Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Respect all beliefs? I don't think so.

"We should all respect each other's beliefs". 

This is the view of some of the more moderate believers that I encounter. On the surface it seems admirable and something I would support. Why wouldn't we respect what people believe? It seems very basic and straight forward. You respect what I believe, I respect what you believe, and we all get along and maybe have a beer and a BBQ. 

Of course, if it was that simple, I wouldn't be writing this post.

The problem is, beliefs guide actions and actions can and do impact on others - sometimes that impact is negative and it happens regardless of whether the person being impacted shares the belief or not. This kind of unjustified negative impact is, of course, unacceptable. 

"Homosexuality is a 'sin' and same-sex couples don't deserve the right to marry."  This is probably the classic case of a person being negatively impacted by the beliefs of others. In Australia (and many other places of course), if you and your partner happen to be of the same gender, you're not allowed to get married to each other. You see someone somewhere (read: many people, many places) 'believes' that marriage should be restricted to being between a man and a woman. For reasons that are almost universally religiously motivated (and if it's not religiously motivated, it's political motivation based on the religiosity of others) people have declared that same sex couples don't deserve to have the same status as a mixed gender couple. It is obvious discrimination, sanctioned by government, and based on nothing but the unsubstantiated beliefs of the religious. 

I have no reason to respect the belief that says there's something 'wrong' with someone being attracted to the same sex. It's a hurtful belief. It's a discriminatory belief. It says 'I don't think you deserve the rights that I enjoy myself'. There is nothing there worthy of my respect. 

I once tweeted  When people say 'everyone's beliefs should be respected' remember - The Westboro Baptist Church do what they do because of their 'beliefs'. I don't know anyone that supports the Westboro Baptist Church. I don't know anyone that would defend them and their actions. Not one sane person thinks that what the Westboro people do is good for society. In case you're not familiar, this is them:

Yep, these people not only involve themselves, they also involve their children. They picket the funerals of soldiers killed in action. They picket the funerals of well known people that supported the gay/lesbian community. They are despicable, vile, and awful people. But make no mistake, this do this because of what they 'believe'. They really do believe their god hates 'fags'. They really do believe their god is punishing America because America allows homosexuality.  This is hateful. It's disgusting behaviour and I do not and will not respect the belief that drives it. 

The above two examples are obvious illustrations of how a belief can drive a person to think they have the right to infringe on other people but this certainly isn't the limit. It would be a massive post if I listed all the examples.There's examples of genital mutilation of both boys and girls, people dying of curable diseases because people prayed rather than seeking professional medical care, children indoctrinated into religions without their consent, Muslim children being cut during Ashura, and many more, not the least of which are racism and sexism. All of these are examples of where someone's *baseless* belief has impacted on the lives of others. I guess it's up to the individual to decide whether or not that impact is a negative. (Someone trying to make a case to me that it's a positive to have a person die because medical attention wasn't sought would have a very hard time convincing me they are right). 

These kinds beliefs are hurtful, they are discriminatory, they are negatives. From where I sit, none of these beliefs are worthy of my respect. Respect should be earned, not be given away by default. People should be able to say 'this is what I believe, this is why I believe it, and this is the impact on others'. Upon receiving this information I'll decide whether or not to respect the belief. I don't need to respect a belief simply because someone has it.

Before I'm done, let me clarify something. I respect everyone's right *to believe* whatever they like. You want to believe a god exists...go for it. You want to believe said god has a problem with homosexuals, that's up to you. You want to believe some really old bloke built an ark, put something around 5 million species of animal on it and then floated around on a body of water large enough to cover the peak of Mt Everest and that this happened only 6000 years ago...be my guest. In fact, I support your right to believe any asinine, boneheaded, ridiculous, made up, preposterous, piece of crap, bullshit, unscientific, mythical story you like. Two things: One - Don't expect me to be ok with you using those beliefs for infringing on the lives of others. Two - Don't expect me to respect it.


  1. Hear hear! Respecting all beliefs might superficially appear to be a good thing, but it then shields them from (needed) criticism. I respect a person's right to hold a belief, but not necessarily the belief itself.

  2. No need to convince me, Mr Oz :)

    If you're trying to persuade the as-yet-unconvinced, here's some feedback fwiw:

    1. Use real quotes, instead of strawmanning. Eg, did anyone say this? "...same-sex couples don't deserve the right to marry". Link to the rationale used by those you disagree with. Usual concern is rites, not rights.

    2. WBC are promoting harmful ideas about sex, they aren't mentally ill. "Not one sane person thinks that what the Westboro people do is good for society". Moralizers think they're helping, they're hurting because they're mistaken about sex, divine punishments, cause & effect, etc.

    3. Third last paragraph somewhat weakens your argument, gives readers outs/excuses to dismiss you, eg you loose parents with circumcised sons by insisting it's "genital mutilation".

    As a final thought; respecting the belief you disagree with seems to hinge on judging whether those acting on that belief are behaving in a way that's socially acceptable. WBC seem to remain blind to those they're hurting, and unable to demonstrate any good they're doing.

    1. Hi blamer. Thanks for the feedback.

      1. Definitely not a strawman. It's the position of the Australian Prime Minister and the official position of the Australian opposition party (though individual members of this party support gay marriage, they will not be allowed to express this in the up coming vote in the Australian parliament).

      2. WBC are clearly delusional and I think a case could be made that they are suffering some kind of mental illness but yes, the line was inflammatory. I was actually talking about people OUTSIDE the WBC but didn't make this clear. You are right that I can't say that ARE definitely not sane, you saying that aren't mentally ill is an equal assumption. I would be interested in seeing the result of a test :)

      3. Disagree here. The 3rd last paragraph highlights that it's not just the extremists or fundamentalists causing harm with belief. I did debate about putting boys in with the genital mutilation but had I not, I'm sure I would have received criticism for that too. I'm happy to have included it.

      On your final thought - It's not so much if the actions are socially acceptable but the justification behind the belief. If a belief comes about because of considered analysis, testing, studies, etc.. but the actions are outside the social norm, that is something that can be respected. I don't think WBC are blind to those they are hurting, I thin they're well aware.

      We may not agree, but I hope my explanations have made sense. I really appreciate you taking the time to read my word and post a reply, thank you :)

    2. Id add that circumcision does deserve derision as well exhibit A: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/05/jewish-mohels-banned_n_5650672.html - I'm betting if we asked any boy over 3 would you like the end of your peen cut off he would say no so why is it OK to do this to a new born to satisfy some ridiculous bronze age belief.

    3. Actually Blamer, in Psychiatric and Psychology circles, religious-delusion IS beginning to be seen as mental-illness indeed. We wanted it recorded as such in the DSM-V; no luck ... yet.

  3. Actually WBC is more of a financial operation than religious one. They have two separate companies - the religious nuts and a lawyer institution. First one protests and if they happen to get driven away the other one steps in and demands money for their free speech right was infringed. So basically they are (probably) doing this for money, not for any religion. Though it's a Poe in real life, just absurd enough that it could be true.


    Though in general I fully agree. There are some "values" that some religions promote that absolutely do not deserve any respect. Any respect has to be earned, nothing is there by default. Definitely not parents being respected by their kids or country leader by his/her fellow countrymen.