Humanism and Tolerance

By Pecker, Jean-Claude | Free Inquiry, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Humanism and Tolerance


Pecker, Jean-Claude, Free Inquiry


Intolerance and its corollary, the persecution of minorities, is not a modern phenomenon. Entire communities have the right to think for themselves, the right to live where they choose, and even the right to live. Being "different" was, for many, in essence, an a priori vice. "We" are better than "them." "They" are inferior to "us." "We" want to be the only rulers, the decision-markers, the survivors. "They" can go to hell, because, if "we" let "them" have the same rights as ourselves, society is endangered.

The list of intolerant treatments, often violent, is very long indeed. For dozens of centuries, the rule was, and still is, the biblical "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Intolerance appeared to many as the only way to reply to intolerance, and violence was the only reply to violence.

However, even in very ancient times, some advocated another attitude, not that of tolerance perhaps, but that of submission. Think of Socrates or Jesus. And Saint Paul, as strange as it may appear, went a step further. In his "Letter to the Romans," he considered that, even if pagans are abandoned by God himself to passions of the vilest nature,

it is a duty for us the strong men, to bear the weaknesses of those who do not share our strength, and not to look only at what pleases us. It is necessary, for each of us, to be friendly to his fellow beings - in view of their enlightenment

- of their conversion, to be clear (the emphasis being of course mine!).

Humanism developed, during the Renaissance, with men such as Erasmus, Thomas More, Rabelais, Leonardo, and many others. Humanism meant several things, of course; but, primarily, the unity of the human species and the necessary solidarity of men and women against the aggressiveness in the natural world and humanity. Humanism certainly did not claim that some faiths are better than others. After having said, "All men are equal . . .," it certainly will not add: "but some are more equal than others," as wrote the pigs of George Orwell's Animal Farm, not very far from what Saint Paul said himself.

It is clear that the roots of humanism and the beginning of mutual tolerance were simultaneous. From that period on, many books for tolerance were written. Some were energetic pleas that still force admiration, not only for their stylistic qualities, but for their courage, their willingness to fight generally accepted ideas, their eagerness for justice, and their deep love for humanity.

Tolerance and intolerance were first mentioned only in the religious context and limited more or less to the Christian world. The fight for a minimum tolerance was becoming the only response to violent manifestations of intolerance. Very briefly, let us present the positions of some of the main philosophers.

John Locke (1632-1704), in England, was deeply impregnated by a very strict definition of State, the authority in charge of tolerating or excluding. Locke had a systematic, juridical approach, and, because it was juridical, it was very pragmatic. So Locke worked at demonstrating that the function of the civil judges, of the official state power, was to allow to all individuals in the country the free use of their properties, but it was certainly not to take care of their souls or of their eternal salvation. In other words, religion was not a governmental affair (or should not be). It was a matter of conscience, and Locke fought for the freedom of conscience.

But there were aspects (such as the education of children, the right to work or not to work, even the right to polygamy and to divorce) that must be ruled by the law. One can forbid the publishing and propagating of some opinions, or worse, force someone to abandon an opinion or even to publicly abjurate. Still much worse, one could be forced to declare openly that he or she adopted the opposite opinion. For example, a magistrate could forbid the publication of an opinion when he or she judged that this may harm the government. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Humanism and Tolerance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.