Thursday, 21 February 2008


This morning I happened to be reading some news websites I regularly visit, where I came across three articles of interest. Together, these articles got me thinking about the nature of tolerance.

The first concerned an Israeli ultra-orthodox jewish MP making a bizarre claim that the legalisation of homosexuality in Israel causes earthquakes in the region. A laughably crazy notion at best, it shows the not-so-subtle hatred that this man has for homosexuals, stemming from his religious beliefs.

The second article I happened upon regarded an objection to the presence of banks and other companies at the University of Canterbury's Orientation week. Of course, the protest was being made by the campus Christian Union president Paul Denmead, since his group were not allowed to attend to disseminate leaflets. This is the case because there is a seperate day assigned to campus clubs and groups for this specific purpose. The Christian Union wished to attend both. Not that this limits their activities or visibility on campus: when I attended UoC, I remember on one occasion walking by the main library, where the Christian Union were massed, having placed a giant white cross on the steps. Other students have relayed to me their experiences of being surprised by the Giant White Cross at other times. I do agree with Denmead's point regarding the exploitation of students for the benefit of the University and business, but his ulterior motive is obvious. Notably, during at least one previous Orientation the CU were asked to leave after reportedly harassing students trying to complete the enrolment process.

The third article was about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's statement that "freedom of speech must respect religion", in the wake of the re-publishing of offensive cartoons in the Danish press. Again, while I agree that this act was totally unnecessary, and undeniably offensive towards the Islamic faith, it must be stated that religion deserves no special immunity from examination, analysis and criticism where due.

In my opinion, this particular act was crass and designed only to raise the ire of muslims. It had no critical value, serving only to divide the community further by reinforcing totally false stereotypes about muslims and the prophet Mohammed. Now, ridicule is a weak form of argument, if it counts at all. I readily admit to having made use of it myself in the course of debating various points. However, I try to make use it carefully, only where it is appropriate and justifiable; a valid point can be made in a witty way. The Danish cartoons, though, strike me as juvenile and dangerously misinformed.

It constantly irks me that we are encouraged to be tolerant of people's religious beliefs, yet it seems that religious folks—christians in particular—are under the impression that they have no such obligation towards the rest of us. In my experience talking with christians, muslims, hare krishnas and other individuals with a multitude of beliefs, christians would appear to be the only group who have been consistently judgemental, intolerant and disrespectful.

Tolerance is a funny thing.