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.