Just about every sane, kind and rational person admires the “COEXIST” campaign and the mutual peace and tolerance that it represents. It’s such a beautiful notion.
I recall the first time I saw the black and white photo of Bono Vox with the inscribed blindfold. What a great visual. What a wonderful aspiration. People can have their beliefs and practice the tenets of their faith without threat of discrimination, oppression or intolerance. Mutual respect and acceptance. We simply need to accept each other’s religions and allow each other the freedom to follow one’s own traditions, teachings and doctrines, and everything will be OK. We’re not prejudiced or bigoted. We are bigger than that and more enlightened to boot. People should be given the respect and dignity to make their own personal choices without being subject to the interference and intolerance of others. It is possible. It must be. We can all learn to get along. Right?
This all sounds so good and reasonable, it must be right. Tolerance is the key. All we need to do is accept each other with an open and understanding mind. After all, it is religion. Religious tolerance is good. It’s wrong to insult religion. It is, by its very nature, sacrosanct. That’s what we’ve all been taught since our youngest memories. You may not agree with religion but it’s considered pretty much hands off for any real criticism. You can laugh behind their backs, but publicly, tolerance is the way of an enlightened and democratic society. It is ignorant and shameful to speak badly of any religion. It’s completely politically incorrect in just about anyone’s opinion, even many atheists or secular humanists. Everyone has a right to believe what they want and worship in their own way. That preferential status seems to be an unassailable right of religion. You can’t dick with religion! It is, after all, religion.
There is so much beautiful art, intriguing history with heroic characters, and edifying drama intertwined with religion. There are the stories that we use to teach our children lessons about caring and sharing and helping. Heroes, for social justice and human rights, have been adherents, proponents, and even clerics of religion. Having a problem with religion is like having a hate on for the Easter bunny. It’s simply not cool. There are community holidays that have been incorporated into family and community traditions that represent so much more than their religious pretext. Christmas is a family holiday, a time to display generosity and gratitude, a vacation and a celebration of the end of the year. It’s not simply the Christian celebration of the birth of their messiah. The cultural face of religion is intrinsically connected to these other social and cultural values, and provides the lexicon for the articulation of these values, and therefore is attributed the cause or source of these values. Religion gets most of the credit for all the good that happens in our world.
How could it be wrong to share these expressions and values of family and community between cultures? The differences that make us unique and exotic to each other can, and should, be enjoyed and celebrated. How can it be wrong to love curry with my fish and chips or eat sushi while enjoying some fantastic baseball in Japan? It’s not. That’s not the problem. Food, sports, music, language, art and theatre don’t come with rules that must be imposed on others. Those wonderful little charms are unique to religion and the political systems they insist on.
Religions don’t bring that same spirit of tolerance and understanding to the table. They insist on it but they will not reciprocate. They can’t. It is against their very doctrine and dogma. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, in particular, are political systems as much as they are theologies. They come with prescriptions, not only for their adherents, but for society at large. Tolerance can only be a one way street. Their doctrine, being divine, cannot be open to compromise or negotiation. They share many of the same bigotries and prejudices against women, foreigners, homosexuals and any who don’t agree with their beliefs and superstitions. Regardless of the good people want to see from religion, or have been trained to see and expect from religion, the truth is that the fundamental structure of religion is authoritarian, uncompromising and not open to negotiation. God’s laws and prescriptions cannot be edited, abridged or altered. God’s laws and teachings cannot be subject to the laws of man, society, or the state, and, most definitely, not compromised with another religion’s equally divine prescriptions and demands.
Religion comes with absolute laws that have absolute authority. Neither man, society, state, nor any other religion has the power, authority or right to circumvent any divine dictates. This makes coexistence and religious tolerance more than simply a challenge. By being incapable of the same tolerance that they demand, religions have rendered religious tolerance impossible.
