Stop Telling me to be Respectful of Others’ Beliefs 

As an outspoken atheist I’ve come across the “be respectful of others’ beliefs” sentiment many times when expressing my thoughts. The funny thing about it is I’ve been told that sort of thing by fellow atheists on several occasions. It’s as though they feel they’re being very nice and protective of the religious group being criticized. I see where they’re coming from, because of empathy we don’t want to see others feelings get hurt because we know what hurt feelings can be like. But I must say I greatly disagree that having people censor themselves is a respectful route to take, and I don’t think it’s important to protect people from getting hurt feelings.

Whenever I’ve been told to be respectful of religious beliefs one of my immediate thoughts has been, well what about my beliefs? I don’t think telling someone they can’t share what they believe is very respectful. Being told to essentially shut up and it’s wrong for me to share doesn’t feel good, but yet those with the intention of protecting how others feel are fine with doing it to me and other atheists. It’s happened to me on many occasions and each time it was very frustrating, and it always feels like a double standard that it’s applied to atheists. I would never tell a believer to not share their thoughts and opinions, I respect their right to say it, but I also have a right to question them or say why I think it may be ridiculous or illogical.

I think immediately making the assumption that someone’s feelings will get hurt by criticism is more condescending than respectful. That especially goes for the atheists that think fellow atheists should use kid gloves or not speak out against religion at all. To me, it gives off the vibe that the religious can’t handle it and we are to be extremely sensitive like they’re children. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed a shift in our culture with the idea that it’s mean to tell people they’re wrong. I think it’s far crueler to keep people in the dark and in some ways encourage their ignorance. It reminds me a little bit of Plato’s “The Cave”. Also, by giving into the idea that telling people something is wrong is mean, many are helping to encourage ignorance and the many willfully ignorant can cry bully when they are told they are wrong. It’s feelings over logic and I think that can become a recipe for disaster. For example, could you imagine if teachers graded based on students’ feelings and beliefs rather than whether or not they were right or wrong?

When I say something about religion or the religious, my intention is not to insult but to criticize. Many don’t think there’s much of a difference but I think there’s a huge difference. An insult has the intention of just being abusive and disrespectful; a criticism has the intention of pointing out flaws to encourage thought and discussion. I don’t see my criticisms as completely right and I try to express myself in a civil way. I like to be challenged on my ideas; it helps me develop them further when people do challenge them. With an overly politically correct culture, many have equated religious beliefs to race and act as though questioning beliefs is the same as racism or bigotry. Beliefs are not set in stone like skin color, and the major religions are not exclusive to certain races. Many beliefs can be very harmful and destructive for individuals and society. Beliefs can also change when presented with different arguments and evidence. So for the people that tell me and other atheists to essentially shut up by saying “be respectful of others’ beliefs”, you’re actually doing more harm than good.

SamHarrisbeliefs

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27 thoughts on “Stop Telling me to be Respectful of Others’ Beliefs 

  1. Well said. Yes, please show me where you(the believers) got the right not to be offended or challenged. All beliefs should be challenged. I believe in gravity, ::drops the mic::.

  2. There is a definite problem with the phrase as it is used with atheists. Often I’ve seen it used as a threat; if one doesn’t be quiet, then one will be termed a militant atheist. I’ve even met some atheists who don’t like the word atheist because it’s too confrontational (and not respectful enough).

    There is a giant difference between the following two statements:

    “I disagree with you because the idea is dumb.”

    and

    “I disagree with you because you are dumb.”

    As long as you’re making the first statement, you’re focusing on the idea and not on the person. That’s really the best form of respect anyone can muster. I say go with that one, and then watch to see how often Christians use the latter on you.

  3. In this country, racialism is more likely to be about prejudice against ethnic/cultural differences, not skin colour. Where does one draw the line between respecting or criticising a different culture. Particularly where the boundaries between daily life, spirituality and religion are not defined in terms familiar to those whose world view is based on Western culture?

