There once was a little girl who lived in Ontario, Canada. Makayla. She was just eleven years old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia. As horrifying as this diagnosis sounds, doctors were quite hopeful that the girl would survive, giving her a seventy-five percent chance of beating the disease. As prescribed, the young girl underwent eleven weeks of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, her treatment stopped there.
You see, Makayla belonged to the New Credit First Nation and was brought up to believe in the power of indigenous medicine. Surrounded by those who swore by natural and spiritual remedies, she hardly had an opportunity to be skeptical. At eleven, children rarely doubt what their entire family is certain is true. While undergoing chemo, the little girl says she saw Jesus and took that as a sign. She quickly penned a letter to her doctors informing them that she would not be continuing with her chemotherapy. Instead, she would rely on the indigenous medicine her family swore by.
Makayla succumbed to treatable leukaemia just a short while later.
There aren’t many families who would choose, on purpose, a route to treating a survivable illness that will likely end in death. Makayla’s family and the girl herself, clearly believed that the indigenous medicine they chose would be the best option to save her life. She died because of these beliefs. And that is all they are; they are just beliefs. There is no evidence to back up the idea that natural remedies can be just as effective as chemotherapy when it comes to leukaemia. This was a matter of faith and faith alone.
One of the most common demands I get from religious believers when they stumble across my work as Godless Mom is that I must “respect people’s beliefs”. Though the answer is obvious, I still wonder if the folks who say this are including all beliefs. I wonder if they are insisting I respect beliefs like those held by Makayla and her family.
When I was a teenager, I had a friend. We’ll call him Carl for the sake of this post. Carl came from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Carl was super smart and always made the honour roll. He was athletic and played the guitar. He never drank or did drugs and was the first to show up when you needed help. He was a happy person who always brought brightness with him wherever he went. Unfortunately, Carl picked up a bad habit in high school. The same bad habit so many of us did back then: we became smokers. We all thought we were clever enough to hide it from our parents, but one by one, all of our parents figured it out. Sadly for Jehovah’s Witness Carl, that meant he had to leave the family home. He was kicked out of his house and excommunicated from the Witnesses’ church. He was shunned by just about everyone he loved. He still had his friends, but we couldn’t sustain him. When he’d worn out his couch-surfing privileges at everyone’s house, he moved to the street. The last time I saw him, he was strung out on heroin on Vancouver’s downtown eastside. I am unsure if he is still around.
When theists demand I respect other people’s beliefs, I wonder if they mean the beliefs of Carl’s family. I wonder if they are including the church that encouraged a loving family to toss out a good kid like garbage.Let’s talk about the North American Man/Boy Love Association. I know, not our favourite topic, but bear with me, I have a point. To refresh your memory, this association’s position is that consensual sexual relationships between men and boys cause no harm and should not be considered child abuse. Just to be clear, when I say boy, here, I mean a child. We’re talking paedophilia, and for paedophilia to be technical paedophilia, the child must be prepubescent. NAMBLA members believe prepubescent children should have the right to choose a sexual relationship with an adult, and so long as they have chosen it, it does not constitute rape or child abuse.
These are their beliefs. These beliefs are strong enough for members to risk public disgust, estrangement from friends and family, inability to get any meaningful work. They believe these things strongly enough to ruin their own lives over it. Those are some seriously sincerely held beliefs, right there.
I wonder if the demand to respect other people’s beliefs includes the beliefs of NAMBLA members. I wonder if that’s part of what theists are talking about.
Do you remember Marshall Applewhite, who led his followers to a mass suicide in the hopes of catching a ride with the comet, Hale Bopp? These people believed they would be riding a comet so strongly that they took their own lives for these beliefs. What about Charles Manson, who believed several murders were necessary to spark Helter Skelter, a race war in America? Robert Pickton, who murdered so many women they lost count because he was sure he was doing the work of God?
Do I have to respect their beliefs, too? What about the beliefs of ISIS members? Must I dole out respect for those beliefs? Do I have to show respect towards the beliefs of white supremacists? Should I respect the beliefs of Nazis? What about the KKK?
What about my own beliefs? If I respect your beliefs, are you then to respect mine? What if my beliefs are that religion and religious belief is dangerous and that we should be as vocal as possible about the risks of living a religious life? Do you still respect my beliefs?
The answer is likely no. When you demand that atheists respect other people’s beliefs, you’re not talking about Makayla’s family’s beliefs. You’re not talking about Carl’s family’s beliefs. You’re not including NAMBLA or ISIS or the KKK. What you mean when you demand that atheists respect other people’s beliefs is that we respect your beliefs.
Here’s the thing, though. More often than not, someone demanding I respect their beliefs is including the belief that I, myself, am going to burn in Hell for eternity just for being who I am. There is no sanity in respecting this belief. In what world does it make sense that I respect this?
I reserve my respect for that which does deserve it; that which upholds the value of human life; that which values individual rights. I withhold my respect for people, for this planet, and all the creatures on it, and I will not give it to your beliefs. If your beliefs were worth respecting in the first place, you would find you don’t have to demand that respect from strangers on the internet. You would find that those beliefs elicit respect on their own.
This post has been updated from an older post on Godlessmom.com
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay