Monday, October 11, 2004

Religious Intolerance

As a good liberal I have in the past been tolerant of other people’s religion despite thinking it a rather ridiculous medieval throwback. In the last few years I have begun to question that position.

Several years ago I read a newspaper article that made me realize if I had been born a Muslim in Egypt I would have been jailed for rejecting the religion I was born into. In many other Islamic countries I would be executed. This made me feel a little less tolerant.

When George Bush invokes God to justify his misguided policies, when the U.S. Congress votes overwhelmingly to force kids to say “one Nation under God” every day, when creationists succeed in slipping their nonsense into school curricula – I feel less tolerant.

That is not to say there is not much to admire in religion. At its best it motivates many to follow an ethical path, to be selfless and altruistic. Religion also often offers a satisfying introspective self-discovery that is purely subjective and not at all in conflict with scientific realities. One can for example be a Buddhist and an Atheist, and I have read some thoughtful Christians describing their experience of God in a purely subjective way.

But surely we as a world society can be ethical and altruistic without invoking the superstitious magic of the major world religions, and encouraging irrational beliefs that lead to people to fly planes into buildings. I certainly hope so.