The Problem With Religious Tolerance

Oct 6, 2015

Anna Gordon/Guardian

By Alan Levinovitz

Last week newspapers reported that the student union at Britain’s University of Warwick had banned Maryam Namazie, a secular human-rights activist, from speaking on the campus this month.

The reasoning was simple. Namazie, an Iranian-born former Muslim, routinely challenges radical Islamist beliefs and criticizes many aspects of Islam. That was determined to violate the student union’s policy, which forbids external speakers to spread “hatred and intolerance in the community” and says they “must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups.” Namazie’s critical views, the student union concluded, could infringe upon the “right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus.”

When I teach introductory courses in religion, I find my students are also unwilling to offer critical appraisals of religious beliefs, and for the same reason. Like Warwick’s student union, they think refraining from criticism is essential to religious tolerance. After all, if you claim that a religious belief is wrong, aren’t you being intolerant? Better to accept religious relativism than run the risk of bigotry.

That approach is fundamentally misguided. You can think a religious belief is wrong without being intolerant. Tolerance is not synonymous with “believing someone else is right.” It is a virtue that allows you to coexist with people whose way of life is different from your own without throwing a temper tantrum, or a punch.


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17 comments on “The Problem With Religious Tolerance

  • Sad reading here.

    Students not being able to discern the truth of religious claims because they must be perceived as ” tolerant ” to a fault so as not to give offense to delusional-oids regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof.



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  • 2
    Miserablegit says:

    One again we have organisations terrified of upsetting the God botherers, it’s quite simple if you believe in god it’s your opinion just as mine and many others that don’t have our opinion. Trying to ban a woman who is irreligious in case it offends is total bollocks.



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  • @OP Last week newspapers reported that the student union at Britain’s University of Warwick had banned Maryam Namazie, a secular human-rights activist, from speaking on the campus this month.

    There are plenty of confused, idealistic, “politically correct”, students, on Student Union Committees – even before picking out faith-head bigots!



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  • I see the Warwick Thought Police decided to change their minds about Maryam after 5000 signed a petition supporting her appearance there. Apparently she was good enough for the BBC’s Big Questions on Sunday morning TV, but not good enough for an institute of higher learning.



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  • Mr DArcy
    Oct 6, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I see the Warwick Thought Police decided to change their minds about Maryam after 5000 signed a petition supporting her appearance there. Apparently she was good enough for the BBC’s Big Questions on Sunday morning TV, but not good enough for an institute of higher learning.

    We should not confuse those who have recently left school and discovered student union politics with aspects of “higher learning”!
    Many are kids in cliques with ideologies!



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  • Was the student union putting on the talk? Surely the student union can not have veto power over who the university decides to put forward as a speaker?

    If it was the student union putting on the talk then I suppose they have the right, and then this public bashing in the media for being ignorant, small minded and intolerant is the correct response – I hope at least some of them are embarrassed.



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  • [students] must be perceived as ” tolerant ” to a fault so as not to give offense to delusional-oids

    I much preferred it in my young day, when we were all purblind, undisciplined, rowdy, rude, quarrelsome, pretend-Marxists, who’d read anything, argue all day and night about things of which we didn’t have the faintest understanding, skip lectures to attend demonstrations and teach-ins…in short do anything to avoid actually studying the stuff we were meant to study.

    At least we had red blood in our veins, albeit somewhat diluted by alcohol and polluted by pot.



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  • @OP – The reasoning was simple. Namazie, an Iranian-born former Muslim, routinely challenges radical Islamist beliefs and criticizes many aspects of Islam. That was determined to violate the student union’s policy, which forbids external speakers to spread “hatred and intolerance in the community” and says they “must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups.” Namazie’s critical views, the student union concluded, could infringe upon the “right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus.”

    Oh dear! Speakers who challenge false notions and bad ideas!! Next we will have university speakers who upset political ideologists by engaging in critical political and philosophical debates!

    “Let’s all be accommodating fudgist apologists”, who will uncritically accept any viewpoint – except a critical scientific analysis of evidence of course! That might offend some delusional ideologists whose ignorance must be protected from scrutiny while in universities!!! ! ???



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  • 9
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    @OP – Namazie’s critical views, the student union concluded, could infringe upon the “right of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against on their university campus.”

    Their use of the words “intimidated” and “discriminated against” is just another typical example of the BS maneuver used by all religionists to attract sympathy and manipulate the public opinion: playing the victim card.

    Had they been sincere in their claim, they would have said “the right of Muslim students not to feel offended”

    When Christian fundamentalists in the US do it, liberal critics destroy them with ridicule and logic. When Islamists and Islam apologists do it, nobody dares criticize for fear of suffering the same bashing and character assasination that the true progrssive intellectuals like Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mariam Namazie and others are getting from the PC liberal press.

    I’m really sick of this double standard of so-called liberals. Salman Rushdie said it best on the Bill Maher show some time ago: (paraphrasing here) “You don’t have a right to not be offended. If something someone said offends you, that’s your problem.”

    If you take away people’s right to say offensive things, you take away their freedom of speech. And freedom of expression IS the most important of all liberal values.



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  • Some students don’t really know what a university is for and many are educated beyond their capacity for reason. If they are worried that someone is so infantile they are going to get upset and suffer emotional truama by someone’s opinion they don’t deserve a university education they need comforting.
    These namby pambies, should be rounded up and given a colouring book and some crayons to keep them occupied.



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  • It is usually those most intolerant of criticism, who demand tolerance for imposing their intolerance on other people who would wish to engage in rational discussion!
    Is their grasp on their claims so fragile it cannot even be discussed without their brains going into spasms?



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  • It is good that Warwick SU revoked their no platform decision. I hope Ms Namazie speaks there. They were concerned about security costs for the event amongst other things.
    Warwick SU unfortunately has allowed a few ‘hate preachers’ to talk in the past, condoning the beating of wives, etc. The UK PM, Mr Cameron, has recently said there will be a crack down on allowing hate preachers on to university property. We shall see how that goes…
    The idea of a ‘safe space’ for staff and students, which sounds so nice and innocuous, is being used to stifle free speech and to enforce one form of thinking. ‘No platforming’ was very recently used to prevent a speaker from speaking at a feminist conference on ‘free speech’ as she did entirely follow the given feminist mantra. (see Guardian website CIF)



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  • This reminds me of a discussion I was having on Facebook regarding religion. I mentioned it there and I’ll happily repeat it here:

    Respect for another person’s beliefs does not mean capitulation. It does not mean acknowledging any of those beliefs are right. It means you acknowledge that someone has a differing view and that they are entitled to do so. It may even mean you have positive things to say about said beliefs, but not that you must conform to them.

    Having an opposing view rooted in the reality of a given culture is not disruptive, hate speech or prejudice. Especially if the person in question has experience in the faith in question. The best way Islam as a whole stands a chance of silencing criticism (if it can) is to actually discuss openly the challenges and issues of their faith. Enabling censorship like this only makes things look worse.

    To tolerate is to accept that something is and has a right to exist. It doesn’t mean you have to like or agree. And it certainly doesn’t mean that someone should be shut down for having a point of view reflecting their experience in a faith that doesn’t support what the religion says.

    You can’t have a conversation if you tape the other person’s mouth shut.



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  • There is an obvious hypocrisy behind all this.

    I am offended by religious speakers, especially those who oppose free thought etc., yet they are allowed to speak.
    Religious folk are offended by atheist speakers, and – especially those who criticise religion – so of course they must not be allowed to speak. All in the name of religious freedom.

    Yet the same hypocrites who elevate “religion” to something which is beyond criticism (though secretly waiting for, if not actively working towards, the day when it’s only their religion that’s beyond criticism) will often in debate label atheism as just another religion.



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  • Anything that hinders the free exchange of ideas is wrong and harmful. The reason the clergy of the “revealed”/hearsay religions don’t want to be objectively questioned about their beliefs is because their beliefs are nonsensical and violate our innate God-given reason (I’m a Deist and not an Atheist). As Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, we need a revolution in religion based on our innate God-given reason and Deism. This will do a lot to end religious violence and make a much better world.

    Progress!
    Bob Johnson
    [Links to user’s website removed by moderator]



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  • The difference between free speech and hate speech is not clearly defined. In the long run, it is possibly better to tolerate both so that everyone realises the extent of hatred which would otherwise be hidden. A proviso should be that it has to be public and is not tolerated to closed audiences where the media is not allowed. In this way, the absurd views of radicals will become well known and judged by society that will ostracise accordingly.



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