“A MAN who is convinced of the truth of his religious is indeed never tolerant,” Albert Einstein was once quoted. But that is, of course, a way of saying. What is pervasive is religious intolerance that maybe regarded as an anthropological phenomenon that has been around since day one.
At a Country Report on Human Rights a couple of years ago, John Shattuck of the U.S. State Department for Democracy wrote: “Ethnic and religious conflict remain the most intractable and dangerous problems in the world today.”
This issue is again coming to the fore due to recent spate of violence committed against Churches. On Christmas evening 80 people died in bomb attacks in villages around Jos, Nigeria which included onslaught on Churches in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri that left 6 dead. Here in Jolo, a bomb detonated at a Catholic chapel while the mass was being celebrated on Christmas day, injuring a priest and several churchgoers. About 30 minutes into the New Year, as the Eucharistic celebration ended in a Church of the Coptic Christian tradition in Alexandria, Egypt, a car bomb exploded, killing nearly 2 dozen faithful and injuring about 80 others as they made their way out of the church. Violence continued in Iraq during the Christmas season as an Islamic extremist group made good its threat to kill more Christians by planting bombs in their homes thereby forcing them to leave.
There are more of these as the one in Baghdad last October 31, 2010 when Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church was attacked allegedly by Islamic terrorists during a Sunday evening mass that left 63 dead including 2 priests and 120 wounded. Of late these attacks and continued suppression of religious freedom are commonplace mostly in some Asian countries so that a news report quoted the pope as saying that Christians are the most persecuted religious group due to their faith—although Archbishop Desmund Tutu, speaking to participants of the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches in 2000 thinks further: “It was Christians, you know, not pagans, who were responsible for the Holocaust. It was Christians, not pagans, who lynched people here in the South, who burned people at the stake, frequently in the name of this Jesus Christ.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas and New Year’s messages were loaded with calls for peace. In recent months he has spoken of repeatedly on religious freedom which culminated with his January 1 message for the 44th World Day of Peace: “Religious freedom, the path to peace.” He said: “Whoever is making his way toward God cannot fail to transmit peace, and whoever builds peace cannot fail to draw nearer to God.”
Indeed, peace and religious freedom is an equation. Contrary to Einstein’s observation, the mark of a man who is deeply convinced of the truth of his religion is the pursuit of peace—and, therefore, tolerance.