• On respecting beliefs

    I was having a conversation earlier today and was levied with a claim which went something like this:

    “we should respect the beliefs of others”

    and I must say, I was a little annoyed. What happens is people often have soundbite opinions on things which are borne out of emotional stances and appeal to the same kind of sense of emotion. The first question is “why” of course, as is often the case with a should question. But the heart of the matter is exemplified by this comment: “I think all Jews should be murdered”.

    Now, this is obviously a pretty terrible claim. Indeed, it is a claim that should not be respected. To blanket claim that all beliefs should be respected is to smuggle in the idea that all beliefs are respectable when they clearly are not. So the problem is actually a conflation of ideas: the right to hold a belief and the content of a belief.

    We have a right to believe what we want, in being individuals in charge of our own thoughts (determinism notwithstanding!) and this is something which should be respected. There is nothing more intrusive than thought policing humanity, perhaps. I can respect that you have a belief. But I needn’t respect the content of your belief. No siree. Belief contents can be utter nonsense and entirely offensive, from the world being 6,000 years old, to all women and blacks being inferior and dehumanised. Goodness me, to think such claims and beliefs ought be respected is ridiculous.

    No, beliefs need not be respected.

    Even if they are religious in nature. Or religions.

    Category: Religion and Society


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce