Toleration is the acceptance of an action, object, or person which one
dislikes or disagrees with, where one is in a position to disallow it
but chooses not to. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or
"to nourish, sustain or preserve" or as "a fair, objective, and
permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices,
racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from
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."
There is only one verb to tolerate and one adjective tolerant, but the
two nouns tolerance and toleration have evolved slightly different
meanings. 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
Historically, most incidents and writings pertaining to toleration
involve the status of minority and dissenting viewpoints in relation
to a dominant state religion. In the twentieth century and after,
analysis of 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
2 In antiquity
3 Biblical sources
4 In the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation
4.1 Tolerance of the Jews
4.9 Edict of Torda
4.10 Maximilian II
4.11 The Warsaw Confederation, 1573
4.12 Edict of Nantes
5 In the Enlightenment
5.2 Rudolph II
5.3 In the American colonies
5.7 Act of Toleration
5.10 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
5.11 The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
6 In the nineteenth century
6.1 Roman Catholic Relief Act
7 In the twentieth century
8 In other religions
9 Tolerance and digital technologies
10 Modern analyses and critiques
10.1 Modern definition
10.3 Tolerating the intolerant
10.4 Other criticisms and issues
11 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
The word tolerance was first used in the 15th century.
The word 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
Minerva as a symbol of enlightened wisdom protects the believers of
all religions (Daniel Chodowiecki, 1791)
Religious toleration has been described as a "remarkable feature" of
Achaemenid Empire of Persia. As reported in the Old Testament,
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great was believed to have released the
captivity in 539–530 BCE, and permitted their return to their
Cyrus the Great
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."
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
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".These texts are
frequently used in sermons to plead for compassion and tolerance of
those who are different from us and less powerful. Julia Kristeva
elucidated a philosophy of political and religious toleration based on
all of our mutual identities as strangers.
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 his "Letter to Bishop
Roger of Chalons", Bishop
Wazo of Liege
Wazo of Liege (c. 985–1048 AD) relied on
the parable to argue that "the church should let dissent grow with
orthodoxy until the Lord comes to separate and judge them".
Roger Williams, a Baptist theologian and founder of Rhode Island, used
this parable to support government toleration of all of the "weeds"
(heretics) in the world, because civil persecution often inadvertently
hurts the "wheat" (believers) too. Instead, Williams believed it was
God's duty to judge in the end, not man's. This parable lent further
support to Williams' Biblical philosophy of a wall of separation
between church and state as described in his 1644 book, The Bloody
Tenent of Persecution.
In the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation
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
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".
Tolerance of the Jews
In Poland in 1264, the
Statute of Kalisz
Statute of Kalisz was issued, guaranteeing
freedom of religion for the
Jews in the country.
Pope Clement VI
Pope Clement VI (1291–1352) issued a bull pleading with
Catholics not to murder Jews, whom they blamed for the Black Death. He
Jews died of the plague like anyone else, and that the
disease also flourished in areas where there were no Jews. Christians
who blamed and killed
Jews had been "seduced by that liar, the Devil".
Jews under his personal protection at Avignon, but his calls
for other clergy to do so failed to be heeded.
Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522) was a German humanist and a scholar of
Greek and Hebrew who opposed efforts by Johannes Pfefferkorn, backed
by the Dominicans of Cologne, to confiscate all religious texts from
Jews as a first step towards their forcible conversion to the
Despite occasional spontaneous episodes of pogroms and killings, as
during the Black Death,
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a
relatively tolerant home for the
Jews in the medieval period. In 1264,
Statute of Kalisz
Statute of Kalisz guaranteed safety, personal liberties, freedom
of religion, trade, and travel to Jews. By the mid-16th century, the
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was home to 80% of the world's Jewish
population. Jewish worship was officially recognized, with a Chief
Rabbi originally appointed by the monarch. Jewish property ownership
was also protected for much of the period, and
Jews entered into
business partnerships with members of the nobility.
Paulus Vladimiri (ca. 1370–1435) was a Polish scholar and rector who
Council of Constance
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
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."
Saint Thomas More (1478–1535), Catholic Lord Chancellor of King
Henry VIII and author, described a world of almost complete religious
toleration in Utopia (1516), in which the Utopians "can hold various
religious beliefs without persecution from the authorities."
