I gets me some mail

Dayton in Oslo sent me this interesting email (I cut out the sycophantic niceties for the sake of brevity)

I wanted to inquire about your opinions regarding the issue of respect in relation to other peoples’ religious or spiritual beliefs. I believe Jacob made it clear in episode 75 that he’d confront someone about their beliefs if he felt they were wrong. (This was, however, regarding a person who Jacob would enter into a relationship with.) But do you differentiate between a lack of respect for the person who has a belief in such and such or a lack of respect for the belief system? The latter train of thought would enable you to maintain respect for the individual…or could it? I’m not entirely confident that one could maintain respect for the individual if one felt their belief system, that they used to raise their children, give meaning to their actions and understand their place in the universe, was completely and utterly full of crap.

Richard Dawkins’ TED video on militant atheism sounded the gong to mobilize atheists (and other non-believers) to come out of the closet and toss out the respect for religion that has been indoctrinated into society…yet, how can this movement really gain momentum if the issue of respect is not addressed? If respect for the individual who promotes a belief system and the respect for the belief system itself are under attack, I don’t see militant atheism getting very far at all.

That’s a pretty awesome question, Dayton, which is why I wanted to answer it on the blog rather than a simple email. As a kind of “evangelizing” atheist (the irony here isn’t lost on me), I’m often accused of not giving people their proper dues, and that accusation also usually implies as much as you can dislike someone’s opinion, you still have to maintain some semblance of respect for them. The general consensus is if you don’t at least try to put yourself in the shoes of others, and merely debase them for believing in nonsense, you’ll fail to convince them of the truth of your assertion and “harden their hearts”.

But I don’t generally agree with this notion. I don’t have to respect the opinions of absolutely everyone, the same way I don’t have to listen to the medical opinions of people who have no formal training in medicine. If some quack homeopath is insulted when I lambaste him for believing water has memory, and is able to cure symptoms of disease, I shouldn’t have to placate his illogical ideas simply because his feelings might be hurt in the process.

I think there are lots of variation on the tactics and techniques people use to try and convince others of their ideas. Some people take the soft approach, like this guy. The problem I have is the supposed need for people to “respect” various religions is merely a ploy to shield various faiths from criticism and honest inquiry. If I have to respect a religion that seeks to enslave and pacify our natural curiosity about the world, how am I supposed to properly object to it?

I’ll be honest; I’m no diplomat, and I have no intention of becoming one anytime soon; unlike some atheists I know, appeasement has no appeal to me. I recognize the important fact that in the whole recorded history of mankind, my objection to religion has only been possible in relatively few countries, and in a relatively recent time. Had I been born only a few centuries ago even in this “civilized” world, my words and actions would have merited a slow and painful death. There are still countries around the globe that execute apostates and doubters; am I to tread gently to avoid hurting the feelings of their murderers? I don’t take history for granted, and I certainly won’t convince myself the liberty I have to disbelieve in God is immune from attack. If there’s one thing I do know for sure, it’s reason doesn’t always win the day, and it’s not worth sacrificing for the sake of a few bruised egos.

Spread the outrage

Comments (6)

  • avatar

    KasiSE

    You make a very important distinction. There is nothing wrong with being discerning or having an opinion about what others have to say. I mean call a spade a spade. Too many jump to name calling and childish behavior instead. I’m a spiritual person, but I really dislike what organized religions have to say and what they do. I don’t see them practicing what they preach … I don’t believe exactly what they do so they try to convert me and it doesn’t matter to them I’m already spiritual. I’ve learned how to talk to them to make them doubt what they’re sayingn (it scares them to have to depart from their script, you know?) so that they run the other way, but it’s an exhausting exercise.

    Last year I was invited to participate in an “open” discussion, yeah right at a local Presbyterian church. Against my better judgement I went because the person who invited me was a friend. The leader of the discussion at my table tried to nail me and I asked him quite openly and probably louder than I needed to “You mean aren’t I afraid that I’ll burn for eternity in hell if I don’t accept Jesus Christ as my savior?” … he had really crazy eyes like he was afraid to hear the answer. I then followed up with “No … there is no hell, except sitting here trying to have a decent conversation with you!”. I then calmly explained my point of view and told my friend I wouldn’t come back to those dinners.

