Thursday, July 16, 2015

Religious Tolerance

The tight tolerances we set for religious ideas are based on concepts of reason and epistemic modes of knowing. Lately, much has been said about the desirability of religious tolerance and the tolerances we bear toward people whose modes of knowing include revelation, phenomenology and metaphysical speculation. A self-proclaimed ‘cutting edge’ pattern of thought has emerged in the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion in the form of Mehdi Aminrazavi’s article, “Religious Tolerance.” Essentially, Aminrazavi’s argument rejects all forms of knowing outside the realm of logical positivism, and denounces in particular religious ways of knowing as dangerous to the common good of any given culture, equating their logic with the logic of racism and Nazism. Though he suggests that he remains able to ‘respect’ people who hold views whose logic is outside the pale of what he calls ‘reason,’ he must adopt an attitude of “intellectual intolerance” toward such views as a moral imperative. Just how such a schizophrenia of praxis would play out does not enter his argument, but Aminrazavi strongly implies that he is able to ‘respect’ racists and Nazis and other religious people, while maintaining what can only be an impotent intolerance toward the logic that brings them to believe and do the things they do.

We have heard this case made before: the late Christopher Hitchens has made it passionately and without practical ambiguity. Hitchens, unlike Aminrazavi, would eradicate religion for the same reason as the latter would adhere to merely an intellectual intolerance. Aminrazavi’s argument seems disingenuous to me, as it embraces the lofty idealism of identifying genuine danger in the logic of faith and Nazism, and equally embraces an intolerance that results in the ‘respect’ for those who harbor such dangerous logic. Hitchen’s position seems the more intellectually honest about its intolerance.

Perhaps more disturbing to me is how religion itself becomes intolerant. This move is not merely a strategy of returning intolerance to intolerance. Intolerance always wants recourse to violence. For Aminrazavi, that violence appears to be limited to the intellectual realm. For Hitchens, violence will meet violence in both an intellectual and practical showdown. Fr. Robert Barron (“
On Love, Tolerance and Making Distinctions”) has lately chosen a path similar to Aminrazavi’s, in which he delineates ‘limits’ to tolerance while embracing an imperative praxis of love. By drawing the distinction between love--- willing the good of the other---and hate---willing evil toward the other, Barron moves to the heart of what tolerance actually is. “Criticizing someone’s moral choice is not tantamount to hate,” he says. Acts of love may indeed take the form of such criticism, so long as that critique is a way of effecting or willing the good for the other. Moreover, according to Barron, honest debate and argumentation does not lead to disrespect, but authentic respect, not merely for the point of view, but for the one holding that view. Aminrazavi cannot respect a point of view based on epistemic modes other than empiricism or logical positivism, so his only recourse to civility is through ‘respect’ of the other as an individual qua individual---apart from her presumably loathsome logic.

Tolerance itself refers to the acceptance of a point of view or behavior that if it existed within the one doing the tolerating would be intolerable. We can only tolerate that which we find objectionable. Intolerance is the non-acceptance of such views or behaviors, often attached to a praxis inclined to eradicate them. Aminrazavi remarkably holds to the moral imperative of intellectual intolerance that has no civic teeth in order to preserve a ‘respect’ for an individual qua individual. To what purpose is such intolerance directed then?

Barron worries that a tolerance for a point of view or behavior that falls short of exuberance and celebration is often interpreted in our culture as intolerance and hatred, a phenomenon he attributes to a lost objective morality. Amirazavi has no such concerns because his ‘respect’ for the individual is exuberant and celebratory enough to offset his intellectual violence towards that individual’s logic and epistemic mode. It is interesting that both Barron and Aminrazavi seem to land in the same place: Barron tolerates some points of view and behaviors for the common good and the dignity of the person, while Aminrazavi is intolerant of such views but nonetheless ‘respects’ individuals because it is the right thing to do. Barron accomplishes this task through ‘love,’ Aminrazavi through ‘respect.’

If intolerance and tolerance have identical outcomes, how can one approach make claims upon moral imperatives mutually exclusive of the other? It seems, therefore, that tolerance and intolerance are expressions of the same inclination to a moral supremacy that has no effect beyond the self that makes such expressions. Since neither term seems to escape subjectivity, appeals to objective data in support of either position or to the objects themselves under the gaze of such subjectivity undercuts any epistemic mode, religious or secular, rational or anti-intellectual, or any logic, intuitive or mathematic, metaphysical or physical. Neither intolerance nor tolerance seems to have any clothes other than the 'borrow’d robes' that gratify certain intellectual proclivities. Both terms extort the truth from reason and intuition, and neither accomplishes its goal.

I suggest we do away with both terms by tightening intellectual tolerances so that neither term can get through to do the violence they are wont to do.


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  2. Yes, we both can read and we know exactly what the Church teaches on these matters and why it teaches what it teaches. Why would I not stipulate the plainly obvious? I am growing a bit disenchanted with what can only be described as an emerging ad hominum thematic in your writings. Let's not do apologetics.

    To say that religious intolerance is 'all about Caitlyn Jenner' seems to miss the mark here. Certainly Barron's video piece referenced the issues you cite, but I did not. I want to discard notions of tolerance entirely, as they can form the emptiest binary opposition I have yet encountered. We agree that the Church's teachings on the matter of LGBT are harsh, and anchored into a simplistic interpretation of 'nature.' We should agree also that, for what it's worth, the teaching is coherent to the extent of its stingy intepretation of nature.

    But coherence is not enough. Barron has posited that it is always unchristian to do anything but love one's neighbor. Is that risky business? Yes, from every angle in the discussion. I believe that there is room in Catholicism for a robust theory of nature, of conscience, and of being true to one's nature. I also believe that celebrating gay pride at the moment of consecration or reception of the Eucharist is at the very least in very poor taste.

    I find myself at odds with my Church in the matter of LGBT issues. The Church in Ireland seems to have gotten it right. Pastoral practice must always trump canon law when it comes to sincere ways of life. And I don't think I've just excommunicated myself by stating that.

    John Caputo wrote an interesting little book for non-specialists that is true to his overall approach to religion, _What Would Jesus Deconstruct?_ . I mention it only in passing, and not to add to your reading list.