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Asking the clergy: Has the concept of tolerance been hijacked?

Rabbi Alan Kay, rabbi emeritus, Temple Beth Emeth, Mount Sinai:

I've always thought of tolerance as something that is innate in our being. I've never thought of it as a hijackable concept. Even in the story of creation, it is implicit in my thinking. Adam and Eve are given responsibility for caring for all beings. There is no distinction between accepting and tolerating in the story of creation.

We accept all creatures regardless of how we think of them or whether they are attractive to us. They were created by God and we accept them. While an ugly beast may not be pleasant to me, I still tolerate it because it is made by God.

The same thing happened with Noah and the ark. The animals were chosen two by two, and all were on the ark. While we may not understand the value of cockroaches and bedbugs, they were on the ark. We have to meet the challenge of them being a part of our lives.

It is easy to accept what you do understand and see a value to. Tolerance is a valuable trait you don't have to always understand but you can tolerate. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed to say I can learn to tolerate something.

Father Alexander Karloutsos, Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, Southampton:

If tolerance means you don't share with someone the truth about your convictions, then yes, tolerance has been hijacked. We all should address the truth head-on. When you are talking about violence in the name of religion, you're talking about an act against religion. We should not tolerate that. When anyone seeks to justify violence and other religious leaders tolerate it, that is against the concept of tolerance.

For example, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood in front of the United Nations and said the United States fabricated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and none of the Muslim clerical leaders disputed him or raised a voice against it, that was meekness, not tolerance.

If we're afraid to speak the truth, then, yes, tolerance has been hijacked. I have no problem with tolerance, as long as you're speaking the truth in love. I have no problem with embracing another, and we must have tolerance, but you must be able to speak the truth - and stand up when need be.

Pastor Dennis Walker, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Commack:

If it hasn't been hijacked, it has been severely knocked in the head recently. Not only do we debate the facts now, we can't agree with what the facts are. I think a lot of this goes back to advances in technology and the repeal of the fairness doctrine in broadcasting (in 1987). We see news as entertainment rather than information.

Anger as entertainment is the overarching problem we're dealing with today. Tolerance doesn't get ratings. Tolerance is always difficult to cultivate because of the basic selfishness of human nature - not so much a sin as human behavior.

In speaking of tolerance, take Genesis 8:21: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done." After the flood, we see a very human picture of God. He decides to go another way. In Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Those scriptures are the two spiritual bases for tolerance. God decided to tolerate us as we are. And, we should tolerate our fellow human beings as they are. So often, the love of God doesn't translate to our love of our fellow human beings. Jonathan Swift wrote in "Gulliver's Travels": "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."

Vicar John Flack, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Floral Park:

I think tolerance is the right way to go. Reading the original American documents of our founders, tolerance is what they spoke of. Tolerance means we can live with others but don't have to agree with them. We can be true to ourselves without castigating others. It gives us balance.

Respect is possible within tolerance, but not required. Insults and disrespect are not part of tolerance. Most religious faiths of the world have tolerance as part of their values. You don't have to believe the truth of another religion, but you can allow space for another. Tolerance is a value because it promotes peace and the flourishing of religion.

Many people believe respect is a right. I think respect is something that is given, because it has been earned. Tolerance is a piece of the foundation of our democracy. Take the notion of Christ. The major Christian religions may have different interpretations of who Christ is, but we all still exist.

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