NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

From Jihads and Religious Bigotry to Human Tolerance

February 5, 2002

Historians have observed how some religions have been able to shed their bloody pasts and adopt a more tolerant attitude toward those who practice other faiths.

Each religion creates voices that range from pacifist to terrorist. Which of those voices predominates depends upon how people eventually perceive the fruitlessness of violence.

  • Christianity -- with its dark history of corpse-strewn crusades, inquisitions, witch-burnings and pogroms -- didn't embrace tolerance to any serious extent until around the 18th century.
  • The result was that toward the end of that era America was established upon a foundation which officially refused to play the old game of whose religion was true, and took a generally agnostic view of religious truth.
  • Still, even the Catholic Church, until a scant 36 years ago -- at the Second Vatican Council -- held an official position some historians find little different from that of the mullahs of Kandahar: when we are in power, we will impose religion as we see fit.
  • The tolerant Islam that in the 15th and 16th centuries let the Jews of Spain -- expelled by Catholic tyrants -- find homes in Arab lands has not disappeared, scholars point out.

Each religion, they say, because of its metaphorical ambiguity and subtlety holds within it the potential for development and adaptation. This development may be full of zig-zags and may sometime seem to slow. But the more optimistic observers believe the trend runs from exclusivist militancy to inclusive peace.

Source: Thomas Cahill (historian and author), "The One True Faith: Is It Tolerance?" New York Times, February 3, 2002.


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