Tolerance and Disagreement

The news has many stories where people argue about tolerance and what it means for themselves and their culture. In many of these debates, it seems that the folks involved are missing some of the definition of tolerance or are trying to change the meaning to fit their agenda. We cannot allow such things to get in our way as we go about our Asatru lives.

It is important to note that just tolerating someone does not mean that you agree with them. Instead, tolerance is about how you treat someone with whom you disagree. This shows very clearly in matters of religion.

The Case of Religion

One's religion describes what you think about the fundamental nature of reality and the universe. It is your theory of everything. Even those who think that everyone should have their own interpretation of religion are basically describing what they think the nature of all things are. Naturally, if someone has a different opinion, you must consider that person to be incorrect.

This is where tolerance comes to play. How are you going to react to a person you deem to be incorrect? If you are being tolerant, you are saying, "Even though I think you are wrong, I'm not going to harass you or engage in violence against you." In a crowded world, that is very important.

Consider this example. I am an Asatru person, so inherently believe differently from Christians. I have Christian friends and family. Obviously, their religion is wrong from my viewpoint. Still, we are able to not bother each other about it. We have one of those "agree to disagree" scenarios and it allows us to function. More importantly, it allows me to continue to be a positive influence on them, nudging them toward Asatru-like behavior. Since Asatru encourages wholesome behavior instead of specific beliefs, I get to practice my religion while not being a total jerk. The same applies to my friends of other religions as well.

Limits of Tolerance

Note, however, that tolerance has its limits. In the example above, people on each side have made the agreement to tolerate each other. I have known people who were not as tolerant. In such a case, you have to decide what you can and should do. In some cases, it is just a matter of calling out the person on their behavior. In other cases, you may decide to distance yourself from the other person. In cases of violence, you may have to assume a defensive posture.

What do you do when the intolerance is not directed at you or someone close to you? That is a tough question in some cases. Some people think you should not get involved if it doesn't affect you. Others think you should stand up for everyone. Of course, there is an entire spectrum in between.

A commonly described scenario in the United States would be conservative Christians harassing someone they believe is a "sinner" of some sort. It could be homosexuals, mixed-race marriages, women wearing trousers, or any number of similar things. These may not impact you directly. Should you interfere? Should you say something? Should you stand up with those under attack to support them?

In the Past

These days, we consider to be heroes those people who stood up to the Nazis in Germany. These rebels decided that they could not stand by and let bad things happen to people. Many of these folks risked their own lives to keep others from the death camps. Would you do that?

Lutheran minister Martin Niemöller has a famous poem relating to the rise of the Nazis and the rounding up of people they found undesirable. It starts with, "When they came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist" and ends with, "When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out." It shows how the bad guys went after small groups, separating people so that others would not interfere. If the small groups had banded together, the bad guys would not have made such progress.

This is a lesson we must learn and understand. Our history with Christianity and its treatment of our people has been harsh, but the current Christians are in their religion mostly because they don't know any better. They are still people. The same can be said for Muslims who were raised with only one religion available to them.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We can replace the word "say" with the word "believe" and realize that we must have a world where people can be allowed to believe what they want, even if what they believe is something we consider incorrect. As long as they just believe it, and don't try to force others to believe it, we should be tolerant.

As soon as some group attacks, through violence, suppression, economic coercion, or other hostile means, the right of another group to believe what they want, the hostile group has earned an greater hostile response. We are the allies of the Gods, and it is our responsibility to stand up for all. If we don't, one day we will find that there will be, "no one left to speak out."