Respect My Beliefs No Matter What They Are!

I got a comment on my power of religion post yesterday.  There are several points in the comment I’m not going to touch on because they derive that I think all religious people are harmful to the same extent, which makes no sense given what I wrote in the post.  There is a part of the comment that comes up regularly though, and I want to talk about it.

Reasonable and religious are not mutually exclusive terms no matter how much some would like to believe they are. I am not opposed to fighting fundamentalism in all its hydra heads…

…all i ask is a general acknowledgement that not all religious are unreasonable and i’ll keep from saying all atheists are angry white men who need a course in feminism.

My response, I thought, was very charitable.

“All i ask is a general acknowledgement that not all religious are unreasonable”

Give me a good reason to believe in god and you’ll get it. Until I see a religious person produce a good reason to be religious, you won’t.

You might be a smart person. You may be reasonable about a lot of subjects. Kudos. But I assert, without apology, that you are failing your obligation to reason on the subject of god.

Like I said, there is an easy way to relieve me of this opinion. Go for it.

Simple, right?  If you’re not unreasonable, give me a good reason for what you believe.  Why even respond if you can’t?  But respond, they did.

I’m not asking you to believe in god. I’m asking for respect as a human being regardless of my beliefs-what i have been taught by my religion to give to you. I’m not reasoning about god because i have a fairly untraditional, evolutionistic view of the whole thing. I, frankly, have less interest in what you believe and more interest in how what you believe makes you behave. I just feel that if your atheism makes you bigoted, it’s not really progress.

There is just so much wrong here that I’m going to have to take it in parts.

I’m asking for respect as a human being regardless of my beliefs-what i have been taught by my religion to give to you.

You don’t get my respect.  A lack of care to be reasonable is a quality that deserves to be disrespected.  It is a failure not only to yourself, but to me and your other neighbors here on earth.

Your religion may have taught you to respect me, but there are better reasons to respect me than some arbitrary command of tradition.  If you respect me, it should be because of my character.

I’m not reasoning about god because i have a fairly untraditional, evolutionistic view of the whole thing.

You cannot ask me to accept that “reasonable and religious are not mutually exclusive terms” and then tell me you’re not reasoning about god.  I wish you were the first person to tell me that religion can be reasonable and then, when asked for a good reason, gave excuses for why you don’t have to be reasonable, but you’re sadly not.  Not by a long shot.

I don’t care if your position on god is not traditional or different from any other believer’s position.  I care whether it’s more or less likely to be true, and so should you.  That’s why I asked you for a single good reason to believe you were right about god/Jesus. That you declined to give one is exactly the reason I do not respect you in the slightest, and it’s exactly my gripe with religion.  Everybody holds some unreasonable beliefs.  I hold some unreasonable beliefs.  The point is that we’re all trying to get rid of them, and would be rid of them if we were aware of them.  If you were trying to be reasonable about your belief in god (since you assure me that reason and religion are on amicable terms), when I asked for a reason to accept your position you would have given one.  It may have been a shitty reason, but at least it would have been an attempt.

But you didn’t even provide a shitty reason.  In fact, you flat out said that you weren’t reasoning about god.  This is what makes religion uniquely malignant to humanity – it tells people that it’s ok to stop being reasonable, and it even tells us that we deserve respect rather than shame for it.  That notion is not only wrong to the power of wrong, it is the champion of well-intentioned evil in this world.

Don’t tell me that your beliefs are merely different – tell me why they’re more credible.  And don’t pay lip service to reason and then tell me you’re not reasoning.

I, frankly, have less interest in what you believe and more interest in how what you believe makes you behave.

So somebody could believe that unless they donate $50 a week to charity that a unicorn would run out of their closet and ram its horn up their ass, and you’d be ok with it since it produces a charitable outcome?  If so, you lack the requisite concern for reason to tell me that religion and reason are not at odds.

You say the accuracy of beliefs is irrelevant if they produce a beneficial outcome, but what if somebody has irrational beliefs that promote dangerous actions?  What can you possibly say to them?  How will you divorce them from those beliefs if not with the reasons they’re wrong?  If you do not have any better reason to believe the things you do, that kind of removes your power to change them, doesn’t it?

What you need to realize is that once the door is opened to believing things for bad reasons, people do not only do good things for bad reasons.  Often they do bad things for bad reasons.  There are perfectly sound reasons to donate $50 a week to charity that don’t require us to abandon our standard checks against gullibility – checks that protect us from a great deal of societal harm.

So I don’t care if you only do good for wacky, indefensible reasons.  I will not lend support to irrationality just because it doesn’t corrupt everybody.

I just feel that if your atheism makes you bigoted, it’s not really progress.

