Friday, 6 November 2009

Should We All Just Respect Each Other?

The sentiments of the well-meaning accommodationist, it seems any discussion between religion and atheism has at least one person who plays the respect card. That we should respect each other's beliefs. And it sounds all well and good to play the moderate card, but it's such a vacuous statement that does nothing other than to try to play down division.

So should there be automatic respect for believers and non-believers alike?

In my opinion, no. And here's why. Take homoeopathy for instance. Now as someone who firmly holds that homoeopathy cannot work beyond the placebo effect, should I respect those who use it? Those who take people off medication and live-saving procedures for a non-medicine? For those who give it to their infant children to treat treatable diseases? Of course I wouldn't respect them, nor what they believe.

Yet this is what is being asked, that I should respect other peoples beliefs no matter how insane I find them. I would respond, why should I? Why should I respect someone who believes the entire universe is there to test whether they can believe in a mangod in order to receive an eternal reward? Why should I respect someone who thinks that if they aren't good in this life, the universe will punish them in the next by giving their reincarnated body a degenerative disease? Why should I respect those who think that homosexuality is caused by demons, or that martyrdom is rewarded with the gift of 72 virgins?

I don't see that believing in anything is deserving of respect. Whether that be religious, paranormal, political or any other matter. I'm not going to respect racists because they hold racist beliefs, communists because they hold communistic beliefs, or anything else of that ilk. Holding beliefs isn't in itself deserving of respect.

This is not to say that people who hold such beliefs aren't deserving of respect. It's to say that holding the belief itself isn't deserving of respect. What it is deserving of is tolerance. And there's a key difference in this. The right to swing my fists ends where it makes contact with another. This is a key difference.

I don't have to respect in the least someone who takes homoeopathic medicine, yet I'm fully okay with people using the placebo as long as they don't harm others with it. If they want to not heal themselves, that's fine. But if they give it to a child then it's an issue.

And that's where I stand on religion. If people have religious beliefs and want to keep it to themselves, then I couldn't care less. They can delude themselves, harm themselves, whatever. But if they are using it to cause harm to others, then one should take issue with it.

As for speaking out on ideas, no idea should be beyond reproach. It's not being respectful to pretend that clashes over ideas don't exist. Again take homoeopathy. Just because it's use is something to tolerate, it doesn't mean that it should go without critique. Saying homoeopathy is bunk is not the equivalent to swinging your fists into another's face, it's critiquing an idea and not inhibiting a person.

So should we all respect one another? No. I don't expect to be respected for being a non-believer anymore than someone who is a believer should be respected on those grounds. What should be respected, however, is the right to hold those beliefs and practice them as they see fit - as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others.

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