The Dalai Lama had an op-ed in The New York Times the other day. Alas, he got off to a very bad start with this:
WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.
Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.
“Radical atheists” write books expressing their views, and when invited to do so they speak publicly about what they believe. The Dalai Lama regards such activities as representing a dangerous extreme of religious intolerance, on the same level as violence against Muslim immigrants or fanning the flames of war in the Middle East. Forgive me if I question his moral judgment.
The remainder of his essay is a fairly standard paean to the notion of religious tolerance, centered around the idea that the world’s major religious traditions all take “compassion” to be a high virtue. I am certainly in favor of religious tolerance, but you hardly need a religious text to teach you the value of compassion. And many of the world’s major religions also teach certain doctrines, like their exclusive right to hold forth on the will of God, that make compassion far harder to realize in real life.