If insisting that people have a moral obligation to be reasonable makes me a bigot, then fine, I’m a bigot.  If a disrespect for unreasonable beliefs as well as for people who are not even trying to be reasonable makes me a bigot, then fine, I’m a bigot.  Proudly so!  I think irrationality is a very bad thing, and I think the people who argue for its maintenance are fools.

You know what’s not progress?  Pursuit of irrationality.  It is the opposite of progress.  And defending irrationality, a quality that perverts the potential and good will of those around us, that is definitely not progress.  All of these are either stagnation (at best) or regression.  And you want respect for them?  No.  Hell no.

If you don’t care that what you believe is true, you get no respect.  You deserve none.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Kevin Pettay

    Even hung over, I can understand this logic. What do religious people do at night that make them so impervious to reason?

    • Camels With Hammers

      Even hung over, I can understand this logic. What do religious people do at night that make them so impervious to reason?

      They don’t drink enough?

  • Joshua Fisher

    What is the deal with people who think they deserve respect for just being a human being. Perhaps it’s just a product of lazy thinking. I think that people have certain rights just for being a human being, and I will respect their rights, but in order for me to respect the person, they must earn it.

    • penn

      But, is it actually binary? How good does a person need to be to deserve respect? Do we really want to say that no people who hold religious beliefs are worthy of respect as people? That’s messed up.

      • JT Eberhard

        Not for their religious beliefs, no. I can admire somebody’s good heart or respect their physical strength, but I have a hard time respecting them if they don’t mind being gullible.

        • penn

          But, don’t you take “holding religious beliefs” to be a symptom of “being gullible”? I don’t see how you can thread that needle.

          • JT Eberhard

            That’s exactly right (most of the time). There are a few religious people who are trying to be reasonable and just honestly failing, but they are far and away the minority. Most are like the person in the post – they simply do not care.

            I have a lot of religious people I like. I respect their intellect in a lot of other areas. But they know I think they’re gullible when it comes to religion, and they are fully aware that I think they should be ashamed of it.

            Sure, I can admit that someone who is gullible and, say charitable, is better than somebody who is gullible and not charitable. But the gullibility is equally worthy of disrespect in both cases.

        • Neato Spiderplant

          I was actually just watching video of your “Dear christian” talk from Skepticon 3 on youtube the other day. In it you said:

          “I clearly respect you, dear christian as much as I respect any atheist. I think well meaning people should be respected, I think ideas have no feelings and we have kind of an obligation to get the bad ones out of the way so we have to criticize them.”

          I took that to mean you respect the christian/theist on the whole as a person while reserving your disrespect for their ideas. But when the theist says “I’m asking for respect as a human being…”, you answered with “You don’t get my respect…”. I read this to mean you don’t respect him as a person (since that’s what it seems he was asking for.) Is this a contradiction or just a special case?

          • JT Eberhard

            In “Dear Christian”, the part you reference is in regards to what respect means. I don’t think respect means placating somebody, I think respect means telling them the truth and trusting them to handle it.

            To that extent, I’m happy to show him that level of respect. But so far all I know of this chap is that he said religion and reason are compatible and then failed to make that case (or to even attempt to make that case) and that he flat out said he wasn’t reasoning about god. That’s not respect-worthy. Sorry.

            And several others are also noting the dichotomy between respecting people and respecting ideas. In this particular case I don’t have a lot of respect (read: virtually none) for comicsans. There are a number of ways this could be rectified, of course. But in general the distinction of ideas vs. people is something I think is getting glossed over.

          • Neato Spiderplant

            Fair enough. Thanks for clarifying.

  • penn

    I think this is generally a good post except the idea of not respecting people who hold unreasonable beliefs. You said yourself that “Everybody holds some unreasonable beliefs.” I agree that “A lack of care to be reasonable is a quality that deserves to be disrespected.”, but that does not mean the person who has that quality does not deserve to be respected. If we withhold respect from anyone who is imperfect, then no one deserves respect.

    • JT Eberhard

      But I drew that distinction in the post (in the paragraph you cite). The crime is when we don’t care if we’re being reasonable. Everybody makes honest mistakes, but the irrationality some people hold is not a mistake, and those people are an embarrassment.

      • penn

        So, what types of religious beliefs can a person hold and still be worthy of respect as a person and not be deemed an embarrassment?

        Many people are raised to believe these things since before they are capable of conscious thought. The people they love and trust most in the world tell them that these things are true and that they are the most important truths in the world. The communities that love and support them hold these beliefs and their very identity is often intimately intertwined with these beliefs.

        Thinking it’s reasonable to hold beliefs that are not supported by reason is just another unreasonable belief like those you admit we all hold.