  4. Everyone get’s offended by everything now days. So many religious people just want to cry “They are persecuting me!” You must think the same way as them, and if you don’t that is fine. BUT you are not allowed to speak out against those beliefs. You must remain quiet and let those who believe keep believing. You are not allowed to share thoughts that may lead them to any sort of unbelief.

    At least that is what I have seen. If you talk of religion in a positive light, even if its not the same religion as everyone else it’s fine. But if you say religion is bad, or silly. Then you are a persecutor of believers and evil. It’s so silly…..oops. Now I’ve gone and said it.

    Great post!

  5. The way the Inquisition respected alternate viewpoints!

    I don’t think you can change someone’s way of thinking if they believe you do not respect them. They will just get defensive and stop listening. Or worse: become more entrenched in their current beliefs. That being said, the amount of respect you give a belief or a person is entirely up to you. That’s your right.

    Nice article.

  6. You have zero responsibility to respect others’ beliefs. Other that the basic human rights, you’re not iigrd to respect anything else. Offense is taken, not given.

  7. Indeed, basic acceptance of other’s right to their own beliefs seems a simple understanding of the reality of living among other thinking humans in a society.
    A number of words, like respect, tolerance, acceptance and understanding seem often to be mixed into a quagmire of ‘affirmative action’ drive materialized with a media content both noble and fickle notably in America but copied in many other places and used intensely by developing regions whether similar noble ideals are reached for there or not.
    Without doubt, I am respectful of other’s right to hold their own beliefs provided I am given the same gift in return.
    But the actual beliefs themselves? Individual religions?
    I am of our species, descended from Scottish blood, an Australian citizen, a red-head, a male and in many other ways I am one of many. I imagine potentially being offended if someone speaks serious insults about such groups that I am a part of.
    But I am also an individual. Respectful of other’s beliefs? Sure … their right to have their own beliefs. If asked to be respectful of the belief itself, my first thought is, exactly what is it that I am being asked to be respectful of here?!
    Anyone who insists that I must respect any of the Abrahamic faiths, or any other particular religion for that matter, are barking up the wrong Atheist.

    Good post, all the best,
    Woody

  8. We have a moral imperative to acknowledge others’ beliefs; more importantly, we have an ethical imperative to say “that’s ridiculous” when that is the case.

  9. You’re right. Some people are just not evolved enough not to get ‘butt hurt’ when their ideals are questioned. For me, I’ll play nice with you if you don’t tell me I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in your god. If you do, I’m liable to just walk away. It’s just not worth my energy to deal with people who cannot see beyond the confines of their own little box.

  10. I often say that civil disagreement is a discussion, disagreeable discourse is a brawl. My point is I don’t agree with everyone, and they sure do not all agree with me. However I don’t need to be disagreeable or a jerk to make my points. If I have to resort to name calling, and insulting to try to prove my self, I have already lost. On my blog I love to have honest disagreement and I have even entertained a few trolls for discussion, but I draw the line at abusive personal attacks. I always say, argue the subject, not the people talking about the subject. I agree that as the ones who feel they should be able to push their views unwanted on the rest of us, we also should be able to respond. But I think more minds are changed and more words heard when people don’t feel personally assaulted than when they do. Thanks, great post. Hugs

  11. I think that in today’s society it is imperative to draw this fine line. There is a world of difference between criticising something and insulting something. As all members of a religion should tell you, they are ‘students’ of their holy book. As a student teacher myself, constructive criticism is used both as a tool for my own learning, and that of the pupils I am loosed upon.
    I pity those that cannot even open their eyes towards much more than the blind fact of what they want to believe, yet I also sympathise, as ignorance (when muted) is an intensely powerful coping strategy.
    I respect anybody’s right to hold a belief or a faith, I do not respect their right to relentlessly force their ideals upon my independence. Call it ignorance again if you like, however I have studied both sides of the argument in enough detail to know where my choice takes me.

  12. A lot of the time people being offended is related to identity. Often Christians, Muslims, etc… have God as part of their identity. It, literally, defines who they are as a person. They derive their values from this core belief. Any rejection of this belief, is also a rejection of them personally.

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