Tag Archives: intolerance

Intolerance and Divine Revelation


Another day, another heinous, murderous act in the name of religion — the latest this time a French priest killed in his own church by a pair shouting “Allahu akbar!” (To be fair countless other similar acts continue on a daily basis in non-Western nations, but go unreported or under-reported in the mainstream media).

Understandably, local and national religious leaders decry these heinous acts as a evil perversion of Islamic faith. Now, I’d be the first to admit that attributing such horrendous crimes solely to the faiths of the perpetrators is a rather simplistic rationalization. Other factors, such as political disenfranchisement, (perceived) oppression, historical persecution and economic pressures, surely play a triggering and/or catalytic role.

Yet, as Gary Gutting professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame reminds us in another of his insightful essays, religious intolerance is a fundamental component. The three main Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are revelatory faiths. Their teachings are each held to be incontrovertible truth revealed to us by an omniscient God (or a divine messenger). Strict adherence to these beliefs has throughout history led many believers — of all faiths — to enact their intolerance in sometimes very violent ways. Over time, numerous socio-economic pressures have generally softened this intolerance — but not equally across the three faiths.

From NYT:

Both Islam and Christianity claim to be revealed religions, holding that their teachings are truths that God himself has conveyed to us and wants everyone to accept. They were, from the start, missionary religions. A religion charged with bringing God’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate religious error? At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of violence.

This was not inevitable, but neither was it an accident. The potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teaching derive from a divine revelation. For them, the truth that God has revealed is the most important truth there is; therefore, denying or doubting this truth is extremely dangerous, both for nonbelievers, who lack this essential truth, and for believers, who may well be misled by the denials and doubts of nonbelievers. Given these assumptions, it’s easy to conclude that even extreme steps are warranted to eliminate nonbelief.

You may object that moral considerations should limit our opposition to nonbelief. Don’t people have a human right to follow their conscience and worship as they think they should? Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards. Those who follow the second view insist that divine truth utterly exceeds human understanding, which is in no position to judge it. God reveals things to us precisely because they are truths we would never arrive at by our natural lights. When the omniscient God has spoken, we can only obey.

For those holding this view, no secular considerations, not even appeals to conventional morality or to practical common sense, can overturn a religious conviction that false beliefs are intolerable. Christianity itself has a long history of such intolerance, including persecution of Jews, crusades against Muslims, and the Thirty Years’ War, in which religious and nationalist rivalries combined to devastate Central Europe. This devastation initiated a move toward tolerance among nations that came to see the folly of trying to impose their religions on foreigners. But intolerance of internal dissidents — Catholics, Jews, rival Protestant sects — continued even into the 19th century. (It’s worth noting that in this period the Muslim Ottoman Empire was in many ways more tolerant than most Christian countries.) But Christians eventually embraced tolerance through a long and complex historical process.

Critiques of Christian revelation by Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume raised serious questions that made non-Christian religions — and eventually even rejections of religion — intellectually respectable. Social and economic changes — including capitalist economies, technological innovations, and democratic political movements — undermined the social structures that had sustained traditional religion.

The eventual result was a widespread attitude of religious toleration in Europe and the United States. This attitude represented ethical progress, but it implied that religious truth was not so important that its denial was intolerable. Religious beliefs and practices came to be regarded as only expressions of personal convictions, not to be endorsed or enforced by state authority. This in effect subordinated the value of religious faith to the value of peace in a secular society. Today, almost all Christians are reconciled to this revision, and many would even claim that it better reflects the true meaning of their religion.

The same is not true of Muslims. A minority of Muslim nations have a high level of religious toleration; for example Albania, Kosovo, Senegal and Sierra Leone. But a majority — including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Malaysia — maintain strong restrictions on non-Muslim (and in some cases certain “heretical” Muslim) beliefs and practices. Although many Muslims think God’s will requires tolerance of false religious views, many do not.

Read the entire story here.

Image: D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) movie poster. Courtesy: Sailko / Dekkappai at Wikipedia. Public Domain.

PhotoMash: Two Types of Radical

Photomash-Radical-1-vs-Radical-2Meet two faces of radicalism: one is the face of radical islam; the second is the face of radial nationalism. Different, but similar, and both morally bankrupt.

