Tolerance, Intolerance, and Persecution

By Santos I

“There are persons in every mass movement who are willing to coexist with variant beliefs and others who see such nonbelievers as outsiders and as a threat that must be neutralized.” Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam are all three religions who have demonstrated tolerance, intolerance and persecution. Drake’s quote is not strictly the religion, but the variant politics within the religions. Drake uses Richard M. Nixon’s coolly advised statement that, “revolutionary upheavals may change how the world looks, but seldom change the way the world works.” From this we can examine the various examples of tolerance, intolerance and persecution performed by Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam.

Inside of the Roman Empire there lay much ambiguity as the relation of Emperors and bishops changed. Also, there is a little bit of difficulty when discussing Diocletian. Many, if not most, of the reforms that occurred during the period in which he ruled can just as well be attributed to Constantine, and vice versa. The two emperors both followed the same plan in most things, and so most of what they did winds up being very confused as to origin. There are certainly exceptions, and they tend to be rather large ones. The obvious first is their stances on Christianity. Diocletian was the last great persecutor of Christianity in the Roman Empire (though his reach was mainly in the Eastern half, hence why the Donatists were mostly in Africa and the West), while Constantine was the first Christian emperor (even if only baptized on his death bed, there is little doubt that he was a Christian to some degree beginning shortly after the Milvian Bridge). Also, Diocletian was all for subdividing the empire to make it more manageable, while Constantine was more inclined to uniting it under his sole rule. Diocletian’s system helped pretty much all of Europe to absorb Roman culture. Constantine made Christianity a part of Roman culture, and ultimately, it was the greatest preserver of that culture. Then possibly, Diocletian’s system helped the Church to spread, which in turn preserved Roman culture.

Despite transitions that existed or did not exist between Diocletian and Constantine was the origination between the two, Christianity and its later emperors were playing on a political battlefield. As Drake described meaning from Peter Paul Rubens’ painting and that of his pupil Anthony Van Dyck, he alludes to the power transmission from emperor Theodosius to the Bishop Ambrose. But before he can answer the transition between those two he doubles back to Constantine and his relationship with Athanasius. Drake describes from Eusebius’ account that Constantine had negotiated a role for himself called Isapostolos. This later developed into a mediator role that the bishop was designated to play. Hence, Drake goes on to say explain how Ambrose dealt a fair hand to Theodosius to become the presiding power of Christianity while Theodosius acted as the military part.

So tolerance, intolerance and persecution definitely do not take a back seat. As gathered from class lecture and other materials available we are able to examine the formulation of Christianity as the lesser of a dominant religion to the eventual dominant amongst many other religions. For example, Diocletian is viewed by some as the last persecutor of Christianity, but wasn’t Emperor Julian the last pagan emperor who tried to hinder Christianity? This is possible. But Drake also includes “inherent intolerance” as “Christian coercion as a political, rather than a theological issue.” Drake also exemplifies the duality of Christianity and its tolerance of: loving its enemies, and its intolerance towards Satan. This can be applied for Christianity’s views elsewhere in time such as the Catholics and Protestants conflictions with each other. So how can we conclude the complexity of this religion? We certainly have, “intolerance is natural to Christianity, which teaches its believers to reject the existence of other gods.” This definitely lets us know that Mary McCarthy’s realization of “two distinct strains” led to the tolerance, intolerance and persecution of pagans and Jews later on in the centuries. Ultimately, after Emperor Julian, it is possible that Christians later persecuted others because they were in fear of being persecuted ever again and one scholar Edward Gibbon labels toleration in this period as a “loser’s creed.” For Christianity we can explicitly see that they accepted toleration when they were weak and that their tolerance was countered with intolerance which led to a “message that is the opposite, hostile and exclusive.”

In Jackie Stone’s Seeking Enlightenment in the Last Age: Mappo Thought in Kamakura Buddhism we are taken into the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). From there we are introduced to “three sequential periods beginning from the time of the Buddha’s death.” The only anti-Buddhist persecution mentioned by Stone was in China 574 – 577 by the Emperor Wu of the Northern Chou Dynasty which invested in mappo. The historical development of the third Final Dharma was depicted by several figures: Honen Genku-bo, his disciple Shinren, Myoe-bo Koben and Gedatsu-bo Jokei.