Religions, even when not a theocracy with complete dictatorial power, insist on their icons being displayed in government and public buildings. They insist on government sanction and support for their rituals and practices. They petition government if they feel that their rules are not being followed by every member of society. They expect society to create and enforce draconian laws that mirror those of their “holy” scriptures. They insist that their biases, bigotries and prejudices be reflected in state legislation, education curricula, business practices, economic models, foreign policy and even family law. In the spirit of being tolerated, religions will insist on exclusive rights to public space and property in order to practice their rituals and then demand additional special treatment under state laws, taxation and commercial zoning codes. Religions either receive complete carte blanche or they scream, cry, complain, sue, rebel and take up arms against those who would dare stand in the way of their God’s will.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are Islamic theocracies ruled by sharia law. I’m sure we are all familiar with these countries and the brutal oppression and human rights violations perpetrated by these regimes. This is the goal and only acceptable form of government for the Islamic religion. Europe, in the spirit of tolerance and coexistence, opened its arms to Islam believing that it was necessary to do so in order to respect the values of multiculturalism and, by extension, religious tolerance. Islam has exploited that tolerance and reciprocated with nothing but demands for the Islamisation and Islamification of European countries while simultaneously calling for the destruction of those countries and their current forms of government and economy, as well as social and democratic freedoms. (1)(2)(3)(4)
America is currently dealing with a dangerous increase in fundamentalist religious conservatives that give up little to Islam in the way of desire to control and impose doctrine and theology on an entire society. Non-believers, homosexuals and women all face open discrimination while the education curriculum, media and government are under constant onslaught by religious zealots demanding that the entire country, and its constitution, bend to its misinterpretation and self serving application. While the Christians seem to have progressed from their days of crusades and inquisitions, their goals for complete societal conformity remain the same. Many of America’s even more acutely religiously impaired seem to hearken for those good old days of Christian Crusade, a la ‘Deus Vult’, with a healthy serving of ‘The Question’. (5)(6)(7)
Religious tolerance doesn’t just pose the question of which religion can or should be tolerated, and by whom, but whether or not religion should be tolerated as part of public discourse, period. Religions disavow all that they demand, and define tolerance and acceptance from an immature and egocentric perspective that requires them to gain all that they demand at the expense of others. The only thing religion brings to the table, from which it demands tolerance, is intolerance. Know this, America: The founding fathers engineered the separation of church and state not to protect America from Islam, but to protect America against Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Islam and all other politically insistent theologies. When a belief system requires that others be forced, or coerced, to adhere to its tenets, it is no longer a personal choice and intimate expression of belief, but a fascist political system. When a belief system puts its doctrine above a democratic legislature, it is seditious. When a belief system dictates a foreign policy motivated by religious prophecy of the end of the world, it is unabashed lunacy.(8)(9)
To coexist is but a beautiful dream with an eye-catching media campaign championed by a personal favorite, and world renowned, poet, singer and humanitarian. It’s disheartening, and more than a little depressing, to be contrary to something that once filled me with a sense of hope and confidence for human progress and sustainable development. Religious coexistence has been proved impossible by none other than the intolerance of religion itself. While there is no proof of a god, of this, there is no shortage of evidence. Religious tolerance is a religious trick to gain the tolerance of society while religion continues its self-serving and destructive agenda, unabated. Lets not be fooled any longer. Any religious tenet, goal or agenda, that requires anything of anyone that is not an adherent to that sect, church, cult, denomination etc., is no longer acceptable and should be treated as we would any other organization with an agenda to discriminate against or disenfranchise any segment of our society.
Perhaps one day we will evolve to the point that we can peacefully ‘coexist’, but not until we evolve beyond the insanity and dysfunctionality of religion. In the meantime, if we simply want to survive, we need to stop tolerating religion and its destructive and divisive impact. Religion needs to be removed from any position of social and political influence and no longer accepted as part of public discourse. The “COEXIST” logo needs to be rethought and redesigned to include symbols of cultural and human diversity that are not as imperialistic, oppressive, uncompromising and intolerant as the symbols of archaic and authoritarian religions now employed. To coexist may be possible, but it will not be through or with religion. If we are truly going to achieve peaceful coexistence, it will have to be without, or despite, religion.
The BBC, a publicly-funded broadcasting corporation, came under fire in 2008 for failing to construct a prayer room for Muslim staffers at its new Arabic-language station. Are employers expected to provide worship facilities?