However, More's work is subject to various interpretations, and it is
not clear that he felt that earthly society should be conducted the
same way as in Utopia. Thus, in his three years as Lord Chancellor,
More actively approved of the persecution of those who sought to
undermine the Catholic faith in England.
Diet of Worms
Diet of Worms (1521),
Martin Luther refused to recant his
beliefs citing freedom of conscience as his justification.
According to Historian Hermann August Winkler, 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. But
Luther remained rooted in the
Middle Ages insofar as he considered the
Anabaptists' refusal to take oaths, do military service, and the
rejection of private property by some Anabaptist groups 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.
Sebastian Castellio (1515–1563) was a French Protestant theologian
who in 1554 published under a pseudonym the pamphlet Whether heretics
should be persecuted (De haereticis, an sint persequendi) criticizing
John Calvin's execution of Michael Servetus: "When Servetus fought
with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and
writings." Castellio concluded: "We can live together peacefully only
when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be
differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to
general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds
of peace, pending the day when we shall attain unity of faith."
Castellio is remembered for the often quoted statement, "To kill a man
is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.
Jean Bodin (1530–1596) was a French Catholic jurist and political
philosopher. His Latin work Colloquium heptaplomeres de rerum
sublimium arcanis abditis ("The Colloqium of the Seven") portrays a
conversation about the nature of truth between seven cultivated men
from diverse religious or philosophical backgrounds: a natural
philosopher, a Calvinist, a Muslim, a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, a
Jew, and a skeptic. All agree to live in mutual respect and tolerance.
Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), French Catholic essayist and
statesman, moderated between the Catholic and Protestant sides in the
Wars of Religion. Montaigne's theory of skepticism led to the
conclusion that we cannot precipitously decide the error of others'
views. Montaigne wrote in his famous "Essais": "It is putting a very
high value on one's conjectures, to have a man roasted alive because
of them...To kill people, there must be sharp and brilliant
Edict of Torda
In 1568, King
John II Sigismund
John II Sigismund of Hungary, encouraged by his
Unitarian Minister Francis David (Dávid Ferenc), issued the Edict of
Torda decreeing religious toleration.
In 1571, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II granted religious toleration
to the nobles of Lower Austria, their families and workers.
The Warsaw Confederation, 1573
Original act of the
Warsaw Confederation 1573 - the official
sanctioning of religious freedom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
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.[page needed]
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
Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Nantes, issued on April 13, 1598, by Henry IV of France,
Calvinist Huguenots—substantial rights
in a nation where Catholicism was the state religion. The main concern
was civil unity; The Edict 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
Edict of Nantes
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.
In the Enlightenment
Beginning in the Enlightenment commencing in the 1600s, 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
John Milton (1608–1674), English Protestant poet and essayist,
called in the
Areopagitica for "the liberty to know, to utter, and to
argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties" (applied,
however, only to the conflicting Protestant denominations, and not to
atheists, Jews, Muslims or even Catholics). "Milton argued for
disestablishment as the only effective way of achieving broad
toleration. Rather than force a man's conscience, government should
recognize the persuasive force of the gospel."
Rudolph II decreed religious toleration in Bohemia.
In the American colonies
Toleration Act, passed in 1649.
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
Also in 1636, Congregationalist
Thomas Hooker and a group of
companions founded Connecticut. They combined the democratic form of
government that had been developed by the Separatist
Plymouth Colony (Pilgrim Fathers) with unlimited
freedom of conscience. Like Martin Luther, Hooker argued that as faith
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
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."
John Locke (1632–1704) published A Letter
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."
Act of 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
François-Marie Arouet, the French writer, historian and philosopher
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
Judaism was found in Voltaire.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
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.
Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
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
For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being
obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change
opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but
found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow the more
apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the
judgment of others.
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 nineteenth century
The process of legislating religious toleration went forward, while
philosophers continued to discuss the underlying rationale.
Roman Catholic Relief Act
Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829
Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 adopted by the Parliament in 1829
repealed the last of the criminal laws (TEST ACTS) aimed at Catholic
citizens of Great Britain.
