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ODD COUPLE Religiously motivated violence, murder, and genocide stem from religiously motivated oppression, discrimination, and conflict. In turn, these stem from religious intolerance, a fact that is at once dazzlingly simple and overwhelmingly complex. The problem with religious intolerance is fairly straightforward. At the extreme, people die. The single, most basic thing each person has from birth to death is life – the tool with which he can change his world. Harming, let alone killing, a person for his religious beliefs – his identity – demotes the person to being less than human. Verbal abuse and typecasting should not be underestimated; they can be as destructive as physical violence. Particularly in Houston, a city noted for its cultural and accordingly, religious, diversity, the importance of religious tolerance is evident. One can easily find thriving Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu communities, among many others. On a more personal level, several of my classmates  fast  for  Ramadan,  as  does  one  of  my  teachers.  Even  within  my  school’s  largely  Christian   population, students and staff are Catholics, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and  members  of  numerous  other  sects.  There  is  a  Buddhist  temple  a  five  minutes’  drive  from  my  house   and another temple an additional ten minutes away. On the way to the mall, I pass a mosque. A small Baptist church sits immediately to its right. When I was in intermediate school, my bus drove by that apparently strange pair of buildings every afternoon. I wondered how the two houses of worship could coexist so. Did their members not fundamentally believe that the members of the other institution and their religion, likely the most significant spiritual component of the individual, are wrong? As a young American student, I was taught the importance of diversity and tolerance from a very young age. I accepted these principles without question – and without true comprehension. Perhaps other children were different, but honestly, my seventh-grade discovery that a friend belonged to the Church of Latter Day Saints completely astounded me. I knew that most of my classmates were Christian – some Catholic, some Baptist; I knew that some of my classmates were Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish. But a real, live Mormon? Thankfully, I had the sense to contain my astonishment. However, this childish amazement demonstrates the importance of religious tolerance and awareness. Looking back, I find my reaction rather disturbing. A ten-year-old  child,  fascinated  by  her  classmate’s  seemingly  strange  beliefs,  is  ignorant,   yet at that point, fairly harmless. A devoutly religious adult, driven by hatred for another religion, is dangerous. Even the ignorant child is dangerous. Children fight, too. They deliver black eyes and leave emotional bruises, both marks as real and painful as the other. I know – schoolchildren can be cruel. It hurts as much to be taunted and misunderstood as to be physically beaten. I have had the good fortune to grow up in a city as richly diverse as Houston. This exposure has provided for experiences and lessons that I could not possibly have had without. Since that seventh-grade incident, I have slowly come to appreciate and to begin to understand the importance of religious tolerance. I have realized that there is more to that neighboring mosque and church. Religious tolerance does  not  mean  accepting  other  faiths’  beliefs  as  true.  Rather,  it  means  respecting  their  members’  right  to   believe  those  beliefs  and  by  association,  their  members’  right  to  be  part  of  humanity  – a smorgasbord of individuals that can only be united by respect and tolerance. Som-Mai Nguyen

Embracing tolerance 2011 Nguyen