TOLERATION is often just indifference in disguise.

"It doesn't matter what religion you have as long as you have one" is apt to mean really, "I couldn't care less whether you have one or not."

If it means what it says, the question arises about a religion that demands, say, that firstborn children be fed to the crocodiles to ensure a good harvest. Somewhere lines have to be drawn. Sometimes it's not so easy to draw them.

Buddhism says, "Those who love a hundred have a hundred woes. Those who love ten have ten woes. Those who love one have one woe. Those who love none have no woe." Christianity says, "Whoever does not love abides in death" (1 John 3:14). The trouble is that each speaks a different kind of truth. If you choose for one as the truer and more profound of the two, then you choose against the other, granting it only a kind of proximate validity. Thus toleration must be limited in the interests of honesty.

It is sometimes argued that in our society the young should not be taught about Christianity. They should be taught about all religions. That is like saying they should be taught comparative linguistics before they have mastered English grammar.

It is sometimes argued that no religion of any kind should be taught in schools. The name of God should not be mentioned, prayers should not be prayed, religious holidays should not be observed—all of this to avoid in any way indoctrinating the young. This is itself, of course, the most powerful kind of indoctrination, because it is the most subtle and for that reason the hardest for the young or anybody else to defend themselves against. Given no reason to believe that the issue of God has any importance at all, or even exists as an issue, how can anybody make an intelligent decision either for God or against?

My wife went to a college in the fifties that was so tolerant religiously that it wouldn't allow an ordained minister to conduct an informal discussion group on the campus.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

To receive daily Quote of the Day emails, sign up here.