John Stuart Mill's arguments in "On Liberty" (1859) in support of the
freedom of speech were phrased to include a defense of religious
Let the opinions impugned be the belief of
God and in a future state,
or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality... But I must be
permitted to observe that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be
it what it may) which I call an assumption of infallibility. It is the
undertaking to decide that question for others, without allowing them
to hear what can be said on the contrary side. And I denounce and
reprobate this pretension not the less if it is put forth on the side
of my most solemn convictions.
In his 1882 essay "What is a Nation?", French historian and
Ernest Renan proposed a definition of nationhood based on
"a spiritual principle" involving shared memories, rather than a
common religious, racial or linguistic heritage. Thus members of any
religious group could participate fully in the life of the nation.
"You can be French, English, German, yet Catholic, Protestant, Jewish,
or practicing no religion".
In the twentieth century
In 1948, the
United Nations General Assembly adopted Article 18 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and
freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or
private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice,
worship and observance
Even though not formally legally binding, the Declaration has been
adopted in or influenced many national constitutions since 1948. It
also serves as the foundation for a growing number of international
treaties and national laws and international, regional, national and
sub-national institutions protecting and promoting human rights
including the freedom of religion.
In 1965, The Roman
Vatican II Council issued the
Dignitatis humanae (Religious Freedom) that states that all
people must have the right to religious freedom.
In 1986, the first World
Day of Prayer
Day of Prayer for Peace was held in Assisi.
Representatives of one hundred and twenty different religions came
together for prayer to their
God or gods.
In 1988, in the spirit of Glasnost, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev
promised increased religious toleration.
In other religions
Other major world religions also have texts or practices supporting
the idea of religious toleration.
Rigveda says Ekam Sath Viprah Bahudha Vadanti which translates to
"The truth is One, but sages call it by different Names".
Consistent with this tradition,
India chose to be a secular country
even though it was divided partitioning on religious lines. Whatever
Hindu scholars displayed towards other religions was
subtle and symbolic and most likely was done to present a superior
argument in defence of their own faith. Traditionally, Hindus showed
their intolerance by withdrawing and avoiding contact with those whom
they held in contempt, instead of using violence and aggression to
strike fear in their hearts.
Hinduism is perhaps the only religion in
the world which showed remarkable tolerance towards other religions in
difficult times and under testing conditions. Even Buddhism, which
India mostly through negative campaigns against Hinduism,
cannot claim that credit. Criticizing other religions and showing them
in poor light to attract converts to its own fold was never an
approved practice in Hinduism.
Pluralism and tolerance of diversity are built into
India's long history is a testimony to its tolerance of religious
Christianity came to
India with St. Thomas in the first
century CE, long before it became popular in the West.
Judaism came to
India after the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and
Jews were expelled from their homeland. In a recent book titled
"Who are the
Jews of India?" (University of California Press, 2000),
author Nathan Katz observes that
India is the only country where the
Jews were not persecuted. The Indian chapter is one of the happiest of
the Jewish Diaspora. Both Christians and
Jews have existed in a
India for centuries without being persecuted.
Persia (present day Iran) entered
India in the 7th
century to flee Islamic conquest. They are known as
Parsis in India.
Parsis are an affluent community in the city of
Mumbai without a
sense of having been persecuted through the centuries. Among the
richest business families in
India are the Parsis; for example, the
Tata family controls a huge industrial empire in various parts of the
country. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the powerful Prime Minister of India
(1966–77; 1980–84), was married to Feroz Gandhi, a Parsi (no
relation to Mahatma Gandhi). 
See also: Al-Baqara 256
Certain verses of the
Qur'an were interpreted to create a specially
tolerated status for People of the Book, Jewish and Christian
believers in the Old and New Testaments considered to have been a
basis for Islamic religion:
Verily! Those who believe and those who are
Jews and Christians, and
Sabians, whoever believes in
God and the Last Day and do righteous
good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be
no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Under Islamic law,
Jews and Christians were considered dhimmis, a
legal status inferior to that of a Muslim but superior to that of
Jewish communities in the
Ottoman Empire held a protected status and
continued to practice their own religion, as did Christians, though
both were subject to additional restrictions, such as restrictions on
the areas where they could live or work or in clothing, and both
had to pay additional taxes. Yitzhak Sarfati, born in Germany,
became the Chief Rabbi of
Edirne and wrote a letter inviting European
Jews to settle in the Ottoman Empire, in which he asked: "Is it not
better for you to live under Muslims than under Christians?'".
