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Trinity + 17: Intolerance

14 September 2008
Exodus 14.19-31, Romans 14.1-12, Psalm 114 When Israel came out of Egypt
Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God., as we heard St Paul say in this morning's reading. But we all do it, don't we, it's a universal human failing:

All the world is queer, save me and thee...and even thou is a little queer.

There are many aphorisms which begin, The world is divided into two sorts of people... here is an extended one about the clever and the good:

If all the good people were clever,
And all clever people were good,
The world would be nicer than ever
We thought it possibly could.
But somehow, 'tis seldom or never
The two hit it off as they should,
The good are so harsh to the clever,
The clever so rude to the good!

Elizabeth Wordsworth

Jonathan Swift, an Anglican clergyman, was obviously disturbed by the animosity between Catholic and Protestant, and indeed between different Protestant sects themselves. In another context he said: we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

In a passage which rings as true today as when he wrote it nearly 300 years ago, Dean Swift uses satire to make his point:

The two great empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu... have... been engaged in a most obstinate war for six-and-thirty moons past. It began upon the following occasion: It is allowed on all hands that the primitive way of breaking eggs before we eat them was upon the larger end; but his present Majesty's grandfather while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the Emperor, his father, published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law that, our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy; but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles the Emperors of Blefuscu did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great Prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: That all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end. And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion, to be left to every man's conscience. 'Gulliver's Travels'

But you don't have to be religious to be a self-righteous bigot. In his preface to The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says: If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. He is apparently only in favour of intellectual and religious freedom for atheists.

Well, what is religious tolerance?
Religious tolerance is not religious indifference. It consists of valuing the right of another person to hold beliefs that you know absolutely to be wrong. Anon

Contrary to popular definitions, true tolerance means 'putting up with error' - not 'being accepting of all views'...It is because real differences exist between people that tolerance becomes necessary and virtuous. Paul Copan, 'True for You, But not for Me'

We feel that the world would be a much better place in which to live if everyone were religiously tolerant. Civil unrest, mass murder, and genocide would be greatly reduced. However, tolerance is only the first step towards actively enjoying the diversity that other faith groups contribute to a society. Religious

The Christian answer must, of course, be that if we simply managed to love one another, the problem of intolerance would disappear. In 'The Divine Image', William Blake sums up for us the Christian commandment:

To Mercy, Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In Heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

But in Kipling's words, you won't look too good, nor talk too wise, will you?

We value tolerance as a virtue. Yet, consider tolerance from the perspective of the person being tolerated. Have you ever been tolerated? Or had someone say to you that they can just barely tolerate you? The experience of being tolerated by another doesn’t feel like the one tolerating you is virtuous. Professor David Odell-Scott, Kent State University.

And, finally, a prayer by Cardinal Basil Hume:
Remind us, heavenly Father, that each individual has been made in your image and likeness and has been redeemed by Christ. Help us to see each other with your eyes, so that we may reverence, preserve and sustain your gift of life in them, and use our own lives more faithfully in your service. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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