Comment by Chris, 19 Jan, 2009
Hi there. I just found your site and I'm a little annoyed.
The reason for this is that I have been drafting and making notes for an essay on why we should NOT, in fact, respect other people's beliefs. (However we must respect their right to believe what they like, providing such beliefs impinge on no-one else's freedom).
And now I see you already have such an essay on your site!
If I go ahead and do my own I will certainly be referencing yours.
So keep up the good work and keep on annoying people (particularly people who believe, or say they believe, in silly things).
Me, I'm with the Jatravartids.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 20 Jan, 2009
I know the feeling Chris. Imagine my annoyance when I discovered someone called Bill Shakespeare had already written "Bob and Sheila", or as he called it, "Romeo and Juliet". Seriously though, if you have time you should still get your essay out there, as the more we debunk this silly 'Respect my beliefs' idea the better.
And for the uninitiated, the Jatravartids that Chris mentioned are an alien race from Douglas Adams' excellent book "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy". They "firmly believe that the entire universe was sneezed out of the nose of a being called 'The Great Green Arkleseizure'. They live in perpetual fear of the time they call 'The Coming Of The Great White Handkerchief'."
Comment by Rob, 16 Mar, 2009
Hello John, thought you might like a copy of my letter published in this week's Listener (March 21), which follows the "respect my religion" line of thought as well.
"I am saddened to see Rev DH Battley (Letters, March 14) criticising the Listener for accurately printing a quote from actor Sam Neill, which ends in the line "and Christ knows we could do with that". Battley would prefer that, in the interest of "respect" for a religion, the quote be edited or left out altogether. If the Listener did follow this line, how many other stories, quotes and articles would need to be adjusted just to give respect to a fictional character from a prominent Bronze Age myth?
It is important to uphold an ideal that ideas, stories and religions should not get respect automatically but only if the respect is earned. If similar comments are not often made about other religions, it doesn't necessarily mean those religions have earned respect, but may be more to do with the concern about an over-the-top reaction from radical followers.
Prominent scientist and author Richard Dawkins asks: "Why has our society so meekly acquiesced in the convenient fiction that religious views have some sort of right to be respected automatically and without question? If I want you to respect my views on politics, science or art, I have to earn that respect by argument, reason, eloquence or relevant knowledge... But if I have a view that is part of my religion, critics must tiptoe away or brave the indignation of society at large. Why are religious opinions off-limits in this way?"
Please don't edit based on whether you may offend someone, as difference of opinion encourages healthy debate. Without this debate, the exchange of ideas in arts, politics and practically every section of the Listener would need to be edited down until the magazine consisted of little more than its covers."
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Mar, 2009
Excellent letter Rob. Naturally I couldn't agree more. And obviously the Listener also agrees with your sentiments as well, nominating your effort "Letter of the Week" I see.
It never ceases to amaze me that some people are so precious and sensitive over their particular belief, but they have no sense or concern that they might be trampling blindly over the beliefs of others. Rev Battley may be offended by Neill's casual use of the word "Christ", but I am equally offended by his desire to brainwash small children with phrases such as "God loves you". As you say, censoring every phrase or opinion that might offend someone, somewhere, would just open a Pandora's Box.
I just read an apt quote from Salman Rushdie yesterday regarding free speech. Addressing the Ayatollah he asked: "What is freedom of speech? Without the freedom to offend it ceases to exist".
Comment by Rod, 26 Nov, 2010
I enjoyed this article. Thought you might like this comment.
I saw a guy at the QE2 spa pool in Christchurch recently, sitting on the side of the pool in the public which included little kids all around him.
A supervisor came up to him and told him he had to wear a T shirt if he wanted to swim because he had a tattoo on his chest — very large letters that said, "TRUST NO C* * T', but the actual 'c***t' word was clearly spelt.
He objected in a loud voice, saying, 'but that's what I believe. It's my religion!'
I'm no prude but he's asking us to respect his "religion?" Come-on!
