The simple unspoken reality is that not all religions are equally good. Some in fact are downright bad. The problem we have as Americans, however, is that our fundamental attachment to tolerance makes it very difficult for us to say this. We typically confuse our absolute adherence to tolerance with relativism. But tolerance in fact is diametrically opposed to relativism. The relativist presumes that all religions and all ideas are equal. The American principle of tolerance on the other hand allows us to say, “Your religion is wrong, perhaps even bad, but my absolute adherence to tolerance means I will not try to squelch your bad religion.” We who adhere to tolerance as an absolute value are of the reasonable view that all people are morally required to tolerate what each of us considers the foolishness of others because each of us requires others tolerate what they may consider our own foolishness. This is an absolute principle, and a good one I think.
A fool tolerated, however, remains a fool despite our tolerance of his, or our own, foolishness. The only thing the adherent to absolute tolerance cannot tolerate, and must not tolerate, is intolerance, for intolerance is a rejection of our one absolute value: Thou Shalt be Tolerant. It is this strict adherence to tolerance that John Stuart Mill had in mind in his essay On Liberty. The marketplace of ideas certainly does not hold all ideas in equal esteem despite the freedom all should have to express them. In fact some ideas are just plain bad, despite the moral requirement that those who hold these bad ideas retain their right to express them. In a word, we have an absolute right to have bad religions and say stupid things, but it is immoral for us not to allow others their right to have bad religions and say stupid things. So lots of bad religions and stupid things abound in America, and our tolerance of this makes none of it less bad or less stupid.
Paradoxically, our national adherence to the absolute value of tolerance is ultimately what gave rise to the now utterly intolerant PC culture in academia that refuses to tolerate any opposition to its favored parochialisms. I however, would like to attack this academic parochialism, by simply arguing that some religions are bad, some ideas are bad and yes some people are bad too, and no, they are not all George W. Bush, or even Republicans. Yes, we should tolerate bad religions and their religious ideas to the degree that they tolerate us who hold tolerance dear, but bad religions remain, nevertheless, bad.
The problem of course is by what criterion can a religion be judged a bad religion?
The answer is twofold: First, any religion that does not have a coherent theology is likely a bad religion. Second, if a religion has not borne socially beneficial fruit it is likely a bad religion. These two topics will be discussed in the next installment. I will say, as an enticement, suicidal religions such as the Halle-Bopp black Nike wearing castrati of California, the Kool Aid drinkers of Jonestown and the Branch Davidians at Ruby Ridge were clearly examples of BAD religions, as are some of our other contemporary extremist Christian, Islamist and Feminist religions. Bearers of bad fruit, all.