When is religious tolerance inappropriate?

By Donald A. Collins | 10 August 2012
Church and State

(Credit: Wikimedia / Public Domain)

Recently, I got an email from my sister which contains a talk by a British man (whose name was not included) about the excesses of Middle Eastern Muslim tyrants who have long denied human rights to women. Having been deeply concerned for decades with providing women with the means to control their fertility, the behavior of such men has been an anathema to me, just as has the behavior of the Catholic Church in its constant efforts to deny contraception methods and abortion choice to its adherents.

I leave it to you to judge the merits of this video, but suffice to say when I forwarded it to members of my family, several were highly offended by his making statements about Islamic extremists. By the way, that was, in my view, the whole point of his argument.

The thrust of the arguments of those who were offended were that there were many good Muslims and that we should never engage in remarks antithetical to any religion, particularly this one. Rather, I gathered, in the tradition of “Let he who casts the first stone…..”

Here is the prompt for this video. http://dotsub.com/media/b5ee5ada-5b37-4b0b-9916-e0896337ec4b/e/m

Here are a couple examples of the reactions from the ever tolerant folks.


“Do we judge a religion by the worst of its practitioners? I surely hope not. Christianity and Judaism are not always exemplary, yet I do know that there are sensible, peacemaking Christians and Jews AND Muslims. Let us look for and support those people rather than saying one religion or another is “primitive” and creating more of the separation and misunderstanding that has so damaged our world.”


“I took a look at this video and felt sick to my stomach that this hate-mongering dribble is being passed around. I don’t defend the horrendous acts that Muslims have done, but if I am to throw a stone at them, then how can I stand up for the wars which our country has participated in, the invasion of Iraq, the drones over Afghanistan, and so on. After all, we are spending more than 50% of our national budget on defense? What values stand underneath that policy? The recent rubbish in our country against women’s health, women’s right to a healthy sexual and reproductive life is appalling. Our media that link sex and violence and export it in films and videos—do they indicate that we have national values that support women? I don’t think so.

It’s time to clean up our act and our rhetoric!

When I think of the numerous Muslims who want peace in our world and work diligently to bring that, I regret sincerely that anyone talks about Muslims in the fashion of this “humorist” who is making money off such damaging and negative talk.

Frankly I am embarrassed that this is being sent to relatives of mine.”

And then an Amen from another respondent:

“Well put! Exactly right! Thanks for articulating so well!”

There were actually far more comments which supported the video than attacked it, including this particularly thoughtful one:

“I see you’ve been taken to task for sending the commentary about Islam around. Personally, I don’t consider this guy a humorist, but a commentator on culture, politics, etc. And I think he’s right on target. Okay, USA isn’t exemplary when it comes to using aggression to resolve conflict, but the Islamic religion is primitive—witness the recent stoning of a couple in Afghanistan. And where are the protests from the ‘righteous’ Muslims? But, you’re no newcomer to treading on sacred cows.”

Let me be clear. I personally start from the position that religions with their formal liturgies are simply outdated. As Christopher Hitchens notes in his 2007 book, “God is not great—How religion poisons everything” on page 212, that all religions are basically totalitarian. They all set standards that can’t possibly be fulfilled in order to keep adherents in line. Translation: in bondage.

After first citing on page 212 instances of abject behavior by all religions, Hitchens puts it this way:

“This pathetic moral spectacle would not be necessary if the original rules were ones that it would be possible to obey. But to the totalitarian edicts that begin with revelation from absolute authority, and that are enforced by fear, and based on a sin that had been committed long ago, are added regulations that are often immoral and impossible at the same time. The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey.”

This condition hardly helps expand the principle of tolerance.

Hitchens concludes:

“The resulting tyranny is even more impressive if it can be enforced by a privileged caste or party which is highly zealous in the detection of error. Most of humanity, throughout its history, has dwelt under a form of this stupefying dictatorship, and a large portion of it still does.”