        • JT Eberhard

          It varies based on their other qualities. Dedication to irrationality is equally worthy of disrespect in all cases though.

          And yes, some people are in situations where abiding by their moral obligation to be reasonable is tough. No doubt. If doing the right thing were easy, the world would be full of good people.

          • penn

            It’s interesting that in the post you talked about not respecting an individual. My questions have also focused on respect for people, but your responses seem to always talk about respecting qualities in people.

            Good people deserve respect. None of use are perfect, and drawing an arbitrary line in the sand that says “holding unfounded religious beliefs” makes you an embarrassment that is unworthy of respect is ridiculous.

            I still respect you despite the fact I think you have a sanctimonious attitude.

  • Jeff Samuelson

    FTB is on fire today. Stephanie Zvan & you each knocking one out of the park on a fine Sunday morning. Great response!

  • Mark

    Do you consider reason to be paramount to other epistemologies? If so, why?

  • Dale

    It has been awhile since I have read a good rant about the bad logical basis for religious belief. Thank you JT. You made my day, and I am in the middle of a 12 hour work shift on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I think that is something.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I usually try to be careful to draw a distinction between respect for people and respect for ideas. To the commenter on the previous thread I will say this: I respect you as a person. I will hold the door for you if your hands are full, give you my seat on the subway if you need it, and stand up for your right to hold and express your opinions if they are different than mine.

    But when you express your ideas, ideas do not deserve respect. Ideas should be questioned, prodded, tested, and even ridiculed if that is appropriate. And my disrespecting your ideas is not the same thing as disrespecting you.

    As for this:
    “All i ask is a general acknowledgement that not all religious are unreasonable”
    You are apparently looking for the “Atheist Seal of Approval” (I believe it was Greta Christina who recenly wrote a very good post about this.) If you can get the atheists to say that at least your irrational beliefs are less irrational than other people’s irrational beliefs, then you can feel better about yourself for believing things for no good reason. Perhaps you generally behave in more reasonable ways than the fundies you dislike. If so, that’s great, keep it up. But if you cannot produce any more real evidence supporting what you believe than they can, then your beliefs are not more reasonable. So far I have never seen any religion that had real rational reasons for believing in imaginary beings (except for the FSM, pbuH). No Seal of Approval here. Sorry.

  • Jana T. Piranha

    This sure is a tired, old argument. Respect is not granted, it’s earned. Respect as a human being is granted, it’s called common courtesy- and I give it freely until it’s withdrawn by the other party. What we’re really talking about is rights- and I respect someone’s RIGHTS to believe any retarded, absurd, ridiculous, unprovable, unfounded things they choose- and I’ll fight for those rights vehemently. But I will not respect them, OR the people who hold them. I may respect them for their stance on other ideas, but if one chooses to hold an absurd belief, that’s got nothing to do with me. I cannot be held accountable for other people’s ignorance, nor am I inclined to coddle it.

    When someone says I have to respect their beliefs, I simply reply that I can’t. I am an honest person, and that belief is not respectable. I still care about you as a person, but that belief is absurd. I still respect your right to hold absurd beliefs, but I won’t encourage you. We can either talk about something that makes you more comfortable, or continue on with this topic knowing how I feel.

  • Yakamoz

    If everyone is entitled to respect by dint of being a human, then the entire concept of “respect” is meaningless. The word respect means:
    A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

    It’s absurd to demand deep admiration because you’re alive. That’s not an accomplishment. Respect is a relational term. If I have deep admiration for everyone, then I, in effect, have deep admiration for no one.

    The Muslim Student Association at my school handed me a pamphlet titled something like, The Family in Islam. It had the same problematic redefinition of another word, “discrimination.” It said, “As Muslims, we do not believe in discriminating against homosexuals as human beings, but we find homosexuality [list of disparaging comments.”

    Of COURSE you don’t discriminate against human beings. The term discrimination has no meaning if the metric being used is “human being.” You can only discriminate *between* human beings on the basis of a quality that only some human beings possess.

    I am on the fence whether this is deliberate dishonesty, or casual illiteracy. Neither is better, but at least one can be educable.

  • hopeevey

    Another excellent post – thank you! It’s got me thinking. Do you differentiate between irrational and unreasonable? For instance, I love butterflies. I could decorate just about anything with images of butterflies. This is an irrational preference. Is it, therefore, also unreasonable?

    Here’s my personal agenda for the question – I do strive to be a reasonable person. However, I’m not sure if I cling to my fondness for butterflies because it’s an reasonable, if irrational preference, or if I simply cling to it and should let it go. Yes, it gives me pleasure, but the same can be said for people’s belief in a divinity.