Religion, tolerance, tyranny


16 September 2008, 21.59 CET

Nobody has ever really believed in Freedom of Religion. Where religion is concerned, the hardest virtue is tolerance, and to find out what a person’s religion is one has only to discover what he becomes violent about.
. . .
In a revolutionary age like the present, the greatest threat to freedom is not dogmas but the reluctance to define them precisely, for in times of danger, if no one knows what is essential and what is unessential, the unessential is vested with religious importance (to dislike ice cream becomes proof of heresy), so the liberal who is so frightened by the idea of dogma that he opposes any kind, instead of seeing that nothing is made an article of faith that need not be so, is promoting the very state of tyranny and witch-hunting that he desires to prevent.

—W. H. Auden, in a review of T. S. Eliot’s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948).

[Quoted in Times Literary Supplement 5502 (September 12 2008), p. 3]