    A couple of months later another women called me and said she’d really enjoyed having me there and would I come back. After a little probing I finally got her to admiit in a round about way that she thought I could be saved … jeez. (She had once been where I am – not at all Babe! Yes, it is difficult to NOT get annoyed with them.) After a little discussion with her constant prompting that I was too a Christian, I finally got her to understand that my definitions of the words she used were very different from hers … she finally got it and has left me alone since. I told her I didn’t want to disrupt their dinners because I wasn’t going to follow their script if I disagreed with their interpretaiton, which was inevitable … I had my own thoughts on the subject. So, unless everyone was interested in what I had to say they shouldn’t invite me again.

  • avatar

    Sam

    Society doesn’t usually respect a schizophrenic’s delusions. We give him medicine and try to help him get better. Why should we have to respect a Christian’s delusions?

  • avatar

    Isaac

    Huh, Jacob DOES read his emails. That’s news to me.

  • avatar

    Jon

    Of course Jacob reads his e-mails! I got a lovely one from him thanking me for listening to the show and wishing me all the best with my job-hunting =) Meant what I said, Jacob… soon as I get that job, I’ll patron the shit (HARDCORE ATHEIST, even!) out of you guys!

    Anyways, as far as I’m concerned (the way I was raised anyway), respect is *earned*, not given willy-nilly. How little would your respect mean if you just gave it to everyone, no questions asked?

    Me, I respect people for accomplishing things, having good ideas or often just being good, decent people. Religion on the other hand has done NOTHING do deserve any kind of respect.

    Which is not an excuse to piss in anybody else’s cornflakes. I’m not going to lecture my Catholic neighbour (who I get along great with), because I actually respect him as a decent guy! And of course, the subject hardly ever comes up. But if he was an asshole (or a fire and brimstone preacher), I’d be up his ass like Lemmywinks the Gerbil!

  • avatar

    Kevin V

    dumbest comment I’ve read in a while:
    KasiSE Says:
    March 17th, 2010 at 1:44 pm
    You make a very important distinction. There is nothing wrong with being discerning or having an opinion about what others have to say. I mean call a spade a spade. Too many jump to name calling and childish behavior instead. I’m a spiritual person, but I really dislike what organized religions have to say and what they do. I don’t see them practicing what they preach … I don’t believe exactly what they do so they try to convert me and it doesn’t matter to them I’m already spiritual. I’ve learned how to talk to them to make them doubt what they’re sayingn (it scares them to have to depart from their script, you know?) so that they run the other way, but it’s an exhausting exercise.

    Last year I was invited to participate in an “open” discussion, yeah right at a local Presbyterian church. Against my better judgement I went because the person who invited me was a friend. The leader of the discussion at my table tried to nail me and I asked him quite openly and probably louder than I needed to “You mean aren’t I afraid that I’ll burn for eternity in hell if I don’t accept Jesus Christ as my savior?” … he had really crazy eyes like he was afraid to hear the answer. I then followed up with “No … there is no hell, except sitting here trying to have a decent conversation with you!”. I then calmly explained my point of view and told my friend I wouldn’t come back to those dinners.

    A couple of months later another women called me and said she’d really enjoyed having me there and would I come back. After a little probing I finally got her to admiit in a round about way that she thought I could be saved … jeez. (She had once been where I am – not at all Babe! Yes, it is difficult to NOT get annoyed with them.) After a little discussion with her constant prompting that I was too a Christian, I finally got her to understand that my definitions of the words she used were very different from hers … she finally got it and has left me alone since. I told her I didn’t want to disrupt their dinners because I wasn’t going to follow their script if I disagreed with their interpretaiton, which was inevitable … I had my own thoughts on the subject. So, unless everyone was interested in what I had to say they shouldn’t invite me again.

    KasISE keep that generic example to yourself.

  • avatar

    J. N. Hudson

    I refuse to buy into, or even so much as concede to, this notion that a persons religous beliefs, or religious institutions in general, are inherently deserving of respect. My respect is not given it is earned, period. I am not, nor should anyone be, compelled to respect someones ideology, political, religious, or otherwise, based only on the act that such ideology exists. Further more, I find it ludicrous that people demand that I respect their religious beliefs when they are themselves unwilling to extend that same respect to my lack of belief.

    Religions, at their core, are ideologies and therefore are no more deserving of respect than someones political views. People don’t go around proclaiming “I’m a republican, you have to respect my views” or “I’m a democrat, you have to respect my views”, and certainly not “I’m a natioal socialist, you have to respect my views”, so it mytifies me when there seems to be this meme in society that sas you must respect peoples religious beliefs, especially when it’s unsaid but understood that such respect is only meant to be extended to followers of christian denominations.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to top