Thoughts on tolerance of others’ beliefs…

Here’s something I see a lot, at least in Internet discussions: When someone criticizes a belief held by a group of people, such as a political or religious group, they are shouted down for being “intolerant” of that group as a whole and not willing to accept others’ beliefs. But this is a fallacy.

There are certainly groups on both sides of the political spectrum who are hostile to beliefs that are not their own. The Tea Party immediately comes to mind. The fallacy is assuming a monolith attitude–for example, believing that the extremist views of the Tea Party apply to all conservatives, which is a perception the Republican Party is struggling with now. 

But giving a belief a fair hearing shouldn’t result in automatic acceptance of that idea, even if it is grounded in religious faith. Ideas and even beliefs should be criticized. And there is no “rule” that just because someone has authentic beliefs, everyone else must honor them.

Take, for example, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was dis-invited from speaking at Brandeis University on the grounds of being “Islamaphobic.” You can read what she had to say here. She is criticizing some authentic beliefs of some Muslims. She is not criticizing all Muslims or even claiming that all Muslims hold these beliefs. The fallacy is believing that whenever anyone speaks out against a belief grounded in religion, they are being intolerant of that religion as a whole. No, they are being intolerant of the belief, in this case, the curtailing of women’s rights. 

There is a balance between automatically rejecting beliefs that are not your own and automatically accepting every belief in the name of liberalism or tolerance or what-have-you. Crying “Intolerance!” every time someone criticizes a belief, and assuming that criticism of a belief means hatred of a group, shuts down free and open discussion, which shuts down free exchange of ideas. It does not lead to less intolerance; it leads to less understanding.

For further reading, I found this essay at Psychology Today to be a thoughtful analysis of this subject.