Tolerance of intolerance/religion

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The self-contradictory concept of tolerance of intolerance is most often used in defense of religious bigotry.

See also: atheist intolerance

United States

Many American conservatives are disdainful of "tolerance", seeing it as hostile towards religious moral absolutes, despite the fact that a less tolerant worldview would simply allow Christianity to "fight it out" with other religions for dominance -- including less tolerant (and more populous) religions such as Islam which would be likely to win any such battle if granted freedom from secular criticism.


  • A licensed pharmacist who is Catholic refuses to dispense birth control, stating that it is against their religion.
    • Critics argue that the pharmacist has no right to do this: accepting the job of pharmacist implies an obligation to take the medically appropriate actions for any given need, regardless of what personal beliefs the pharmacist might have about the morality of said medications. The pharmacist's only other option is to quit and find other employment; they cannot remain employed and yet refuse to do their job in certain cases.
    • Defenders of religious rights describe this criticism as "intolerant" or "bigoted".
  • A business whose owners are conservative Christians refuses to hire gays because it is against their religion.
    • Critics say this is bigoted and argue that although the business may have the legal right to do this, it is harmful and unnecessary and therefore the business should be subject to boycott in order to discourage the practice of discriminating against gays.
    • Religious defenders say the critics are being intolerant and bigoted for not allowing Christians to practice their religion in peace.


A highly intolerant flavor of Islam has made great headway in Europe, largely on the argument that any deviation from its rules and requirements is "intolerance".

This is completely backwards; refusal to tolerate certain intolerant ideas is not "intolerance" in the usual sense of the word; it is rational rejection of a bad idea, otherwise known as "good sense", and promotes tolerance. Failure to reject these ideas has resulted in a tremendous upswing in intolerant behavior.


Atheists are often accused of "intolerance" for merely attempting to rein in (or even criticize) the worst excesses of religion; see atheist intolerance, militant atheism.


An intolerant attitude avoids honest examination of new ideas, much less recognition of any merits they may have. Critics of religion (typically active atheists), however, generally (1) only criticize religion in light of a careful examination of it, and (2) do recognize that religion does have some benefits -- merely contending that those benefits are outweighed by the problems religion causes (while sometimes noting that the benefits may be merely byproducts which could be obtained without involving religion itself).

Intolerance of particular religious ideas is not the same as intolerance of a religion, or of that religion's adherents. It's true that religion tends to be the recipient of much harsh criticism for its views, but that is the result of the fact that religion itself is inherently hostile to the tolerant ideas necessary for an enlightened civilization. If we decide that religion (including its intolerant ideas) should prevail, then we ultimately end up with a world where the least tolerant and most aggressive religion tends to dominate everything else -- and intolerance is maximized.

A tolerant worldview allows all religions to coexist, at the small price of placing sharp limits on their control of society and forcibly reining them in when they exceed those limits. (This is a microcosm of the conflict between coexistence and dominance.)