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Nov, 2010
Thanks Rod. A perfect example that shows that many people have no idea what 'respect' or 'religion' even means.
Comment by Don, 26 Dec, 2012
I found your essay using Google.
I think the debate has to go a bit further. We need to redefine the word Religion if we are going to grant favored tax arrangements for religions. There should be a minimum moral, ethical, and criminal standard for all religions to qualify for government favored treatment. For instance, if a religion practices suppression of half of their members, it should not qualify. Islam suppresses all of it's women members, requiring strict rules of dress, limits on professions, limits on freedom of travel and domestic activities, etc. It also allows sexual abuse of children, as a Muslim man can marry a female at virtually any age.
Islam also advocates the death, or submission of all non-Muslims called "infidels". Given these clearly immoral, unethical, and criminal practices and advocacies, Islam should not qualify as a religion. And certain Christian fundamentalist religions also should not qualify. Specifically, those who take Levitcus 24:16 seriously (stone blasphemers to death), and Exodus 22:18 (kill witches). When these cults denounce these practices, then they become a valid religion.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 27 Dec, 2012
Yes Don, the controversial tax exemptions for religions. I don't think we need to redefine the word religion, we simply need to strip tax exemptions from all religions, and then make them reapply for consideration and be judged on such criteria as you suggest, and more. I don't care how moral some group might be, how well they might treat their members and others. If we assume for the moment that Microsoft or Google are such groups, why shouldn't they get the same exemptions that a church would get? Microsoft's Bill Gates is a great philanthropist and has promised to give away most of his fortune to help those in need. Google might also argue that they are helping people in the same way that churches claim that they are helping people. And certainly Google has helped me far, far more than any church ever has. Not that I'm suggesting Gates or Google should receive tax breaks, I'm just showing that being an individual or company that helps people and tries to do the right thing isn't by itself enough reason for tax breaks. Even if Christianity and Islam and Scientology were the most caring and tolerant and open cults on the planet, this shouldn't mean that they shouldn't pay their fair share of tax. If you've ever been to the Vatican you'll know that it exhibits the most obscene wealth while pleading for handouts. I support tax exemptions for some charities and nonprofit groups, but again they must meet certain critieria. If there existed a nonprofit group whose purpose was to legally collect and swap pornography amongst its members, who were all very nice people, should that qualify? I would say no, even though they might argue that they were filling a need and helping people who couldn't otherwise regularly buy pornography.
Unfortunately tax exemptions for religion I believe are an unfortunate quirk of history, they were introduced when everyone blindly believed, including those that made the laws. If suggested now (at least in NZ, not the USA), I doubt any religion would stand a chance of getting an exemption. Certainly some activities run by a church might get an exemption, eg a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, but this would be an activity that was no different to one run by secular groups. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with our humanity.
If religions rejected all those elements that you suggest Don, eg the inequality of women and blasphemy, and some are starting to, and if they take it to the natural conclusion, their religion will have morphed into a secular organisation that no longer has a reason for existing. They are only a religion whilst they believe in their intolerant god. No religion, then no automatic tax exemptions.
Comment by Fred, 02 May, 2013
Hey John, another well reasoned and superbly detailed post. I'm repeatedly having discussions/debates with believers about the history of their religion and how it fits into human history. I'm constantly told that the 10 commandments are so wise that they are adopted by every culture and society and that our laws are based on them.
This is such a non-argument and it reveals the depths of self deception people will engage in to validate their own beliefs (and they don't like the fact that cultures prior to and untainted by Judaism or Christianity also came to the same conclusions that we ought not kill, lie, steal...)
You summed it up beautifully in the phrase: "For all their blustering about open discussion and debate, the intelligent and knowledgeable among them have rightly concluded that real debate would be disastrous for religion."
If I were a believer, I would have to ask myself why religion needs apologetics? Surely the conclusion is that the reasons for belief are sadly left wanting in the dust of progress, modernity and the enlightenment.
