion. The main concern was civil unity; it separated civil law from religious rights, treated non-Catholics as more than mere schismatics and heretics for the first time, and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the State, and to bring grievances directly to the king. The edict marked the end of the religious wars in France that tore apart the population during the second half of the 16th century.
The Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 by King Louis XIV with the Edict of Fontainebleau, leading to renewed persecution of Protestants in France. Although strict enforcement of the revocation was relaxed during the reign of Louis XV, it was not until 102 years later, in 1787, when Louis XVI signed the Edict of Versailles—known as the Edict of Tolerance—that civil status and rights to form congregations by Protestants were restored.
Thankfully the 1600 Saw the Beginnings of a period of Enlightenment, when politicians and commentators began formulating theories of religious toleration and basing legal codes on the concept. A distinction began to develop between civil tolerance, concerned with “the policy of the state towards religious dissent”., and ecclesiastical tolerance, concerned with the degree of diversity tolerated within a particular church.
In 1636, Roger Williams and companions at the foundation of Rhode Island entered into a compact binding themselves “to be obedient to the majority only in civil things”. Williams spoke of “democracie or popular government.”Lucian Johnston writes, “Williams’ intention was to grant an infinitely greater religious liberty than then existed anywhere in the world outside of the Colony of Maryland.” In 1663, Charles II granted the colony a charter guaranteeing complete religious toleration. Congregationalist Thomas Hooker and a group of companions also founded Connecticut. They combined the democratic form of government that had been developed by the Separatist Congregationalists in Plymouth Colony (Pilgrim Fathers) with unlimited freedom of conscience. Like Martin Luther, Hooker argued that as faith in Jesus Christ was the free gift of the Holy Spirit it could not be forced on a person.
In 1649 Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, a law mandating religious tolerance for Trinitarian Christians only (excluding Nontrinitarian faiths). Passed on September 21, 1649 by the assembly of the Maryland colony, it was the first law requiring religious tolerance in the British North American colonies. The Calvert family sought enactment of the law to protect Catholic settlers and some of the other denominations that did not conform to the dominant Anglicanism of England and her colonies. In 1657, New Amsterdam, governed by Dutch Calvinists, granted religious toleration to Jews. They had fled from Portuguese persecution in Brazil.
Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. He published the Theological-Political Treatise anonymously in 1670, arguing (according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) that “the freedom to philosophize can not only be granted without injury to piety and the peace of the Commonwealth, but that the peace of the Commonwealth and Piety are endangered by the suppression of this freedom”, and defending, “as a political ideal, the tolerant, secular, and democratic polity”. After interpreting certain Biblical texts, Spinoza opted for tolerance and freedom of thought in his conclusion that “every person is in duty bound to adapt these religious dogmas to his own understanding and to interpret them for himself in whatever way makes him feel that he can the more readily accept them with full confidence and conviction.”
English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) published A Letter Concerning Toleration in 1689. Locke’s work appeared amidst a fear that Catholicism might be taking over England, and responds to the problem of religion and government by proposing religious toleration as the answer. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, who saw uniformity of religion as the key to a well-functioning civil society, Locke argued that more religious groups actually prevent civil unrest. In his opinion, civil unrest results from confrontations caused by any magistrate’s attempt to prevent different religions from being practiced, rather than tolerating their proliferation. However, Locke denies religious tolerance for Catholics, for political reasons, and also for atheists because “Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist”. A passage Locke later added to the Essay concerning Human Understanding, questioned whether atheism was necessarily inimical to political obedience.
Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) was a French Protestant scholar and philosopher who went into exile in Holland. In his “Dictionnaire Historique et Critique” and “Commentaire Philosophique” he advanced arguments for religious toleration (though, like some others of his time, he was not anxious to extend the same protection to Catholics he would to differing Protestant sects). Among his arguments were that every church believes it is the right one so “a heretical church would be in a position to persecute the true church”. Bayle wrote that “the erroneous conscience procures for error the same rights and privileges that the orthodox conscience procures for truth.”
Bayle was repelled by the use of scripture to justify coercion and violence: “One must transcribe almost the whole New Testament to collect all the Proofs it affords us of that Gentleness and Long-suffering, which constitute the distinguishing and essential Character of the Gospel.” He did not regard toleration as a danger to the state, but to the contrary: “If the Multiplicity of Religions prejudices the State, it proceeds from their not bearing with one another but on the contrary endeavoring each to crush and destroy the other by methods of Persecution. In a word, all the Mischief arises not from Toleration, but from the want of it.”
The Act of Toleration, adopted by the British Parliament in 1689, allowed freedom of worship to Nonconformists who had pledged to the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and rejected transubstantiation. The Nonconformists were Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists and Congregationalists. They were allowed their own places of worship and their own teachers, if they accepted certain oaths of allegiance. The Act did not apply to Catholics and non-trinitarians and continued the existing social and political disabilities for Dissenters, including their exclusion from political office and also from universities.
