It is easy for me to advocate religious respect and tolerance, because I am not a religious man. When I try to imagine political tolerance, I begin to understand how difficult religious tolerance really is for people of faith.
As an atheist, questions of faith and religion are abstract and intellectual, much like questions of metaphysics. They are interesting and fun to debate, and to be sure I absolutely believe that there is a “right” and a “wrong” answer to most metaphysical questions. But I don’t get worked up over it. It doesn’t anger me when someone tells me that they believe in God any more than it angers me when someone tells me that they believe in the ontological primacy of Platonic forms.
But to a person of deep faith—to a person whose entire world-view revolves around their religious belief—religious views are not abstractions. They are not merely theoretical or intellectual. To a religious fundamentalist, differences in religious belief have real material and moral consequences in day-to-day life.
So in order to better understand what that is like, I consider an analogy to something that I am deeply passionate about and have strong opinions on: politics. For example: I do not believe in “trickle-down” (supply-side) economics.
I think my “faith” that supply-side economics is wrong is a decent analogy to religious faith, because: 1) both sides are absolutely certain they are right, 2) both sides think that there is overwhelming evidence for their position, 3) each side thinks that policies based on the opposing view will absolutely harm the world. This is not an abstract intellectual exercise: this is something that matters.
So now, we come to the question of tolerance and respect.
Do I “respect” people who believe in supply-side economics?
I’m sorry, but I do not. I mean, in a very abstract way I “respect” their right to hold a different opinion from my own. I do not want to kill them or lock them up.
But in my heart of hearts, I feel that anyone who believes in “trickle-down” economics either hasn’t thought it through or has completely twisted motivations, values, and priorities. So, I do not understand or relate to them and in fact I judge them… and in that sense I do not respect them as people.
Should I “tolerate” them? Maybe. Except, in a sense I don’t even do that. I do everything I can to oppose legislation based on that view. I would argue that if we base our country’s economic policy on supply-side economics, it would lead to the total collapse and ruin of this country… which isn’t really a “tolerant” view to have. Catholics want to ban same-sex marriage on the grounds that they think it would destroy the country, and I call them intolerant for that. How is my trying to legally shut out supply-side economics any less intolerant?
It’s not. The fact is, I do not respect or tolerate trickle-down economics.
To fundamentalists, being confronted with someone of a different faith could be similar to what I feel when confronted with someone who says that tax breaks for the rich will create jobs: fury, disbelief, judgment, and utter lack of comprehension.