Should I Respect Your Beliefs?

Should I Respect Your Beliefs? June 10, 2019

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 per cent 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 insists 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 believed in.

Makayla succumbed to treatable leukaemia just a short while later.

There are very few 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, being as there has never been any scientific 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 their beliefs”. Though the answer is obvious, I still wonder if the people who say this have really thought it through.

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 in order 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, as they are open and outspoken members of this association. They believe these things strongly enough to ruin their own lives over it. Those are some seriously sincerely held beliefs, right there.

So, when I’m told I have to respect people’s beliefs, I’m dumbfounded. Must I? Must I respect Makayla’s family’s beliefs? Must I respect the beliefs of David Thorstad, who co-founded NAMBLA?

Do you remember Marshall Applewhite, who led his followers to mass suicide in the hopes of catching a ride with the comet, Hale Bopp? These people believed they would be on 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 more women than we can count because he was doing the work of God? The Yorkshire Ripper, on a mission from that same God, ended up killing eleven girls.

Do I have to respect their beliefs, too? 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? I’m inclined to believe the more likely scenario when a religious person tells me I must respect people’s beliefs, that they don’t actually mean all people’s beliefs. They certainly don’t mean they respect my beliefs. Instead, they mean their own beliefs, because theirs…. well, theirs are special. Theirs deserve respect.

I beg to differ.

There is not a religion on earth I respect and there’s one simple reason: I value the truth. Centering your life and your core values around something for which there is no evidence is dangerous. Once you accept one idea on faith, you’ve set your standard of evidence extremely low. You can then be led to believe other ideas for which there exists no empirical, demonstrable evidence. As such, these beliefs make it easy to inspire murder, child abuse, science and medicine denial, wars, genocides, discrimination and the stripping of human rights. Stubborn belief in that which cannot be proven is the very last thing that deserves respect.

I reserve my respect for that which does deserve it. That which upholds the value of human life; that which values individual rights. I save my respect for people, for this planet, and all the creatures on it, including you, but I will not give it to your unfounded beliefs. The very fact that you feel the need to demand respect for your beliefs from strangers on the internet is perhaps a sign they are not worthy of respect at all.

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can donate here or become a patron here.

Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jim Jones

    Until everybody can agree on one religion we’ll always know that someone must be wrong.

  • Michael Neville

    I will respect your beliefs if those beliefs have a match with reality. For a definition of reality I use Philip K. Dick’s: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    At the risk of being controversial, I also have a problem with the claims that we need to respect everyone’s beliefs, even in places where we are generally expected to. For example, we hear about how Native Americans had this great relationship with nature and whatnot. I can believe that is true, but there were also those among Native Americans who thought that if they painted specific symbols on their horses it would protect them from bullets. We hear about the great nobility of such warriors who fought bravely this way. I don’t agree. Many/much/most of those Native Americans who tried to fight bravely died. In contrast, you don’t hear as much about those who fled to Canada. They might not have been the brave warriors, but they were right, that they didn’t have the capability to deal with the weapons of the invaders, and their best strategy for survival was to get out.

    We are always expected to respect the wisdom of our ancestors. It’s not always justified.

  • Die Anyway

    An excellent presentation.
    I have no “respect” for religious beliefs but I will try to be considerate of practices and rituals as long as they don’t cause harm. I recently attended a wedding and a funeral, both held in Catholic churches. I’m not familiar with Catholic rituals but I stood up, sat down, and stayed quiet in conjunction with those around me. All the while wondering if the priest was one of the ones who prey on children, or if any of the good Catholics around me had been victimized in their youth. It was also very weird to see the iconography, the rows of candles, and the arcane rituals. Here were grown-up, educated, adults behaving in a manner that seemed profoundly silly to me.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    The whole question is a misunderstanding. Of course I do not respect other such beliefs. If I really did, I would probably adopt those beliefs. Rather, what I must respect is another’s right to hold such beliefs.

    This is like the famously misunderstood quote about “money being the root of all evil.” All of you educted people know the original says “love of money is the root of all evil.”

  • RainbowPhoenix

    For me it always comes to the question of harm. If someone is just minding their own business, I have no grief with them. But if they are trying to force others to follow their beliefs or otherwise harm others, they have forfeited the expectation of respect. Take your NAMBLA example: sure they genuinely believe that they are not harming their victims, but evidence clearly shows that they are objectively wrong on that count.

  • epeeist

    Can I recommend Simon Blackburn’s article Religion and Respect. You can find a PDF on the internet.

  • Mike Panic

    This comment is self-censored.

  • Martin Penwald

    Besides, i’ve a problem with the example given by Courtney : why do this first nation refuse medicine for traditional medicine but use their invader religion as an excuse? There is a lack of consistency, here.

  • firebubbles310

    A lot of First Nations were highly Christianized. Kids were sent off to a school to be “civilized.” It leaves an impact.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

    Theists confuse these things all the time:

    Respect is something you give a PERSON. Each person has the right to their OPINIONS, not their own FACTS.
    I don’t have to value your opinion, at all, and can still be respectful of you, the human being.

    When a theist says “respect my beliefs”, the usually mean something like “you MUST respect my opinions I regard as facts, by regarding them as immutable facts universally accepted.”
    Foregone conclusions for the theist.

    I have been told to respect one’s beliefs. I never been told to respect a person’s preferred beverage. Or respect one’s favorite color. All opinions.

    Once theists understand their beliefs are opinions, and not facts, there will be less demand to respect one’s belief that ACME movies are funny. Or strawberry ice cream is delicious.

    The irony is, theists love disrespecting those not in the group:
    “Those [Pulse Nightclub] victims got what they deserved.”
    Thus when encountering someone not believing the same beliefs they demand respect, knowing they aren’t giving the same level of respect to the other person’s beliefs in return.

    That’s one of the things that makes evangelism so funny:
    You expect me to give the utmost consideration to your ideas. Will you give me the same courtesy when I explain my ideas? You’ll be just as open minded and receptive as you’d like me to be, right?
    Theists go out there and win covert, presumably through conversation and not threats of violence, like how god does it. But at the same time, don’t listen to people that don’t think the way you do, and certainly don’t consider their beliefs in the manner you want them to consider yours. Awesome.

  • MystiqueLady

    I refine Respect beyond just giving a person respect — a person has to EARN my respect. However, I do give people the dignity to choose their own beliefs, as long as they do no harm.

  • MystiqueLady

    I’ll have to remember that quote.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    This is where I differ. You want to br a respected CPA? Show your math work. You want to be a respected chef? Let’s taste that recipe.

    What must one do to be respected as a human being? Must I prove I breath oxygen? Do you need verify ther blood in my veins?

    This is the problem of the world. Christians aren’t alone. I want to disrespect those I don’t consider “human”. The first step in committing “Voltaire’s atrocities” is to cast all “enemies” as not human, like “Us”.

  • MystiqueLady

    I see your point, but when I meet someone, I withhold respect until their words/actions justify it. However, I don’t immediately disrespect someone, unless they give me cause to do so. I accept them as being my equal, until I their actions and words give me reason to accord them respect.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    That’s my point.
    You “might” be human like me, therefore you should be given BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. Everything else, respectful or disrespectful, should come from “elbow grease”.

  • gemini bowie

    Snark and ridicule are appropriate when addressing gross stupidity.

  • gemini bowie

    “Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things…one of the beginnings of the human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority, its indispensable”

    ― Christopher Hitchens

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Should I Respect Your Beliefs?”

    If people keep their beliefs to themselves, it is not an issue. If they make their beliefs public no one is required to respect those beliefs and they have only themself to blame if their beliefs are questioned, dismissed, or ridiculed.

  • Silverwolf13

    Remember the city of Cahokia, built by the Native American Illiniwek long before Columbus. It was abandoned circa 1300 c.e. because they basically destroyed their supporting environment. We humans are always fouling our nest.

  • For the space of five years I was a (solo) professional Wedding Video producer up till 1995. When I put a wedding in a catholic church to tape, I couldn’t believe all the standing up, and sitting back, down malarkey. I edited the short version (normally I would provide the paying customer with both short and long version edits on their tape) to eliminate all the stand-ups. So in these “cuts” viewers “see” the attendees lean forward, and then sit back in their pews – several times over the course of that edit.

    As the camera operator, I simply stood behind the tripod-mounted SVHS camcorder’s Vidcon Tube viewfinder, and was spared all the abundant rising and lowering.

  • Top 10 Reasons All Religions Should Be Mocked

    QUOTE”Top 10 Reasons All Religion Should Be Mocked, Scorned & Held in Contempt
    Religion should be mocked, and this mocking would bring it back down from its authoritarian position in society.
    Religion is one of humanity’s worst creations. It is imposed on the masses by those who want control and its nature blinds its followers from understanding the seriousness of their captivity.
    (One excellent) way to help humanity free itself from the shackles of organized religion is to mock it.

