Religious tolerance. This is the ultimate – and positive – message that I try to get across through all my sceptically-themed work. Far from being anti-religious or anti-Christian, my atheism leads me into incredibly unifying territory. In this brief article, I shall explain why religious tolerance is mandatory for all religious believers, whether they place more importance on faith, or on ‘the evidence’.
One obvious challenge to religious tolerance comes in the form of religious exclusivism. This fancy term refers to a key belief that is held by many people who label themselves Jews, Christians or Muslims (monotheists). It is the attitude that an adherent’s religion is ‘true’ and is the ‘one, true faith’. Everything else pretty much comes from Satan, or so I’m told.
I actually support the attitude of religious exclusivism, on one condition. The evidence must be there to justify it. Of course, the evidence is not there. As I discuss in my professional work and popular book ( there was no Jesus, there is no God ), the evidence for the truth of any one particular religion is extremely poor. As my book respectfully explains, the philosophical arguments can’t move beyond a ‘mere generic god’, history cannot support miraculous or supernatural claims (due to its reliance on probabilistic explanations), and there is absolutely no direct and/or exclusive evidence for the existence of any one religion’s particular god, or view of god. This is of course a massive problem for the religious adherent whose belief relies on evidence, not only in terms of claiming religious exclusivity, but in claiming their religion to be ‘true’ in general.
Thankfully, the believer has another option – faith. This may sound odd coming from an atheist (and a scholar!), but I endorse this approach to religion. It certainly makes a lot more sense than the evidentialist route which fails so remarkably. And it makes religion more of a religion, and less of a science. Many religious people actually do feel this way. In fact, the Judeo-Christian Bible often stresses the importance of faith, such as the call to have faith ‘as a mustard seed’ (Luke 17:5). And many of the ‘other’ religions (such as Taoism, Buddhism and various Pagan religions) place far more importance on orthopraxy (correct practice) rather than orthodoxy (correct belief), as those who follow the work of my fellow Religious Studies scholars would understand. Now the condition mentioned above still stands. Claims of religious exclusivism must be backed up by evidence.
Faith is wonderful, but unlike evidence, it cannot reasonably be used to claim religious exclusivism. A person’s faith is deeply personal, and subjective. The Christian’s faith is marvellous. As is the Muslim’s. As is the Hindu’s. As is the Waterkin’s. Since all these believers have such great faith, and not a shred of evidence that is convincing to outsiders to their religion, none of them has the right to claim that their religion is ‘the one true faith’. That leaves one reasonable option for the religious believer, in regards to their attitudes towards other religious believers, and even those that are not religious.
Tolerance. Believe as you wish. But until you have the evidence to justify that your view is true and all other views are false, you should not live as if your view is true and all other views are false. We should all humbly acknowledge and respect each other’s religious and non-religious views.
So let the gays get married.