I am a rather intolerant person and I think you should be too. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society in which I can’t say that, without qualification, and retain a serious audience. So allow to explain what I’m not saying. I do not think schools should be segregated, that the holocaust was exaggerated, or that marriage is legally different for homosexual couples. Additionally; I do not think violence is acceptable in almost any society, and I do think we should listen, to the best of our abilities, to any opinion.* Yet I still think the implied axiom of toleration is the slow death of any intellectual movement, especially in one as progressive as secularism.
What does toleration mean? It seems to demand that we accept the existence of things we hate, regardless of our reasons for hating it. The toleration I refer to is the kind of thing defended by people saying “well that’s your opinion.” Not only does it add nothing to any conversation I’ve ever had, it also suggests that we should accept an opinion’s existence simply because it is an opinion. Such statements ignore the obvious truth that opinions shape decisions. Jim Jones could never have convinced anyone to move with him to Guyana if opinions had no effect on decisions. Since it is something unstated, yet typically accepted, we jump to the obvious supporting factors: it means not being racist, homophobic, or what have you.
But then how should we respond to a member of the Westboro Baptist Church? By tolerating their opinions? Insisting that we respect their hideous views? Naturally not, we should exercise our free speech to its fullest extent, and show all those who may be in doubt how destructive and pernicious these liars really are. This is justifiable intolerance. If we were to alter the object of our verbal attacks from these charlatan chaplains to, for example, black people, we would again be charged with intolerance. But now it would be unjustifiable. The question of tolerance is meaningless, the arguments behind the intolerance are the only salient details, for it is impossible to create a system of tolerance that both allows us to speak freely and critically while suppressing morally poor sentiments.
Therefore we should not tolerate religion. We should employ our free speech to the best of our abilities against it. In the very least, religion motivates people to think about reality fallaciously, and that alone is enough reason to challenge it. Whatever comfort it provides does not justify the lives lost and bunk believed. When we do tolerate religion we challenge the foundation on which all of secularism rests. We make secularism just another alternative on a long list of faiths, rather than the only rational conclusion one can come to after understanding just a few of the faiths. This is because if all of these views are above mockery and questioning, then we imply that they all have, at some level, a semblance of respectability and validity. But this is ridiculous, if we can’t laugh at those who believe the world is flat, what belief can we laugh at?
Some will object to my use of “tolerance”. They will, doubtless, insist that tolerance does not mean we must respect all opinions, only that we will not do violence on those who hold them. Ecclesiastes insists that there is a time and place for everything and I tend to agree. There is a time and place for toleration; for the respect of the disgusting. But it is not in the discussions of the skeptical. We must question everything, and we should not allow anything to go unscrutinized because of anyone’s insistence on tolerance.