The paper discusses three aspects of belonging to religious systems of belief within a modern liberal society, namely (1) the sincerity and consistency of belief, (2) the possibility of exteriorization of belief through broader social interactions or transactions, and (3) the relationship between religious belief and the modern concept of affirmative tolerance, or affirmation of differences, which has become a pronounced public policy in multicultural liberal societies. The author argues that, while negative tolerance allows sincere religious belief to flourish in the private sphere and for benevolence to be shown to those who are seen as mistaken in their beliefs, affirmative tolerance opens an array of logical issues. The demand to extend potential substantive validation to opposed beliefs produces the ricochet effect of de-validating one’s own beliefs. This creates difficulties for religious communities when issues at stake are beliefs that, in the respective belief-systems, are definitive of the moral goodness and moral badness. Upon a more careful examination of the logical relations between the soteriological promises characteristic of what is sometimes called the
‘substantive’ layer of religiousness, on the one hand, and the public expectation of a tolerant coexistence of religious communities on a social level, on the other hand, it becomes clear that the tolerance required can only be a negative tolerance. Any expectation of affirmative tolerance de-values the soteriological script of the respective system of religious belief, and is thus likely to lead to serious disturbances in a liberal context of multi-cultural coexistence.
The author argues that the recent political announcements of a ‘failure of the multicultural experiment’ are caused by the aggressive pursuit of ‘affirmative tolerance’ rather than by any in-built intolerance of others in any of the large religious belief systems now prevalent in the liberal democratic world.