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19 February 2013

Where Does Your Car Stand on Religious Tolerance?

Most are familiar with the ubiquitous "Coexist" sticker.

Yesterday morning, for the first time, I saw a "Contradict" sticker.

"Coexistence" is about tolerance, which often leads to pluralistic claims to legitimacy. This means that, while adherents may believe that their own religion is more correct or perhaps the best expression of religious belief, they generally agree that other religions have valid truth-claims. Secularization theorists have long argued that tolerance, as such, potentially challenges plausibility structures (i.e. the foundations of our ability to believe). The logic, it is assumed, often goes that if other religions offer valid alternatives to one's own religion, then what is the motivation to favor one's religion--or, for that matter, any religion at all? Tolerance, according to secularization theory, inevitably leads to social, organization, and individual declines in religiosity.

"Contradiction," on the other hand, is about intolerance, which is a result of monopolistic claims to legitimacy. This means that adherents believe that their own religion is the only correct expression of religious belief and that other religions are necessarily false. Secularization theorists argue that intolerance, then, protects plausibility structures. If one's religion is indeed the one true religion, then the motivation to remain and even increase ties to one's religion are strengthened. Intolerance, according to secularization theory, sustains and even increases religiosity at all levels.

This is one of those paradoxical problems that sociology often presents. Our progressive, (post)modern sensibilities predispose us to value tolerance and religious diversity and encourage us toward coexistence, but ironically, religion as a social institution may be endangered by those very values that esteem religion.


  1. Love the contrast. Which one leads to more religious wars?

  2. Fred, I think you'd be right to assume that intolerance more often leads to violence. Ironically again, violence tends to magnify religiosity by starkly delineating group boundaries.