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Gift or Garrotte?

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Tolerance thrives on the wings of an open mind. It chokes on rigidity. Tolerance has wiggle room for different perspectives and answers. Tolerance is a direct and proximate result of the just and merciful nature of a supreme being.

To the fundamentalist Christian (Biblical literalist), the non-literalist Christian is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He believes it impossible for science and theology to peacefully coexist within the same being. He believes that God cannot be the catalyst for the creation of all if creation has and continues to naturally evolve.

To the fundamentalist, the literal interpretation of the word is finality, and there is no room for the premise that we are charged with using our brains to ferret out a message. (not interpret, but discern).

To adherents of Islam, anyone who does not accept the literal arabic translation of the Qu’ran is a heretic. I regularly espouse that the Qu’ran is basically a message which relies heavily on Judeo-Christian theology with a twist, but is primarily a document of peace. Unfortunately, it is often taught by non-peaceloving men. (I believe the exact accusation hurled at me when trying to point that out is that I am a prostitute in my hut in America).

To the Jew there would be many quite the tolerant and acceptable adherents (that is, if they didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was God manifest on earth, who died for their sins and was resurrected), but they still are less judgmental than the fundamentalist Christian, or the committed Muslim.

To adherents of eastern religions, the vision of the monotheist is too narrow. They are, however, generally non-accusatory when they find tolerance in other belief systems.

To the agnostic and atheist, theists are deluded (although some are more accepting if they find an open mind.) To the non-believer, the failing of the theist is that he chooses to allow faith to supercede empirical data.

To all of the above, at one time or another, I have proposed that “religion” is a creation of man, and that the universe and eternity are the province of God. I believe that different roads can converge at the same destination.

Tolerance is tricky business. One can be tolerant of a belief system without being tolerant of singular behaviors within that system. One can be tolerant of cultures and ethnicities without being tolerant of that which society (and common sense) has deemed oppressive. Tolerance makes room for change.

Tolerance is also the direct and proximate catalyst for improvement. Western arrogance nothwithstanding, it, like the constitution of the United States, is a living, breathing entity. Like lungs, it autonomically (or with help) can expand and contract. But even when it is depressed, it continues to be a lifeforce.

So…the question is: Does tolerance free us to thrive together in our respective belief systems, or does it doom us to strangulation because we make room for others, and therefore have none?

A quandry.


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About Claire

  • andy

    I have no tolerance for questions like this!!!

  • Claire

    *grinning….and why is that, Andy? Explain it to me….lol


  • andy

    but seriously, kinda…although I don’t practice it anymore, I was born and raised a catholic. As my mother said when she signed me into the Navy at 17 and came across the piece of paper that had none listed under religious preference…and I’m quoting exactly here,”you were born a fucking catholic, you were raised a fucking catholic and you’re going to die a fucking catholic” I looked at the recruiter and said…”can you change that from none to fucking catholic” then came one of the best smacks my mom ever gave me…

    what did Jesse “the governor” say? Organized religion is a sham!

    It seems to me at times that religion causes a lot more trouble than it might be worth (that outta stir the pot a bit). I mean just about every war ever fought on this planet was, in one way or another, started over religion. Even the one I had with my mother, back in the day, as they say.

  • Claire

    Andy, you must always listen to your mother,….hasn’t she told you she is always right?? (kidding) She is right in these points…you were born a fucking catholic, but you don’t have to die one. It is your choice to find your path and the dogma and theology that most reflects your personal belief.

    However, I must say, I have rarely laughed so hard at the recounting of your request to the recruiting officer and the ensuing slap….it is so…so…MOTHERLY!

    You are right, religion causes a lot of trouble. God does not…he is the God of all, not the God of one. My point…I think tolerance is the way…but I am a heretic among my own…thus, the question…:)


  • andy

    I have had a few epiphanies since those days…and actually had one prior to that day that caused me to fill out the paper work with no preference.

    My grandmother went to a Methodist church up the road and I kinda snuck up there with her a few times…once on a Sunday morning when they were passing out communion(they only did communion once a month) grandma asked me if I was going to receive. I told her I couldn’t, I hadn’t been to confession. She informed me that in her church if you needed to confess something, you didn’t need to talk to a priest, you could go straight to the Man! What a concept! I think that was when it first dawned on me, that maybe Iwasn’t cut out to be a catholic…then when I was around 15…making about $70 a week and the pastor of the local catholic church said he wanted $50 a week from every working person in the family so they could build a new church…that was the proverbial straw…

    and as for your comment in the piece above about western arrogance…is that really such a bad thing? don’t we really have a reason to be a little arrogant? I mean I have travelled all over the world and I honestly believe that there is no better place on this planet to live than right here in the good old USA!
    Haven’t we saved most of the worlds bacon at least twice now in our short history? And realistically, haven’t we been tolerant enough?
    Isn’t it tolerance that allowed 9/11? Wasn’t it clintons tolerance of Kobar Towers and the USS Cole and Somolia that let these fanatics think that they could get away with it that led to the slaughter of 3000 of, not just Americans, but the worlds people?
    As Dennis Miller used to say…I don’t mean to get off on a rant here…but I’m tired of being tolerant, we need to continue to kick some ass here!
    When we’re done with Iraq, Iran should be next, then Syria! And if the Saudi’s don’t stop funding these fanatics behind our backs maybe them too!
    Fuck tolerance…I wanna kill something!!!!!!!

  • andy

    sorry…had to vent

  • Claire

    Andy, I love the story about your grandmother, and although I have an uncle who is a Catholic Monsignor and spent 9 years in the Vatican, I “started out” a Methodist, and also believe you can go straight to the man. I am fascinated by the liturgy and pomp of the Catholic Church, and have no problem with their beliefs…they just aren’t mine..although I do have a few saints that I like very much.

    As to the second part of your response, YES, YES, YES. And after the fact of 9/11, known threats of terrorism, etc, we cannot be tolerant of extremists…of any religion. Those who blow up abortion clinics in the name of the Chrisian God, those who would label us infidels and destroy us and our land in the name of Allah, we cannot be tolerant AFTER the fact of extremists…

    But extremists are not representative of the whole group. It is only after they have demonstrated their ill-will that our intolerance should come in.

    My point is this, if we learn plurality as children, tolerance of all religions, have we cut off our nose to spite our faces? Fundamentalist Christians tell me that I am going straight to hell BECAUSE of my tolerance. My many paths theory makes them have a nutty, and claim me a heretic. I was actually banned from a fundamentalist Christian site because of my tolerant views. Labelled as a satan and the devil…(which did, I admit strike me kinda funny, since I am probably not going to be seeing any of those people in eternity for they will be rolling the rock up the hill in hell)…but…there’s the dilemma. If we are tolerant, are we less than what we should be in our own faiths?


  • andy marsh

    Back in the day, as they say, when I snuck down the street to go to church with my grandmother I was going to catholic school. The folks at the school actually had me believing that by attending services at a church that was not catholic was a sin. Luckily for me I grew up.
    My journeys to school in those days had me riding 3 different buses to school every morning. One of them was a bus that picked up kids at the local public HS. I remember sitting near this very nice upper classman (female hottie) and having very nice talks with her. I asked her one day what religion she was and she told me that she had not been babtized! I was shocked! Being a good catholic school kid, I was sure she was going straight to hell! She told me that her parents had decided that they were going to let her make this very personal decision when she was old enough and informed enough to make it herself. WOW, I thought, what a concept!

    I consider myslef pretty lucky, having interacted with so many different views as I was growing up, which I guess, gave me the sense of plurality that you speak of so eloquently. Living in the country, yes there is country in NJ and also having grandparents that lived in little italy in NYC added to this plurality.

    At the time of 9/11 I was living in AZ. Right after that happened someone went to a gas station on the other side of town and murdered an Indian sheik. This poor man had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, the only thing he did wrong was wear a turbin. Intolerance at it’s worst!

    I think tolerance is a requirement in todays world. To a point that is.
    Do I need to be tolerant of intolerance? I don’t think so. Am I intolerant myself sometimes? Most definately! Ride to work with me! Do I try to teach my daughters tolerance? Yes, but I also try to let them see who the real wackos are in the world.
    You really do ask questions that get me thinking…I know ’cause I can smell the smoke…now I’m going to get some coffee to douse the flames!

  • Claire

    Andy, I really like your comments. They give me snippets of why you think the way you do.

    NO, you do not have to be tolerant of the intolerant. I could never ask something of someone else which I could not do myself. Intolerance of heinous acts (and stand still traffic or bad drivers) is always acceptable. It is tolerance to philosophies, theologies and personal beliefs, so long as they remain personal, which is offensive to me, but which, in the end, according to those supposedly within my own “system”, that may buy me a really boring eternity. But I’m leaving that up to the Omniscient who knows what is in my heart.


  • andy marsh

    I look at it this way: My grandmther in the city went to church every day, not just Sundays. She was an RN and I consider nurses to be saints. So if what my 11 years of catholic school taught me is true, then she’s more than likely in heaven. My grandfather never went to church, other than weddings funerals and baptisms. Now if that same philosophy that tells me that grandma is in heaven is true than grandpa ain’t! And if that’s true, I don’t wanna go!
    I want to go where ever all my friends are!

  • Claire

    Did your grandfather lead a good life. Was he a good husband, a good citizen, did he harm anyone, was his heart right?

    Going to church on Sundays and deeds (regardless of the Catholic position) does not buy the ticket to heaven. I’m sure your grandmother is there. I suspect your grandfather is too. She would not have been married to a person without a “right heart”


  • andy marsh

    My grandfather is the GREATEST man I have ever known(my pop ain’t half bad either)!!! My one true role model in life. If I can live my life half as well as he lived his, I’ll die a happy man!

  • Claire

    Andy…I KNEW it! The poet in me (which is how I enter the world), knows that he is with her…


  • Eric Olsen

    Fascinating post Claire, a fundmentally important question. My own view is that we do need a moral foundation for our lives and for society and that foundation often stems from religion, but it is imperative to leave room for doubt so that we don’t assign those with differing view sub-human status, which makes it acceptable or even mandatory (if you are a jihadi) to kill them for no reason other than their differing views.

    We must also plae a strict line between curch and state, and I think Kerry;’s position on abortion is exactly right: personal religious disapproval, but a refusal to legislate that religious viewpoint.

  • Claire

    I agree Eric that society needs a moral foundation…and while our current “moral foundation” may be founded in Judeo-Christian beliefs used by our forefathers…they were very wise to dictate that no one religion was to ever be dictated, and I also believe firmly in the separation of church and state….

    Differing views must be taken as seriously as our own, for none of them can be proved empirically.

    I agree with the pro-choice position on abortion, and am a staunch advocate of embryonic stem cell research…i vary from my pack in those two things, and others…

    I won’t retread ground that has been beaten to death on another piece…for I need to keep some of my blood and it would be nothing but a rehash…thats why people have to vote for the man, and the issues at the top of their priority list, not the party, whatever their vote may be.

    Thank you so much for commenting, I appreciate it.