Tolerance is generally the act of allowing or accepting something which you disapprove of or don’t agree with. It comes in two forms; for the non-religious, it may be more accurately termed as “religious apathy”. It goes along with the idea that people should all be allowed to believe whatever they want. This is the definition of religious tolerance which makes it so popular in free modern societies. For the religious, at least those following a Western tradition who claim to have the key answers and the final Word of God, the idea of religious tolerance less simple.
Considering that most of the world is religious, and most religions think of themselves as slightly better, fuller, or richer than the others, religious tolerance is a complicated matter. If you believe in a God, and a heaven and hell, and that choosing the right religion in this lifetime helps you reach a better afterlife, then you also believe in an extraordinarily intolerant God. And if God is intolerant, how can we afford to let tolerance be a virtue? If I am Christian, for example, and I believe I am going to Heaven, and those who haven’t found Jesus Christ are going to Hell, then I have a moral obligation to help as many people as I can find their way to my Truth.
Tolerance in this case would be akin to selfishness; “I’m saved and I don’t care if you all are headed straight to Hell.” For a good religious person, who wants to live up to the excellent moral examples of his faith, tolerance is not an option. While religious tolerance seems to be a good idea, and freedom of religious expression is a right most people will fight for, it is the religious themselves who, when in a tolerant society, are faced with a moral dilemma. Should they close their eyes to all of their neighbors and loved ones, who, according to their faith, are headed for ruin? Should they be tolerant of someone who throws his afterlife away on misguided beliefs? Or should they reach out a helping hand?
Religious tolerance is doomed to fail as long as religious superiority is a staple of faith in organized religion. Hopefully, when the barriers separating faiths break down, we will find a new name which reflects the need to embrace and help each other, without adding a slice of our denomination to our assistance.