Beyazid II (1481–1512), issued a formal invitation to the
Jews expelled from Catholic Spain and Portugal, leading to a wave of
According to Michael Walzer:
The established religion of the [Ottoman] empire was Islam, but three
other religious communities—Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and
Jewish—were permitted to form autonomous organizations. These three
were equal among themselves, without regard to their relative
numerical strength. They were subject to the same restrictions
vis-à-vis Muslims—with regard to dress, proselytizing, and
intermarriage, for example—and were allowed the same legal control
over their own members.
Bhikkhu Bodhi states that the Buddha taught "the path to the
supreme goal of the holy life is made known only in his own teaching",
Buddhists have nevertheless shown significant tolerance for other
religions: "Buddhist tolerance springs from the recognition that the
dispositions and spiritual needs of human beings are too vastly
diverse to be encompassed by any single teaching, and thus that these
needs will naturally find expression in a wide variety of religious
James Freeman Clarke said in Ten Great Religions (1871):
"The Buddhists have founded no Inquisition; they have combined the
zeal which converted kingdoms with a toleration almost inexplicable to
our Western experience."
Edicts of Ashoka
Edicts of Ashoka issued by King
Ashoka the Great
Ashoka the Great (269–231 BCE),
a Buddhist, declared ethnic and religious tolerance. His Edict XII,
engraved in stone, stated: "The faiths of others all deserve to be
honored for one reason or another. By honoring them, one exalts one's
own faith and at the same time performs a service to the faith of
Buddhism has also had controversies regarding toleration. See
Dorje Shugden Controversy. In addition, the question of possible
intolerance among Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, primarily
against Muslims, has been raised by Paul Fuller.
Tolerance and digital technologies
The development of new digital technologies has 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.
Modern analyses and critiques
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
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
Historian Alexandra Walsham notes that 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."
Isaiah Berlin attributes to
Herbert Butterfield the notion that
"toleration... implies a certain disrespect. I tolerate your absurd
beliefs and your foolish acts, though I know them to be absurd and
foolish. Mill would, I think, have agreed."
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
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
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.
As a result of his public debate with
Baron Devlin on the role of the
criminal law in enforcing moral norms, British legal philosopher H. L.
A. Hart wrote Law, Liberty and Morality (1963) and The Morality of the
Criminal Law (1965). His work on the relationship between law and
morality had a significant effect on the laws of Great Britain,
helping bring about the decriminalization of homosexuality. But it was
Jeremy Bentham that defended the rights for homosexuality with his
essay "Offence against One's Self" but could not be published
until in 1978.
Tolerating the intolerant
Main article: Paradox of tolerance
Walzer, Karl Popper and John Rawls have discussed the paradox
of tolerating intolerance. Walzer asks "Should we tolerate the
intolerant?" He notes that most minority religious groups who are the
beneficiaries of tolerance are themselves intolerant, at least in some
respects. Rawls argues that an intolerant sect should be tolerated
in a tolerant society unless the sect directly threatens the security
of other members of the society. He links this principle to the
stability of a tolerant society, in which members of an intolerant
sect in a tolerant society will, over time, acquire the tolerance of
the wider society.
Other criticisms and issues
Toleration 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."
Ronald Dworkin argues that 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. Dworkin has also
questioned whether the United States is a "tolerant secular" nation,
or is re-characterizing itself as a "tolerant religious" nation, based
on the increasing re-introduction of religious themes into
conservative politics. Dworkin concludes that "the tolerant secular
model is preferable, although he invited people to use the concept of
personal responsibility to argue in favor of the tolerant religious
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.
Christian debate on persecution and toleration
International Day for Tolerance
Islam and other religions
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Paradox of tolerance
Separation of church and state
Status of religious freedom by country
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tolerance.
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God and Religious Toleration
Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations
Background to the
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Text of the
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
"Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance". Various information on
sensible religious topics. Ontario Consultants on Religious
Religious Tolerance at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
History of Religious Tolerance
Outline for a Discussion on
Toleration (Karen Barkey)
The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities
"Toleration". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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