Multicultural Respect

I keep trying to make sense of recurrent demands for “respect” of religious traditions that come from politically liberal and leftish circles, whom you wouldn’t immediately think of as affirming ways of life in which religious faith is central.

But then, these days “left” often means the multicultural left, the postmodern animal, rather than the left wing of the Enlightenment political tradition. So maybe the background notion of “respect” for other cultures (“the Other,” if I succumb to the standard academic terminology I find distasteful) that shows up in the popular media is derived from the multicultural left. Something like, for example, Charles Taylor’s argument that our identities are bound up on other people’s recognition and respect for us as individuals and group members. Equal concern for human beings then requires substantial respect, not mere tolerance, for their cultural identities. Disrespect is not just a possible precursor to possible material harms, but is a harm in its own right.

Maybe. There is something to all this. Nonetheless, very often I find that I cannot, in all honesty, extend respect to many religious beliefs and practices. I favor ways of living together that allow for a cold peace of “toleration” rather than happy-faced multicultural affirmation all around. Especially conservative religious people and I have deep and unreconcilable conflicts of interests and perspectives. I’m no more likely to bury my distaste for the public consequences of widely held conservative religious identities than the religious are likely to stop thinking I am destined for their hell.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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