Coexist vs Tolerate

Jun 21, 2014 by

Recently, I have seen a lot of people with the sign “Coexist”.  Now, at first I think that this sign is great.  It shows how people should get along and end the violence that occurs over religious and political beliefs.  However, then I begin thinking about what it means to coexist.  Is coexist the best word for the sentiment I am thinking of?  When you speak of the coexistence of ideas, you are talking about two ideas as being compatible.  However, many ideas, and almost all religions, are not compatible with each other.  I mean, let us look at religion for example.  A person who believes in Christianity cannot, simultaneously, believe in Islam.  And, furthermore, this person cannot believe that Islam is an equally acceptable belief.  Rather, the person who really believes in one Coexistreligion holds that all other religions are wrong and, thus, lesser than his religion.  Thus, a Muslim holds that Islam is superior to all other religions because it is the truth.  Likewise, a Jew holds Judaism in this way, a Christian holds Christianity in this way, and so on through all religions.

Is this coexistence?  Let us think of the prefix in this word:  co-.  When we use that in a word, we generally think of it as meaning shared equally:  Co-host, cooperate, co-conspirator, copilot, coworker.  All of these things are instances where two or more things are working jointly, together, towards the same goal.  Now, setting aside the purpose of coexistence for a moment, when you think about religion, do you think Christianity and Hinduism as working towards the same goal?  They may, in some instances, have similar desires.  But, that does not mean that their end goals are the same.  Both the United States and the USSR desired the fall of Nazi Germany.  Yet, thus United States desired it for the prosperity and protection of itself and its allies.  The USSR desired it for the protection and prosperity of itself, not the United States and its allies.  Religions have similar desires:  Do not kill, do not steal, be a good person.  Yet, in the end, their goals are different.  Christianity wants you to believe in Christ, Judaism wants you to believe in the coming of the Messiah, Islam wants you to believe in Muhammad, and Hinduism wants you to believe in karma and reincarnation.  Though these religions may seem similar, they are really dissimilar in their end goals, only in the means on how to achieve those goals.

Now, when we are talking about co-existence, we are not talking about working towards the same religious goal, we are talking about working towards peace.  Well, the short response to that is no.  You see, the prefix co- means we are working towards a common goal, but existence does not mean peace when talking in terms of ideas.  For two ideas to exist simultaneously, they must either not speak on the same subject, or work, without conflict or contradiction, towards the same goal.  For instance, I the ideas that the sky is blue and pandas eat eucalyptus can coexist.  Even though one is in error, they are on different subjects and, thus, have no problem coexisting.  Another example:  I believe the death penalty is wrong because it is wrong to kill and it ends the chance for redemption.  These ideas are working towards the same goal, so these two ideas can coexist.  Now, what about if I believe that it is wrong to kill in any case and it is right to kill Hitler.  These two ideas cannot coexist.  The reason being that they conflict and contradict.  They are on the same subject:  Killing.  They do not work towards the same goal.  The former aims at killing no one while the latter aims at killing Hitler.  Coexistence is impossible.  One must be superior to the other.  Likewise, religions hold differing goals on the same subject.  Thus, for religions to coexist is an impossibility unless you accept a relativistic view point.  A relativistic view point is the belief that an action is acceptable so long as the person or society that does it accepts it.  In this case, all of these religions are equals, there is no superior.  Thus, they are working towards the same goal of just teaching people to be moral.  However, a person cannot accept relativism and religion in the same instance.  Relativism would state that there is no knowable truth whereas religion would state that they are truth.  Thus, for a true believer of a religion, coexistence is impossible.

ToleranceDoes that mean that the sentiment I expressed at the beginning of this paper cannot exist?  I believe it can.  I only believe co-existence would rather put forward the equality of all beliefs rather than the peaceful allowance of people with different beliefs.  The peaceful allowance of people with different beliefs, I believe, is better expressed in the word Tolerance.  Tolerance implies that there is a right, regardless of whether or not you are currently believing it.  Tolerance is allowing others to hold differing beliefs without prohibition or violence.  Instead of preaching coexistence, we should be preaching tolerance.

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs.  Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”  -John F. Kennedy

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