I guess the status quo position on total religious tolerance would be to harken back, for example, to the days of the Spanish Inquisition, “Oh, let’s let bygones be bygones” and relegate that brutal behavior of putting infidels to death so eloquently described by Dostoevsky in his classic tale in The Grand Inquisitor, a part of his 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov to the dustbin of history.

Tolerating by silence or ignoring such behavior does not make for progress. It took the Vatican over 300 years to formally acknowledge the correctness of Galileo and the fallout from the recent priestly misbehavior of that religion are still being borne by its supplicants.

In the case of Islam, the excesses delineated by above video are very current and ongoing. The facts the British commentator states are true and it is likely he could be in the cross hairs of assassination like Salman Rushdie for his book Satanic Verses.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch feminist who escaped a forced marriage by getting off a flight to Canada in the Netherlands, where she learned that language and after great personal travail became a member of that nation’s parliament. Ali, not surprisingly, came to the view that the religion of her birth, Islam, was corrupt and immoral. She, from her highly visible perch in the Dutch Parliament continued to fight for women’s rights, including forcefully speaking against the practice of female genital cutting. Her screenplay for Theo van Gogh’s movie, Submission, led to death threats, resulting in van Gogh’s November 2004 assassination in broad daylight in Amsterdam outside the Parliament by an Islamic extremist.

When Dutch leaders failed to stand up to possible further terror which was threatened against Ali and, they apparently presumed, against other Dutch citizens, she was forced to leave her position in Parliament and flee to the USA!

It was of course a poignant personal moment when her Somalian father, Hirsi Magan Isse disowned her, but she went on to found the women’s rights organization the AHA Foundation in 2007 based in New York City to support Muslim dissidents who had suffered for their religious and political beliefs. Now more focused, AHA presently concentrates on combating crimes against women and children such as forced marriages, female genital cutting (something which she suffered in Somalia) and honor killings.

I am not denigrating the intrinsic wish of humans for some version of spirituality in our lives. The vastness of the unknown universes which we can now observe vividly holds all of us in awe. But the best rules of human behavior is not owned by any religion. Religions have always planted their flags atop such rules. Now we are all aware of the constant call in business for everyone to use “best practices” and this certainly could be applied to all human behavior. Those, like me, who are unchurched can easily believe in the moral behavior incorporated for example in the Ten Commandments.

As for making profound changes in our world, Margaret Mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Tolerance? Yes, indeed. Let’s always try to give others the benefit of the doubt, but with these Muslim extremists the evidence is simply overwhelming. Fool me once with false rhetoric, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Let me add a comment about the companion of being too willing to not “take arms against a sea of troubles and in so doing end them”—which is of course being intimidated by other forces, normally family, but also colleagues, friends, and, yes, powerfully employers. It is very hard to go against the grain of your social scenes, work place, so called cultural norms, religious leaders or even casual strangers because the costs can be high indeed. We are social animals and need the succor and approbation of our tribe or group as any mammal does.

One of my heroes for over 30 years has been my friend Dr. Stephen D. Mumford, whose writings about Catholic perfidy cost him his job and likely a distinguished career in academia as his qualifications in the field of his Phd dissertation were outstanding. Instead he chose the hard road, the high road and ultimately is gaining proper recognition, but more will come many years from now. He is surely one of those people Mead was talking about.

Progress is hard. Decisions are tough. Life is not always fair or easy, but the path to progress is not perpetual supplication to false goals and ideals, including outdated, dangerous religiously endorsed practices.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

During the formative years of the World Health Organisation (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Prof. Milton P. Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the organisation, speaks to our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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  1. Tolerance of religion is inappropriate when that religion is actively harming others. Civil rights, reproductive rights, children's rights, etc. Is someone is wishy-washy, only goes to worship on major holidays they normally won't gather my ire. When a fundamentalist is spewing hate and backing it up with their religion as the reason…both barrels and open season. After all, most of us have read, cover to cover, several holy books and have a better idea of what is actually in them then the fundamentalist who espouse them.

  2. Islam does seem to be a primitive religion among nonsensical religion in general. I would dare say it attracts or develops the most psychopaths than the others.


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