The Grand Inquisitor’s Lesson: Conflict, Religion and Human Diversity as Key Issues of Toleration
Taking Dostoevsky’s legend of the Grand Inquisitor as a starting point, the essay highlights three key issues of toleration, namely the ambivalence and controversiality of the term itself, the importance of religion and the issue of human diversity. As to the first issue, Goethe’s and Marcuse’s criticisms of toleration are taken to illustrate how the controversy about toleration is founded in a controversy about the meaning of the term. On the basis Rainer Forst’s heuristic distinction of toleration, four possible understandings of the term are characterized in order to make clear why toleration can mean both a fight against power and a strategy to maintain power, both recognition and disdain. Concerning the second key issue of toleration – its connection with religion and fanaticism, attention is drawn on Jan Assman’s famous thesis of the inherent intolerance of monotheism and the objections to this thesis. On the other hand, the potential of theological foundations of toleration, as offered by Paul Tillich, is highlighted as well. With regard to the importance human diversity, the Enlightenment idea of the basic equality of men is assessed critically. Although it certainly meant progress in tolerant thinking, it also opened the door for a tendency to underestimate or ignore actual differences, whereas toleration presupposes an accurate perception and recognition of human diversity. Not to perceive such differences or not to judge them in any way is an attitude that can be called indifference rather than toleration. As Rainer Forst point out, the only acceptable way of justifying toleration is on the basis of respect for the person of the other, not for his or her attitudes, beliefs or actions.