Nov 10 2009

Religious Tolerance

God?Should we tolerate religion? The question itself is weighted toward the negative before the discussion even begins. Why would anyone feel that tolerance itself is a bad thing? The idea of tolerance is typically engaged when the majority decides to abide a minority opinion. Is it likewise incumbent on the minority to respect the general view? What if the majority view is wrong? What if that view is dangerous? What if that view represents a proliferate conspiracy whose purpose is to delude, direct, and deceive the masses? Is it not then in the best interest of concerned citizens to speak out against such institutions? Is it not the responsibility of friends and family, to (at the very least) try and help their misguided neighbors? Is the virtue of tolerance worth allowing others to waste their lives blindly pursuing illusory reward in lieu of more meaningful and tangible efforts here?

All religions benefit from tolerance. Tolerance creates an environment where the tenets of faith are protected from questions, from contrary evidence, from exposure. This allows religions to peddle their mysteries from one generation to the next, without censor, without criticism, without having to produce any answers other than: belief, faith, and tradition. They label non-believers as: heretics, heathens, pagans, because it has always been easiest to label your enemies rather than understand them. Labeled enemies are easily discredited as liars, troublemakers, or just plain ignorant. How simple it is to win a debate when no argument is allowed. Today’s religious and political discourse has been reduced to this. No one argues their points anymore. People simply vomit their positions, discredit their opponents’ opinions with labels (e.g., atheist, conservative, liberal, fascist), and call the argument won. Everyone remains unchallenged within their particular realm, before the ears and eyes of their particular flock, and no progress is made. Within politics, it is fair to engage the other side(s) to a large degree. If you’re lucky enough to find an intelligent opponent, this can even be rewarding. The questioning of religion however is not acceptable. We are taught to be tolerant of others’ beliefs. Why? Why are religious beliefs sacrosanct? Why must I respect someone who believes their god died and was resurrected any more than a man who believes his tennis-shoes are planning to swallow him whole from the ankles, up? Neither can prove that they are right. Both believe things that cannot be proven. But, because one of these people’s beliefs is part of their religion, it’s unacceptable for me to call them delusional. Why?

Tolerance itself is not a bad thing. We should, to some degree, tolerate each other’s faults. We should not however, encourage them. We cannot become better people, improve this world, and hope to achieve peace, if we continue to hold onto divisive and delusional beliefs. This is not to say that people will ever agree on everything, but why hold onto belief-systems that divide us more than is necessary?

“You have two qualities which God, the Most Exalted, likes and loves. One is mildness and the other is toleration.” Prophet Muhammad, Riyâd-us-Sâliheen Volume 1:632

Oct 21 2009

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Eliza Crossing the Icy RiverI just finished Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s 1852 abolitionist classic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin“. I have of course known about this book for as long as I can remember, but never really intended to read it (until recently). Why? Not sure. Maybe I thought it was irrelevant? Maybe I thought it would be awkward? Old racist stereotypes often are. Maybe I was just embarrassed to read a book surrounded by such negative connotations (which it doesn’t deserve). Much of the criticism for the book actually stems from unsanctioned “Tom Shows” during the 19th century where the main character was depicted as a subservient fool who would not stand up to his white owners.

The book is filled with cookie-cutter stereotypes: demonic slave-owners, dancing and singing black children, angelic golden-haired white children (well okay… just one), large brutish black men, etc., but that’s completely understandable given the book’s purpose. This was never meant to be a great work of literature (though it was the best selling novel of the 19th century); it was composed to illustrate the plight of slaves in pre-Civil War America to a populace that had become complacent (Fugitive Slave Act of 1850). The entire book was an appeal to “Christian values” (I won’t go into that) and an attempt to expose the horrors of slavery to white readers that either had no clue what was going on or didn’t care enough to do something about it.

Was it successful? In its time, absolutely. Today’s reader may find the story a bit of a slog through a seemingly unending barrage of Bible passages, hymns, and perorations on the importance of accepting Jesus and his gospel. The main character pretty much goes down without a fight because he believes it’s the Christian thing to do. Some might argue that his faith and restraint made him the ultimate victor (i.e., “he’s gone to a better country”), but that doesn’t change the fact that his story ends in a grave (spoiler?). Again, it’s important to recognize the audience she was writing for, and how best to stoke their passions. I also found it interesting that Stowe’s idea of reparations seemed to consist of freeing the slaves, educating them, and shipping them off to Liberia.

So, is it a good read? If you have ever had troubles staying awake through a sermon, you’re going to have troubles with this book.  If you’re able to appreciate the importance of this book in its historical context, it is worth reading. It was important 150+ years ago and prelude to where we are today.

“…there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the masses, either nominal or real.”

4 out of 5