Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 2000

Religious Tolerance

by Brett Humphreys

The home page of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT) declares: “We are not like other religious websites.” This is hardly surprising since the four volunteers who run the site, based in Kingston, Ontario, describe themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, a Wiccan, and a “liberal but unaffiliated” Christian. Their aim is to counter intolerance based on religion by disseminating accurate information about religious beliefs and “exposing religious fraud, hatred and misinformation”.

The site began in May 1995 as a response to the realisation that the genocide then taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina was motivated by religious rather than ethnic differences. Since then it has grown to encompass over 800 “essays” ranging in length from a few lines to several thousand words. The general emphasis is on North America and therefore Christianity, but other religions and other countries are covered too.

OCRT are unequivocal in their support for lesbian and gay rights, a topic that they deal with in considerable depth. The subsection entitled Homosexuality and Bisexuality alone runs to around 170 pages. It includes a series of pages giving a detailed survey of the attitudes and policies of over 40 Christian denominations and non-Christian religions, ranging from the outright hostility of Baha’i, Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Scientology, Zoroastrianism and many Protestant denominations to the active promotion of equality by the Unitarian-Universalist Association which (surprising as this may seem to non-Americans) embraces secular humanists and other non-theists as well as liberals from a variety of religious persuasions. The theme of homophobia pervades the rest of the site too: for example, there is an extensive page on the Boy Scouts of America, an organisation that ranks among the most anti-gay and anti-atheist in the United States.

Pages of this site are often somewhat slow to appear, largely because they are written so that the text is displayed only after the page has been fully downloaded – and some of these pages are quite large. However, usually it’s worth the wait – not just for the analysis and opinion, which is generally fair and balanced, but particularly for the factual content, which is typically well supported by references to printed publications and links to other Internet resources.

One slightly irritating feature is the presence of banner advertising, which is used to help cover the costs imposed by the heavy traffic to the site. This is still fairly unusual for an educational site of this type, but is perhaps symptomatic of the current trend in Internet funding. Still, it’s a small price to pay when set against the wealth of well-researched, regularly updated material that populates this impressive and well-organised site.

Intolerance often seems to go hand-in-hand with a fundamentalist belief in the literal truth and mutual consistency of the compilation of ancient writings that make up the Bible. Over a century has passed since G. W. Foote and W. P. Ball provided an aid to countering to such beliefs in the form of The Bible Handbook (1888), a volume cataloguing contradictions, absurdities, atrocities, unfulfilled prophecies and (in true Victorian style) “immoralities, indecencies and obscenities” appearing in the Bible.

Now we have the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, a recently-launched electronic equivalent of The Bible Handbook. Not everyone enjoys the thankless task of engaging in debate with bible-bashers, but those who do will appreciate this site which is “intended to be a self-defense manual against biblical fundamentalism”. It takes full advantage of the hyperlinking capabilities of the Web, which are admirably suited to the function of meticulous annotation and cross-referencing required for such an analysis.

The site incorporates the entire text of the fundamentalist’s favourite translation of the scriptures, the Authorised (King James) Version, which means that offending passages can be read in context. Selected passages are highlighted according to nine colour-coded categories: injustices (the most prolific category with 411 references), contradictions (268), cruelty and violence (249), absurdities (202), insults to women (91), sex (90), foul language (59), false prophecies (25) and homosexuality (a mere 15). Each highlighted passage is also coded using a 4-star rating system, with a different icon for each of the nine categories: thus a particularly gross absurdity gets four ‘chuckles’. In addition, each passage is cross-referenced to an explanatory note.

This is one of the few sites I have seen that uses frames to good effect. Frames are notoriously difficult to use properly, and the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible doesn’t quite succeed – annotations intended to appear in a pane at the bottom of the main window sometimes appear in a separate pop-up window instead. But overall the site is a model of good design: simple, consistent, easily navigated, and focused on its single purpose.

So next time an evangelist turns up on the doorstep preaching biblical inerrancy, why not refer them to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible as an easily accessible source of food for thought in their future bible study!

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Created : Sunday, 2000-05-07 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :