Respecting beliefs?

Morrey asks: My friends say that when I challenge them about their religion that I am disrespecting their beliefs. Yet they tell me all of the time that my beliefs are wrong. Why do they do this?

Jake answers: Great question Morrey. Lets take a look at what I think theists are really saying when they ask that we as atheists respect their beliefs? How do you respect a belief? What is respect?

There are many definitions for the word ” respect “.

1. a particular, detail, or point (usually preceded by in ): to differ in some respect.
2. relation or reference: inquiries with respect to a route.
3. esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability: I have great respect for her judgment.
4. deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: respect for a suspect’s right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.
5. the condition of being esteemed or honored: to be held in respect.
6. respects, a formal expression or gesture of greeting, esteem, or friendship:Give my respects to your parents.
7. favor or partiality.
8. Archaic. a consideration
9. to hold in esteem or honor: I cannot respect a cheat.
10. to show regard or consideration for: to respect someone’s rights.
11. to refrain from intruding upon or interfering with: to respect a person’s privacy.
12. to relate or have reference to.
So when a believer says that they want you to respect their beliefs, which definition are they referring to ? Take a look again at the list. Notice 10 and 11?
10. to show regard or consideration for: to respect someone’s rights.
11. to refrain from intruding upon or interfering with: to respect a person’s privacy.

I think this is what believers are referring to. They want you to show regard and have consideration for their beliefs and to refrain from intruding or interfering with their beliefs. In other words, treat their beliefs as if they were your own and don’t try to change their minds. Seems simple enough right?

However….

When a theists tells you that you are a sinner, are they respecting your beliefs?
When a theist tells you that you are going to hell, are they respecting your beliefs?
When a theist tells you that homosexuals shouldn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals, are they respecting the beliefs of homosexuals?
When a theist votes to take a womans right to control her reproduction, are they respecting the beliefs of women?
When a theist demands that their scriptures be taught in public school, are they respecting other religions or those with no religion?
When a theist demands that the laws of the country follow their religious teachings, are they respecting those who aren’t a part of their faith?

So, why is it that believers ( not all mind you, but in my experience most ) demand respect of their beliefs, but don’t give the same respect to others? The answer is in the 4th definition of respect.

4. deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment: respect for a suspect’s right to counsel; to show respect for the flag; respect for the elderly.

In the mind of the theist, they have a truth that you and I don’t have and that truth sets them above everyone else. They are privileged. They are blessed. They are the chosen of god. They are his will on earth. To the theist, they aren’t judging you, they are simply correcting you and showing you the right way. Sometimes they will say, ” If I saw that you were about to get hit by a bus, wouldn’t you want me to tell you to get out of the way? “. It’s an act of kindness. It’s an act of love.

The same doesn’t apply to you and I though. You see, we are the fallen. We are the sinners. We are what’s wrong with this world. If only we all had the truth of their god, then the world would be able to live in peace. This is how many theists see the world around them. This is why you need to respect their beliefs, but they don’t really have to respect yours. It’s because you are wrong, and they are right.

There’s more to it than that though. You’re also not supposed to take this privilege away from them. You’re not supposed to get them to question their beliefs. You’re not supposed to show them the errors or contradictions in their belief. If you do, you are a servant of evil. You are testing their faith. You are trying to trick them. I’ve seen some theists ( not all mind you ) who believe that even trying to study and understand their faith would only lead to doubt. So they sit happily ignorant of what they believe in order to be safe.

So what does it mean to respect a belief then? If a belief is being challenged, is it being respected? Should beliefs just be left alone? Consider the equal rights movement of the 60’s. What would have things been like if people like Martin Luther King didn’t challenge the beliefs of the establishment? Did he disrespect the beliefs of those who saw him as inferior? In my eyes, all beliefs should be challenged. If belief is defined as the confidence to the truth of something, how can one truly have confidence without comparing and contrasting their belief, even going as far as to falsify it? In this sense leaving a belief alone would be disrespectful. I want all of my beliefs challenged. Especially the ones that I have the most confidence in. For years as a believer I thought that I had all of the answers because I had never really challenged them. It wasn’t until I challenged them, that I began to understand how ignorant I was and how much my unfounded beliefs clouded the world around me. How much it damaged me. It took me a few years, but at the end, I’m glad that I found the courage to take a lifetime’s worth of belief, and give it the respect that it deserved.

What does everyone else think? How do you show respect for a belief? Answer in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “Respecting beliefs?”

  1. Hi Morrey,

    I have historically been quiet. I tried to “respect” people’s beliefs by not asking questions I thought would make them angry, or by not letting my opinions be known. It wasn’t until a year ago that I heard a quote from an atheist somewhere….sorry I don’t remember the exact words or the source, but it is something like this, “All notions/beliefs/ideas should be up for criticism, because we can’t grow unless we challenge what we know (or think we know). Science is based on challenging what you think you know and trying to prove yourself wrong. The idea that religion is a topic that is safe from criticism, that it has a special status, is ridiculous.” NOTE that I’m sure I only got about 10% of that quote correct, but overall I really really really do agree with it.

    There is NO reason that we shouldn’t be allowed to question religion. We shouldn’t feel as if we are attacking somebody when we are trying to understand why they are believing something that doesn’t seem worth believing. People who hold beliefs shouldn’t feel so insecure about them, that they feel people asking honest questions about them are personally attacking them.

    Now, there is a time and a place for everything, and there are several places where religious discussion is not appropriate, but when the topic is brought up in an appropriate neutral setting, there is no reason to NOT bring in your opinion. Saying what you think is NOT disrespecting their religion. Them expecting you to never say what you think or utter a word contrary to what they believe IS disrespecting you.

    Jake was absolutely right when he said that it comes down to they are right and you are wrong. That IS what is going on. But you know what, we ALL think we are right! Why believe something you think is wrong? So as much as you think you are right about whatever you think, they probably feel the same. The difference is the taboo (which I hope is slowly lifting) of criticizing, questioning, and challenging theistic beliefs. You should be free to say what you think, AS SHOULD THEY. Niether party has the right to silence the other.

  2. If I believed that superman exists and has been robbed of his powers and his memory wiped off due to some evil conspiracy involving the umm, let me see, Illuminati … would that belief deserve any respect? I might believe in it ardently and I could be charismatic enough to drum up a few hundred thousand followers who believe the same. And over time I might be able to write the bible of superman etc. and get tax exempt status for my cult. But does the official status and huge following mean that I’ve automatically earned respect for my initial frivolous belief?

    The point I am trying to make is that beliefs do not automatically deserve respect no matter how many people “believe”. We believe in outrageous things. And we are free to believe in whatever hocus-pocus we want to believe in. But then demanding that others respect our silly beliefs instead of allowing our beliefs to rational third part examination and questioning … well that’s just asking for the moon.

    1. Corrections:
      1) “allowing our beliefs to rational third part examination” … please read as “allowing our beliefs to be subject to rational, third party”
      2) “hocus-pocus” … please read as “mumbo-jumbo” or “poppycock” or “balderdash” etc.

  3. Beliefs aren’t to be respected. We must respect a person’s right to hold a belief, but the belief itself is fair game and deserves only the respect it earns by holding up to intellectual scrutiny. You have the right to believe the holocaust never took place, but I certainly don’t have to respect that claim and am within my rights to demand evidence for such an outrageous belief and ridicule anyone for holding it, Such is the free market of ideas.

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