July 29, 2003

Tolerance, the least popular ideal

I often wonder if there is some deeper reality behind the one we face every day of our lives. Religious Tolerance hosts hundreds of files containing religious and spiritual works from a dizzying array of cultural backgrounds. Every major religion proclaims that behind the world we see is a hidden world that can only be realized through faith, dreams, visions, and hallucinations. Thousands, maybe millions of people have had non-physical encounters with this alternate reality. They in turn tell their stories in fiction, poetry, spiritual tracts, or on the couches of counselors and psychologists as they struggle to draw some connection between this invisible world and the one around them. I envy those who have the capacity to clearly distinguish between reality and unreality. Many of us cannot.

The X-files enjoyed huge popularity by connecting this spiritual reality with aliens. One of my favorite online comics, Eversummer Eve, links the invisible world with the legendary land of the elves. Psychologists tell us there is no invisible world. For mental health professionals things such as aliens, elves, magic, or even god, are forms of shared delusions. There is one aspect to faith in the invisible that rapidly becomes annoying: intolerance.

Once upon a time we were children and our parents frequently reminded us that without differences, the world would be a very boring place. Sometimes they would smile cryptically and also mention that variety is the spice of life. Nonetheless, looking into the world around me reveals that individualism has become such a catch phrase that every individual believes they alone understand the "truth". Fundamental Christians bomb abortion clinics, fundamental Hindus bomb historic mosques, fundamental Muslims bomb discos. Why are so many people so intent are forcing the rest of us to accept their vision of reality? Or, perhaps, the real question is somewhat different. Perhaps the real question is why are we so deaf that the only way they can be heard is to blow something up?