"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Tolerant Oppression and the Olympic Prayer

I wrote recently of tolerance, in particular religious tolerance, and how I now see that this is not the right way to further interfaith relations; that tolerance is “putting up with,” not celebrating, accepting, respecting, appreciating, our religious differences. And tolerance in fact is a breeding ground for simmering resentment, that can erupt in violence if the right conditions present, in the same way that a smouldering bonfire can suddenly burst again into flames if the breeze comes in the right direction at the right time.

The Church of England has released an Olympic Prayer for those preparing for the 2012 Games, asking God to be with the athletes, their supporters and families, and the thousands of churches preparing events in their communities in the run-up to and during the Olympics. It has been written by The Rev Duncan Green, the Church of England's Executive Olympics Coordinator, and includes the sentence; “we pray for a spirit of tolerance and acceptance, of humility and respect.”
Now acceptance, humility and respect I can endorse wholeheartedly. But why link acceptance with tolerance?

In his superb and very thought provoking book Tolerant Oppression: why promoting tolerance undermines our quest for equality and what we should do instead, Dr Scott Hampton at page 24 claims that by linking tolerance with acceptance, understanding, appreciation, respect, etc, we protect the word from scrutiny, and automatically assume it to be “good.” Why otherwise would we link it with such positive other words? But his whole book works around the premise that tolerance is in fact part of the language of hate. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he reminds us, never called for tolerance. They called for respect, understanding, and most importantly equality, but never tolerance. In fact Hampton quotes Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, who warns us that “Tolerance is not only inadequate, it is a negative concept which only alienates society further.” (from Legacy of Love: My education in the path of non-violence)

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