First Honen basically looks to a type of Buddha worship that everyone can incorporate called Amida Buddha. This settles amid the Pure Land Way because the Sacred Way is said to be no longer attainable and not necessary for a mass movement. This vastness of worship is open to all other practicing Buddhists which exemplify a Buddhism tolerance. Honen’s disciple Shinran essentially “reaffirms Honen’s conclusion that only the nembutsu of the original vow can lead ignorant and deluded people to salvation, it is mappo thought that he uses to buttress his argument.” For Shinran, he basically searched further to develop more of a self-reflection to keep tabs on his mappo consciousness as an extension to Honen’s doctrine. However, Stone mentions that Shinran “concluded that people in the degenerate age of mappo could not perform even the slightest good deed” which may lead Stone to speculate later Shinran’s tolerance or intolerance of Honen’s teachings.

As Stone describes the “easy” side of Final Dharma she also includes The Vinaya Restoration Movement which pretty heavily adheres to traditionalist Buddhism. Myoe-bo Koben mentions often that the monks of his day do nothing, “but indulge in the three poisons and five desires as they please,” which isn’t the make of a traditional Buddhist. He pities the state he is in and works to restore Buddhism to its traditionalist state even though he acknowledges the Final Dharma. Another vinaya Restorationist like Myoe was Jokei. Jokei is what some might call a drama queen of Buddhism who can’t face reality. In this Kamakura-period Jokei “is generally believed to have been the author of the Kofuku-ji petition of 1205 banning Honen’s teaching.” As Jokei laments about worship for a future successor he also presents an inner persecution of himself as well as possibly abolishing the legitimacy of Honen’s teachings. Jokei and Myoe express their concern for the ingratitude of Shakyamuni, but in the end they must face the Final Dharma which may be the result of the persecution of themselves in Buddhism along with Honen’s Pure Land teachings. What it all boils down to is the vinaya restorationists’ search for deep self-reflection in mappo consciousness, while Honen looked to compromise for Buddhism in its troubled state. However, of the Kamakura Buddhists these individuals are argued to have become the closest of all Kamakura Buddhists to the original intent of mappo and the Buddhist scriptures. Thus, the Buddhist tolerance, intolerance and persecution seem to have all been focused within of itself rather than clashing with other religions as described by Stone.

In the case of Magian Cheese: an Archaic Problem in Islamic Law by Michael Cook we are presented the schism of the traditional Shiites versus the Sunni contemporaries. From Persian cheese there is a problem presented by Cook that he wonders why it is forgotten. He defines in Muslim law that a dead animal that died of natural causes is consumable. But in the case of Persian cheese, in which rennet is a note of discussion of Muslim law, Cook discovers that the main problem is the acceptance of the Persian cheese is not valid because they are “infidels.” But this is not the entirety of the problem, because there are divisions of opinion on what classifies an “infidel.”

According to Imamis, Shiite meat obtained from “an infidel is forbidden without distinction.” The Sunni view seems to depict otherwise. The Qur’an suggests a Sunni view that the particular food excludes meat. However, “those to whom the Book was brought are to be understood as Muslim converts from Judaism and Christianity.” Here we have a plethora of distinctions amid various religions that already hold tolerance, intolerance and persecutions amongst each other. The biggest problem pretty much lies between “real” practicing Muslims and “convert” Muslims from other religions.

According to Islamic law and the Qur’an they acknowledge the other religions, but may say they are the wayward of perfection. Islam is capable of tolerating other religions, but it seems at the same time they are intolerant of the religions as well because they are not equals. But it’s also quite humorous that Cook mentions how Sunni Tradition is fine with adhering to rennet that contains carrion. Sunni Tradition is certainly more lenient on Muslim law because all they have to do, according to Ibn Umar, is “say God’s name and eat it.”

In the end of Cook’s argument he shows us that the arguments on both sides are subject to each other because there is a mentality that they don’t care. There are always exceptions the Sunnis and the Shiites will inherently always adhere to classical law books. If Cook was able to pick one such thing as Magian cheese and notice the discrepancies amid Islamic law and all of the tolerance, intolerance and persecution of Islam within itself and that of the outsiders, one could only imagine the vastness of other tolerances, intolerances and many other persecutions prevalent in Islamic law that was administered.


Drake, H.A. Constantine and the bishops: the politics of intolerance. Baltimore
and London : Johns Hopkins University Press. 2000.
Stone, Jackie. “Seeking Enlightenment in the Last Age: Mappo Thought in Kamakura Buddhism.”
Eastern Buddhist 18-1 (Spring 1985): 28-56) and 18-2 (Autumn 1985).
Cook, Michael. Magian Cheese: An Archaic Problem in Islamic Law. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 47, No. 3. (1984).