Toleration, Religion and Politics – An oriental perspective.


The principle of toleration is much more relevant in our times as religion and identity are shaping the world in an altogether new way. The closing of borders and rise of right-wing parties in Europe seem to be examples of the narrowing of judgemental rationality, insecurity and scepticism in institutions and among the masses.

Toleration as an attitude has much to do with our society and religion as they actively shape our minds from the day we are born. The Brexit exit patterns in the UK are an example. They are suggestive that Roman Catholics, non-Christians and People belonging to no religion have warmer attitudes towards remaining in EU than Anglicans and other Protestants. This may be because Catholics in Britain are more accustomed to thinking in terms of religious commonality across Europe. Religion and Politics inevitably shape our view of the “outside” world.

The western conception of toleration which is imbibed in its idea of secularism is an abstract one (Keeping state-religion apart). This conception engenders the practice of negative toleration. We either do not care what the other is doing or avoid interference in their activities even when we find it morally reprehensible. This is toleration as an attitude of “live and let live”, a feature particularly of post-industrial, individualist, liberal societies. This toleration is an attitude of forbearance preceded by psychological turbulence and anxiety. Negative toleration manifests as privatisation of moral hatred.

Secularism, in my opinion, does not mean killing religion or alienating it but reclaiming spiritualism from every religion and the throwing away of conservative institutional and ritualistic aspect. It means transforming religion in a way that it becomes useful for human being. Positive toleration will be when all the socio-religions communities coexist peacefully and engage in a meaningful dialogue.

Also, talks about religion and toleration have become redundant as people studying the society from the standpoint of mono-theoretical approaches like realism and liberalism have made states and institutions appear as lifeless individual units. On the contrary, I tend to stick to the Platonic idea that “State is individual writ large”, that the fall or rise in the morals and ethics in the institutions or society can be ascribed to the individual. I tend to believe that the world system is a construct.

The central idea of the political philosophy of our times should be the accessing of self. The Western philosophers of Liberation have often missed this point. While they stressed heavily on the restructuring of the outer world and the social relations but they rarely talked of transforming the inner world. This has disjointed the link between Being-Thinking-Knowing.

Therefore we need redefine the terminologies and eventually our minds in such a way that we do not see Politics as a tool for power maximization but as a service to others, religion not an identity but as the tool for emancipation and toleration not as a passive practice but as a way of fostering fraternity. As Gandhi had said “Real beauty, and that is my aim, is in doing good against evil” . Though the idea of morality in contemporary world may seem outdated and utopian but it might be one of the ideas to save the world from the otherwise impending doom. 

(Originally an essay submitted to a University)



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