The roots of religious and political intolerance

Home > Religion and politics > The roots of religious and political intolerance

Religion and politics are sometimes similar in principle!

RELIGIOUS AND political intolerance seem to have their foundation in a certain human mindset that seeks to dictate to others and lord it over them. To this mindset, religion seems to contribute in large measure.

Just about all religions appeal to fear of the Almighty as a means of controlling people’s behavior or eliciting conformity to their particular collection of religious observances and rules. In just about every case, the overall script or main story-line that describes the religion and object of worship,­ God, is the same, except for variations in the details.

The main script runs essentially like this: God is powerful and wise. He is loving and kind and will bless those who obey Him, but severely punish those who don’t.


In just about all these religions, the god is pictured as being no different in character from most human beings except more powerful and supposedly wiser. In reality the god appears to behave like a despotic head of state whose system of government will supposedly work smoothly if everybody conforms to it, but who tolerates no opposition and will destroy or torture all dissenters.

Contradictions inevitably arise when an attempt is made to reconcile the claimed attributes of love, goodness and mercy of such a god with the treatment that is claimed to be meted out to those who are non-conforming. For example, some religionists claim that god will cause the non-conformers (sinners) to burn for billions of years, ­ eternity, in an unquenchable fire, being conscious and suffering immeasurable pain without being able to die or in any way be relieved.

To some of us such punishment appears to be grossly disproportionate when compared to the offence of the relatively few years of a normal human lifetime. Further, it appears wicked for a god to preserve and fuel such an inferno solely for the purpose of inflicting torture when He has the power (being Almighty) to extinguish it.

The questions is, if this is the way God acts, then why condemn Hitler and other dictators who have sought to torture and destroy in order to obtain full conformity to their system of government? Have they not simply emulated the mode of operation of God? And who is better to emulate than God? You have the power to enforce your will, so what is wrong with enforcing it?


So, you enforce your will until a more powerful ‘guy’ comes on the scene with what he thinks is a better system. He therefore overthrows you, locks up or tortures and destroys those who supported your system and sets himself up as supreme. Is this the scheme that obtains in the rise and fall of human empires? Is this the scheme of which human beings approve and model their ideas of God to reflect? If so, then, there might be no end to religious and political intolerance.

As an alternative, there is another premise that holds Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God who perfectly reveals God’s character. The difference with this view is that God is not of a spirit to destroy men’s lives, but rather to save them. Therefore, evil will be brought to an end in a manner that is consistent with God’s loving, humble and peaceful way of operating. If evil is not self-perpetuating, then it must come to an end unless God preserves it. To preserve evil is contrary of God’s character to do, but He can and will certainly save those who accept His ways and His plan for their salvation.


Thus, the final destruction of sinners is not a penalty that God prescribes and executes. It is sin (disobedience to God’s laws) that causes suffering and death, whether directly or indirectly. The laws of God are simply guidelines to protect us from hurtful consequences in this life and ultimately from eternal death.

Consistency with this perspective will never lead anyone to “call down fire from heaven” to destroy those who may not share their religious perspective or support their political system. Rather, it will be held that it is better to do good than to do evil, as evil will be seen to degrade and destroy while good is seen to uplift; ­ every seed yielding its own harvest, if not entirely in this life, certainly in the next, where God never fails to reward and honour that which is good.