Religious tolerance between humans is best understood in light of human conscience. That is, religious tolerance means that each person must be free to exercise their conscience concerning matters of faith. The political philosopher John Locke wrote an excellent work, A Letter Concerning Toleration, where he said, "...I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristical mark of the true church." He further argues that toleration of other religions is necessary because true faith occurs when an individual is inwardly persuaded about the truth of a religion.
In my view, the human conscience is a creation of God. He knows how to reach people, and He sovereignly works with individuals according to His good will. Humans would not have a conscience if God had not created it. His great command to us is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and might, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22: 36-40). He also commissions Christians to go into all creation and proclaim the good news about Jesus (Mark 16:15-16). These commands are not distinct, but are intertwined. As such, individuals must not attempt to force people to convert to a faith, and also must not harm other people who do not adhere to a faith. Thus, human force must not be used to attempt to persuade someone of the truth of Christianity, nor should it be used against those who reject God. Locke agreed and said, "If the Gospel and the apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian without charity, and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love."
Indeed, Locke argued that human force is appropriate against those who harm people's lives, liberties, and possessions. Likewise, the Apostle Paul discusses this in Romans 16:1-7. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke argued that certain religions should not be tolerated when they threaten the peace of civil societies. These religions are those that (in my interpretation of Locke):
- claim government is restricted to those adherents of a religious sect, thus, depriving people of full participation in civil society;
- claim allegiance to a foreign power, thus, breaking the civil laws of a civil society (they see themselves are being outside of civil law in violation of Paul's assertion, above);
- encourage for lawlessness (i.e. promote chaos), thus threatening the peace of civil societies ; and,
- claim there is no higher law which people must obey (Locke claimed these were atheists. However, atheists can and do attest to the existence of a higher law based on reason).
Therefore, civil society is characterized by the fair and impartial administration of justice, not based on religious membership or adherence.
As long as people in Pakistan adhering to minority religions such as Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc., are not protected, it is hard to view this nation as a civil society. And that is very sad for everyone.