François-Marie Arouet, the French writer, historian and philosopher known as Voltaire (1694–1778) published his Treatise on Toleration in 1763. In it he attacked religious views, but also said, “It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?” On the other hand, Voltaire in his writings on religion was spiteful and intolerant of the practice of the Christian religion, and Orthodox rabbi Joseph Telushkin has claimed that the most significant of Enlightenment hostility against Judaism was found in Voltaire
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), German dramatist and philosopher, trusted in a “Christianity of Reason”, in which human reason (initiated by criticism and dissent) would develop, even without help by divine revelation. His plays about Jewish characters and themes, such as “Die Juden” and “Nathan der Weise”, “have usually been considered impressive pleas for social and religious toleration”. The latter work contains the famous parable of the three rings, in which three sons represent the three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Each son believes he has the one true ring passed down by their father, but judgment on which is correct is reserved to God.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), adopted by the National Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution, states in Article 10: “No-one shall be interfered with for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their practice does not disturb public order as established by the law.” (“Nul ne doit être inquiété pour ses opinions, mêmes religieuses, pourvu que leur manifestation ne trouble pas l’ordre public établi par la loi.”)
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified along with the rest of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, included the following words:”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists Association in which he said: “…I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
In the 20th century the doctrine of toleration has been expanded to include political and ethnic groups, LGBT individuals and other minorities, and human rights embodies the principle of legally enforced toleration. The Act of Toleration, adopted by the British Parliament in 1689, allowed freedom of worship to Nonconformists who had pledged to the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and rejected transubstantiation. The Nonconformists were Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists and Congregationalists. They were allowed their own places of worship and their own teachers, if they accepted certain oaths of allegiance. The Act did not apply to Catholics and non-trinitarians and continued the existing social and political disabilities for Dissenters, including their exclusion from political office and also from universities.
The development of new digital technologies has also resulted in an exponential growth in the volume of information and knowledge available, and made them more readily accessible to greater numbers of people throughout the world. As such, information and communication technologies can play an essential role in the sharing of knowledge and expertise in the service of sustainable development and in a spirit of solidarity. And yet, for many observers, the world is witnessing rising levels of ethnic, cultural and religious intolerance, often using the same communication technologies for ideological and political mobilization to promote exclusivist worldviews. This mobilization often leads to further criminal and political violence and to armed conflict.This also leads to new modes of intolerance such as cyberbullying. Contemporary commentators have highlighted situations in which toleration conflicts with widely held moral standards, national law, the principles of national identity, or other strongly held goals. Michael Walzer notes that the British in India tolerated the Hindu practice of suttee (ritual burning of a widow) until 1829. On the other hand, the United States declined to tolerate the Mormon practice of polygamy. The French head scarf controversy represents a conflict between religious practice and the French secular ideal. Toleration of the Romani people in European countries is a continuing issue.
The modern understanding of the word “toleration” may be very different from its historic meaning. Toleration in modern parlance has been analyzed as a component of a liberal or libertarian view of human rights. Hans Oberdiek writes, “As long as no one is harmed or no one’s fundamental rights are violated, the state should keep hands off, tolerating what those controlling the state find disgusting, deplorable or even debased. This for a long time has been the most prevalent defense of toleration by liberals… It is found, for example, in the writings of American philosophers John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Ronald Dworkin, Brian Barry, and a Canadian, Will Kymlicka, among others.”
John Gray states that “When we tolerate a practice, a belief or a character trait, we let something be that we judge to be undesirable, false or at least inferior; our toleration expresses the conviction that, despite its badness, the object of toleration should be left alone.”However, according to Gray, “new liberalism—the liberalism of Rawls, Dworkin, Ackerman and suchlike” seems to imply that “it is wrong for government to discriminate in favour of, or against, any form of life animated by a definite conception of the good”.
John Rawls’ “theory of ‘political liberalism’ conceives of toleration as a pragmatic response to the fact of diversity”. Diverse groups learn to tolerate one another by developing “what Rawls calls ‘overlapping consensus’: individuals and groups with diverse metaphysical views or ‘comprehensive schemes’ will find reasons to agree about certain principles of justice that will include principles of toleration”.
Herbert Marcuse wrote “Repressive Tolerance” in 1965 where he argued that the “pure tolerance” that permits all favors totalitarianism, democracy, and tyranny of the majority, and insisted the “repressive tolerance” against them.
However tolerating intolerance is seen as a paradox by some And has been described as undermining itself via moral relativism: “either the claim self-referentially undermines itself or it provides us with no compelling reason to believe it. If we are skeptical about knowledge, then we have no way of knowing that toleration is good. However in exchange for toleration, minorities must bear with the criticisms and insults which are part of the freedom of speech in an otherwise tolerant society. A tolerant religious model is seen as desirablE. Although In The End of Faith, Sam Harris asserts that society should be unwilling to tolerate unjustified religious beliefs about morality, spirituality, politics, and the origin of humanity, especially beliefs which promote violence.