    10Mocking Religion Demystifies It
    9 Mocking Religion Helps Separate Ethnic Groups from Religious Groups
    8 All Religions Should Be Mocked Equally
    7 But Mocking Religion Should Not Just Consist Of Lazy Comedy
    6 Religion Is At the Heart of Some of Today’s Biggest Human Rights Abuses
    5 Mocking Religion Is About Undermining the Traditions, Figures and Institutions Created by Men
    4 Being Denied The Right To Mock Religion Is an Assault on Free Speech
    3 The Media Already Use Similar Tactics in Politics
    2 Making Fun of Religion Encourages Its Disassociation from Politics
    1 Mocking Religion Increases Tolerance

    (Below, illustration for number six:)

  • Unfortunately, this is a common tactic of theists: “God doesn’t go away just because you stop believing in him.”

  • Michael Neville

    To which I reply: I don’t believe that any gods exist, got any evidence for the existence of your favorite god or any other gods? No evidence, no belief.

  • bullet

    Good thing for him, huh?

    Unfortunately, that’s usually a threat.

  • The “do no harm” pat being so very important.

  • persephone

    Theists get all angry when I tell them I don’t have to respect them, I just have to tolerate them, and I stop tolerating them when they start trying to control people.

  • FallsAngel

    The Canadians didn’t treat the Native Americans any better.
    https://origins. osu. edu/article/canada-s-dark-side-indigenous-peoples-and-canada-s-150th-celebration

  • Which is why I like to include the word “evidence” in my definition of reality.

  • Well, I was thinking of Steven King’s use of the conceit in THE STAND: “It don’t matter if you believe in God, Nick, he believes in you.” Annoying, but not exactly a threat.

  • abb3w

    We are always expected to respect the wisdom of our ancestors. It’s not always justified.

    It is always justified in so far as their “wisdom” did not preclude them from having descendants.

    This is a low bar; there are cockroaches that have shown such levels of wisdom.

  • abb3w

    What sense of “respect”?

  • Andrea Fitzgerald

    For the past few years I have been listening, learning, watching and commenting on many different religious/atheist websites.
    I was a roman catholic up into my 40s. Sure I had questions. “Mommy, why are the ‘publics’ bad?” “Daddy, is the communion wafer ACTUALLY the body of christ?” “Why are we (catholics) so good?” “What’s so good about us?” “Why is everybody ELSE wrong or bad?”
    In 2001 I took a class in Philosophy: The World’s Religions, and an Anthropology course: Anthropology of Religions. And many different history classes. My world was shattered! About this time my husband and I were having a very rough time with our son (who has highly functioning autism) meltdowns, holes in doors and walls, knocking over furniture, you name it. I prayed and I prayed, said the rosary, lit candles..nothing worked. I finally went to a priest to put some questions before him. The answer I got was, “If you don’t have faith, then you need to pray for it.” That was it!! I was done believing in a higher power. None of it made any sense. I have learned so much from all of you and just wanted to say thanks!

  • Cheryl Simon

    Godless Mom, you are spot on!

  • Gord O’Mitey

    Holy Jeez, Godless Mom! That’s so well-written an’ convincin’, I gotta firkin’ well believe everythin’ that you wrote, eh. So, where does that leave Me, eh? D’ya see what yer’ve done to Me, eh? Lookit, I can’t believe in Myself any more now, can I? There’s only one thing for it now. ‘Cos of you, I gotta go disappear up My own firkin’ ass&#8203hole, eh.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Outstanding essay! One of the best I have read on this particular topic. Thanks.

  • Thank you so much, Gary!

  • San_Ban

    You respect beliefs that make outrageous claims about reality that are not supported by evidence? Why?

  • Connie Beane

    I respect people’s beliefs –such as their belief that their children are beautiful, talented and intelligent–because you cannot reason people out of beliefs that are not based on evidence in the first place. It’s only when those beliefs have a negative impact on others that I withdraw my tolerance.

  • San_Ban

    So you respect beliefs that you find inoffensive.

  • Connie Beane

    “Respect” is not “approval.” It is behavior, not beliefs that I find offensive.

  • San_Ban

    My response to you is stuck in moderation, so I will repeat the questions here.

    Do you respect the belief about children that Godless Mom describes above? Do you respect the beliefs of Charles Manson and his group? Let’s say if they’re only beliefs, and the people that hold them never act on those beliefs (because after all, people never act on their deeply held beliefs, do they?)

  • Max

    Please. Do you know what an ad hominem argument is? You’ve just presented one.

  • Max

    The problem with your post isn’t that it’s inaccurate (it;’s right on) but Evangelical Christians believe they’re told BY THEIR GOD to “preach all nations” and the word preach automatically implies superiority on the preacher’s part–therefore inferiority on the part of the lost soul being ragged on, I mean, preached to.

  • Eris Lillith

    This means that he’s extra-qualified to know what the hell he’s talking about, to me. Who better to know the difference between reality and hallucinations than someone who frequently experienced both.