Both have ideas that resonate with a very limited few (luckily for the rest of us); both inflame our discourse; both fuel hatred, distrust and intolerance; both project fear, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Welcome to the new faces of fascism.

As a Londoner recently said of an attacker (reportedly belonging to the first type of radical group): #YouAintNoMuslimBruv.

I’d suggest to our second radical: #YouAintNoAmericanBro.

Both of these nightmarish visions seek a place on the world stage — both should and will rightly fail.

Image courtesy of the Washington Post, December 7, 2015.

Xenophobia: Terrorism of the Mind

I suspect xenophobia is a spectrum disorder. At one end of the spectrum we see the acts of fundamentalist terrorists following their apocalyptic (and isolationist) scripts to their barbaric conclusions. At the other end, we hear the segregationist rants of talking heads demanding litmus tests for migrants, refugees and victims of violence. And, it’s all the more distasteful when one of the talking heads controls vast swathes of the global media.

So, shame on you Rupert Murdoch for suggesting that the US allow entry only to proven Christian refugees. Clearly, tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness are not concepts that Mr.Murdoch understands — traits that he lacks in common with those that he accuses.

From the Guardian:

I see Rupert Murdoch has come up with a foolproof method to ensure that the United States is safe from terrorism.

In a tweet offering advice to the American president, he wrote:

“Obama facing enormous opposition in accepting refugees. Maybe make special exception for proven Christians”

Oh yes he did. Does the News Corp boss not realise that this is just the kind of response to terrorism that the terrorists seek to provoke?

Ostracising all Muslims by refusing them sanctuary on the grounds that that they are potential terrorists is likely to be counter-productive. And, incidentally, is it not unChristian?

I note that the editor of Newsnight, Ian Katz, tongue firmly in cheek, tweeted back to Murdoch:

“Interesting idea… will you come and talk about it on @BBCNewsnight”.

But he didn’t take up the offer. He obviously prefers to let his wisdom shine through in 140 characters.

I am also queasy about the Tuesday editorial in Murdoch’s favourite newspaper, the Sun, which called on British-based Muslims to prove their opposition to “the jihadis” by marching through London with placards saying “not in our name”.

Rightly, the paper points out that Isis “seeks to establish violent, oppressive fundamentalism as the only true faith and to divide Muslims from non-Muslims.”

But I wonder whether the Sun realises that its message is similar: the effect of treating Muslims, all Muslims, as some kind of homogenous entity (and as a thing apart) is more likely to foment divisions with non-Muslims and alienate Muslims still further.

Read the entire story here.

Us and Them: Group Affinity Begins Early

Research shows how children as young as four years empathize with some but not others. It’s all about the group: which peer group you belong to versus the rest. Thus, the uphill struggle to instill tolerance in the next generation needs to begin very early in life.

From the WSJ:

Here’s a question. There are two groups, Zazes and Flurps. A Zaz hits somebody. Who do you think it was, another Zaz or a Flurp?

It’s depressing, but you have to admit that it’s more likely that the Zaz hit the Flurp. That’s an understandable reaction for an experienced, world-weary reader of The Wall Street Journal. But here’s something even more depressing—4-year-olds give the same answer.

In my last column, I talked about some disturbing new research showing that preschoolers are already unconsciously biased against other racial groups. Where does this bias come from?

Marjorie Rhodes at New York University argues that children are “intuitive sociologists” trying to make sense of the social world. We already know that very young children make up theories about everyday physics, psychology and biology. Dr. Rhodes thinks that they have theories about social groups, too.

In 2012 she asked young children about the Zazes and Flurps. Even 4-year-olds predicted that people would be more likely to harm someone from another group than from their own group. So children aren’t just biased against other racial groups: They also assume that everybody else will be biased against other groups. And this extends beyond race, gender and religion to the arbitrary realm of Zazes and Flurps.

In fact, a new study in Psychological Science by Dr. Rhodes and Lisa Chalik suggests that this intuitive social theory may even influence how children develop moral distinctions.

