Active moderates

Emboldening moderate-faith members to push back

Above all other groups embolden moderate members of faith communities to apply Mirrored Tolerance in standing up to more-extreme members of their own faith


It is worth noting that the concept of ‘intolerance of intolerance’ is not in any way a paradox. In the English language the word ‘intolerance’ has two meanings, and a different meaning is in fact used for each of the occurrences in the phrase. The first meaning (always followed by the word ‘of’) is an unwillingness to endure something. The second meaning is a lack of respect for practices and beliefs other than the person’s own.  So in reality the phrase ‘intolerance of intolerance’ is shorthand for unwillingness to endure a lack of respect from someone for practices and beliefs other than their own – which is not paradoxical whatsoever. Those who claim otherwise are merely playing word-games.

When it comes to intolerance of the intolerance exhibited by religious extremists, pushing back works far more effectively from within a religion. Those outside a given faith-community certainly have a need to express their views. But they risk being portrayed by those they are holding to account as arrogant, racist or as attacking religious freedom. Only more-moderate members within the religion itself are immune to being rendered powerless in this way – because they alone can in effect ask fellow-believers the test-question: ‘Would our founder be proud of us if he were still alive today?’ It is progressive and liberal members of religions (who by inclination are typically tolerant) that importantly need to stand up and push back against intolerance.

By doing so, they will not only save their religion from greater internal disruption and damage, but they will also diminish the risk of broader damage to the wider international community and of a resultant backlash against their given sect or their overall faith or even a backlash against formal religion as a whole. In the spirit of Mirrored Tolerance, moderate Islamic clerics must be encouraged to issue provocative fatwa vociferously condemning suicide bombing and terrorism. Progressive Roman Catholics must continue to wrestle with two-millennia of dogma and encourage the Vatican to listen to them afresh. Liberal Anglicans must continue to attack Religious-Right hatred and denounce fundamentalist bigotry.

More generally, moderate religious leaders worldwide must – to a far greater extent than till now – choose to stand up against the demands of their more-extreme colleagues. And they must find the courage to withstand any threats by those colleagues that they will split away (or force the moderates to split away) if their demands are not met or if progressive measures are adopted that they do not like. Under such circumstances, if those with intolerant views refuse to moderate them then despite all the disruption to the religious community it is nevertheless better that a religion splits in a relatively controlled way than that its more-liberal leaders – by giving into blackmail – demonstrate that they have lost faith even in their own beliefs. That route does not even lead to the lowest common denominator of attitudes. It leads to domination by the most fanatical. Appeasement of intolerance risks being no more spiritual or harmonious than actively condoning bullying.