The Wellspring of Religious Tolerance

I was thinking about a recent post by Bob Murphy when I came across this:

"Since no name can apprehend the divine, or exhaust its meaning, it can therefore be conceded, on the other hand, that all names, in so far as they proceed from a genuine religious conviction and are conscious of their limited and mediate capacity, may be assured of a certain relationship to the divine. Thus apparent scepticism first opens the way to variety, freedom and scope in moral and religious ways of life, and transfers the centre of religious 'truth' from gogma to the ways of life themselves. Henceforth, neither variety nor contradiction in religion need give offence." -- Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England (Cassirer is here discussing the work of Nicolas of Cusa.)

Thus, religious tolerance and a frank admiration for religious diversity can be based not just upon a wishy-washy reluctance to hurt anyone's feelings, but also upon a sophisticated acknowledgement of the fact that we are talking about the ineffable, and it just can't be effed the way subway directions to the Bronx can be simply right or wrong. ("No, if you follow those directions, you will wind up on Staten Island.") From this point of view, asking "Which is the correct religion?" is somewhat like asking "What is the correct style of music?"


  1. Many of the claims made by religious sects—take the parting of the Red Sea, or the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—are historical in nature. Either the events happened or they did not; and if they did not, then the religions that claim otherwise are at least to that extent wrong.

  2. I generally agree with you on this. I am not sure your music analogy is quite right, because that seems too subjective; a mere matter of "taste." (I know you have played music in front of crowds, so you realize there is something objective about it. But I think some readers would interpret it as, "What's the best flavor of ice cream?")

  3. I like the "ice cream" analogy better. The inadmissibility of the question "What is the correct style of music?" is a sometime thing: in some cultures, in some eras (ours, Baroque, for example) the question made perfect sense, and had only one sensible answer (unless you were taking music to the next level).

  4. Just for fun, I'll throw out there--for anyone who actually knows anything about the subject (fat chance)--that Australian aboriginal music is even more constrained. Could be wrong, I suppose (though, c'mon, when was the last time I was ever wrong about anything?).


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