“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
H. L. Mencken
Respect for religion vs. respect for people who are religious — what does it mean to respect someone’s beliefs, or to respect someone who has certain beliefs? And is it the same thing?
Who’s being more respectful, “accommodationists” who tiptoe around people’s religious beliefs like adults who don’t tell kids there’s no Santa Claus, or “New Atheists” who treat religious believers like adults rather than like children who should be condescended to because they’re not mature or intelligent enough to handle the truth (or at least someone else’s version of it)?
As Mencken notes, respecting someone’s right to believe something (or acknowledging that it’s polite not to disabuse someone of cherished notions) isn’t the same as respecting the belief itself.
Let’s say you believe (as some people actually do) that sexually molesting children can be good for them. Do you have a right to believe that? Absolutely. Do you have a right to proclaim that view? Yes, you do. Do you have a right to demand that you be respected as a human being, with human rights and human dignity? Yes. Do you have a right to demand that your view on molestation be respected? No. Sorry, just no. Not at all.
Of course, as Mencken also notes (or at least implies), there are some viewpoints we’re not supposed to take issue with, even if they’re obviously untrue. And one could certainly argue that a religious belief could be right up there with a belief in a spouse’s desirability or the intelligence of one’s children.
The interesting question is, how should we respond if someone asks us how we feel about their belief? Maybe the best response is to simply note that it’s a big world with lots of different people who believe different things. And if they try to push it beyond that, then maybe they don’t get to be picky about the response they get.
(Cartoon via Atheist Comics blog)