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.