Back in the 1980s, Judith Smetana and colleagues discovered that very young kids could discriminate between genuinely moral principles and mere social conventions. First, the researchers asked about everyday rules—a rule that you can’t be mean to other children, for instance, or that you have to hang up your clothes. The children said that, of course, breaking the rules was wrong. But then the researchers asked another question: What would you think if teachers and parents changed the rules to say that being mean and dropping clothes were OK?

Children as young as 2 said that, in that case, it would be OK to drop your clothes, but not to be mean. No matter what the authorities decreed, hurting others, even just hurting their feelings, was always wrong. It’s a strikingly robust result—true for children from Brazil to Korea. Poignantly, even abused children thought that hurting other people was intrinsically wrong.

This might leave you feeling more cheerful about human nature. But in the new study, Dr. Rhodes asked similar moral questions about the Zazes and Flurps. The 4-year-olds said it would always be wrong for Zazes to hurt the feelings of others in their group. But if teachers decided that Zazes could hurt Flurps’ feelings, then it would be OK to do so. Intrinsic moral obligations only extended to members of their own group.

The 4-year-olds demonstrate the deep roots of an ethical tension that has divided philosophers for centuries. We feel that our moral principles should be universal, but we simultaneously feel that there is something special about our obligations to our own group, whether it’s a family, clan or country.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: Us and Them, Pink Floyd. Courtesy of Pink Floyd / flickr.

MondayMap: Global Intolerance

Following on from last week’s MondayMap post on intolerance and hatred within the United States — according to tweets on the social media site Twitter — we expand our view this week to cover the globe. This map is a based on a more detailed, global research study of people’s attitudes to having neighbors of a different race.

From the Washington Post:

When two Swedish economists set out to examine whether economic freedom made people any more or less racist, they knew how they would gauge economic freedom, but they needed to find a way to measure a country’s level of racial tolerance. So they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades.

Among the dozens of questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that, they believe, could be a pretty good indicator of tolerance for other races. The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society. (The study concluded that economic freedom had no correlation with racial tolerance, but it does appear to correlate with tolerance toward homosexuals.)

Unfortunately, the Swedish economists did not include all of the World Values Survey data in their final research paper. So I went back to the source, compiled the original data and mapped it out on the infographic above. In the bluer countries, fewer people said they would not want neighbors of a different race; in red countries, more people did.

If we treat this data as indicative of racial tolerance, then we might conclude that people in the bluer countries are the least likely to express racist attitudes, while the people in red countries are the most likely.

Update: Compare the results to this map of the world’s most and least diverse countries.

Before we dive into the data, a couple of caveats. First, it’s entirely likely that some people lied when answering this question; it would be surprising if they hadn’t. But the operative question, unanswerable, is whether people in certain countries were more or less likely to answer the question honestly. For example, while the data suggest that Swedes are more racially tolerant than Finns, it’s possible that the two groups are equally tolerant but that Finns are just more honest. The willingness to state such a preference out loud, though, might be an indicator of racial attitudes in itself. Second, the survey is not conducted every year; some of the results are very recent and some are several years old, so we’re assuming the results are static, which might not be the case.

• Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

• India, Jordan, Bangladesh and Hong Kong by far the least tolerant. In only three of 81 surveyed countries, more than 40 percent of respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race. This included 43.5 percent of Indians, 51.4 percent of Jordanians and an astonishingly high 71.8 percent of Hong Kongers and 71.7 percent of Bangladeshis.

Read more about this map here.

MondayMap: Intolerance and Hatred

A fascinating map of tweets espousing hatred and racism across the United States. The data analysis and map were developed by researchers at Humboldt State University.

From the Guardian:

[T]he students and professors at Humboldt State University who produced this map read the entirety of the 150,000 geo-coded tweets they analysed.

Using humans rather than machines means that this research was able to avoid the basic pitfall of most semantic analysis where a tweet stating ‘the word homo is unacceptable’ would still be classed as hate speech. The data has also been ‘normalised’, meaning that the scale accounts for the total twitter traffic in each county so that the final result is something that shows the frequency of hateful words on Twitter. The only question that remains is whether the views of US Twitter users can be a reliable indication of the views of US citizens.

See the interactive map and read the entire article here.