Sunday, 11 January 2015

What is Tolerance?

Now here's a telling fact. More people took part in today's 'March Against Hatred' in Paris than took to the streets when Paris was liberated at the end of the second world war. (John Lichfield in the Independent.) I suppose the population is considerably bigger today but still, that's a resounding statistic. Three million people wanted to protest at the taking of human life, including the leaders of Middle Eastern, African, Asian and European nations. 

© Christian Today

What has today made me think? 

As a confessing Christian, I deplore the act of taking life to defend one's God; this has indeed been a misguided and shameful part of the church's history, but Christian, Muslim and Jew can surely join together in affirming that love of God is an empty concept without love for the Divine being transformed into love of one's fellow human. And however much you disagree with a person or struggle with anger or jealousy or outrage at what they say, that means upholding the value and sacredness of their life.   

Freedom of speech, freedom to try to express what you think is most true, tempered by the freedom and right to life of another, is the basis on which most Western democracies are built, that, and the requirement to act within the law and challenge it only by non-violent means. To participate in a democracy means living by this code.

I read yesterday of the massacre of possibly 2,000 people by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Moving as it was to see the leaders of the world march arm in arm through the streets of Paris, why do we Europeans not work as hard to show our outrage at the loss of innocent life in other places, on other continents?

The probability of increased sectarianism, racially motivated tension, right wing  extremism and a clamp down on the movement of immigrants and asylum seekers seems to have been immeasurably increased by the events of the last few days in Paris. What can we do to promote open debate between every section of our communities? The responsibility lies with every citizen of whatever cultural, ethnic or religious/non religious background - speak to your neighbour. Find out what they think, what is important to them?

In a secular and religious society how do we live together? I'll give the last word to Voltaire, that champion of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, tonight. 'What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature.' 

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