Keep up the good work man.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 May, 2013
Thanks Fred. Re your mention of the 10 Commandments and how important many people claim they are, you should try calling their bluff by asking them to list them. I've yet to find anyone that can list more than 3 or 4. Most can offer 'Thou shalt not kill', which they ignore during times of war, and 'Thou shalt not steal', and perhaps 'No adultery'. Some offer 'Thou shalt not lie', which isn't one, and some provide 'Respect the Sabbath'. But few know that the Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday, so most Christians break that one as well. Most Christians break the second commandment — Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath — with their crosses and crucifixes, and most ignore the commandment regarding not coveting thy neighbour's wife, BMW or wide-screen TV.
Note also that the 10 Commandments don't prohibit rape or sex with children or slavery, so why do we have legal prohibitions against them? And again most people don't know that the Bible actually contains a lot more than just 10 commandments, 613 in fact, such as 'Thou shalt not eat shellfish' and 'Thou shalt not wear clothes made of two different materials, such as cotton and polyester'. Like most of the famous 10, most all of these are ignored as well.
If the 10 Commandments are so vital, why don't people know them and live by them? Those that mention them in passing are nothing but ignorant hypocrites. If they were truly compelled to obey the Bible's commandments they would reject nearly all of them in a heartbeat.
There is also the embarrassing fact that the 10 Commandments are found in the Old Testament. When you raise all the barbaric and immoral events recorded in the Bible, Christians quickly say that all happened in the Old Testament, and Christianity is founded on the New Testament. Christians can eat pork and shellfish and don't need to get circumcised because those were Old Testament commandments that were superseded by the New Testament. How can you essentially dismiss the Old Testament as Jewish ignorance and barbarism and yet refer readers back to it for the 10 Commandments? Where in the Bible does it say that these 10 commandments still apply but the 603 others don't?
Comment by Anonymous-1, 30 Dec, 2014
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Dec, 2014
We're glad you found it interesting.
Comment by Adam, 26 Feb, 2015
Hi John, nice article you have written here: 'Respect My Religion! — Keeping religion isolated from criticism'. I have thought about this question for a while and would like to toss in my two cents.
Whether you like it or not and whether religious beliefs are silly or not, government will still wish us to show respect to other religions (at least not to "stir up troubles" such as burning religious texts even though such action is regarded as freedom of expression).
This is merely because we are living in an age of globalized capitalism. For example, approximately a quarter of the world's population is Muslim. Not to mention OPEC countries are all Islamic (except Venezuela). So, we want to trade with them, sell them our products (beef, lamb, dairy products, etc) for oil and gas, and it is unlikely to process if we do not respect nor tolerate their beliefs.
What do you think about this situation?
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Mar, 2015
Hi Adam. That's an interesting question, and not one that has a simple answer in my view. But first, considering your mention of stirring up trouble, we are certainly not advocating that people start agitating against people with different views than them. Certainly in a place like NZ, we feel that opposition and challenges to religious views can be civil and everyone can remain friends, or at least not be enemies. There is a huge difference between calmly and rationally discussing some religious claims with a Muslim and burning a Koran outside a mosque. The first is seeking clarification through dialogue, the second is deliberately inciting anger and possible violence from an enemy. The first is intellectual curiosity, the second is vindictive hatred. We are for the first and against the second.
To recap, the point of our article was to highlight that religions worldwide are increasingly demanding that we must respect and/or tolerate their beliefs, and we feel that these demands are used to intimidate us, to silence us, and thus discourage analysis of their silly beliefs. We argued that respect must be earned, not demanded, and the only thing that we must legally tolerate about religion is the right of people to hold religious beliefs. So rather than blindly respect or tolerate religion we must be free to investigate, analyse, challenge, criticise, debate, satirise, lampoon, ridicule and mock any and all religious belief. This is not to say that with some research we won't come to respect some religious beliefs, and tolerate and even value their presence in our society, but religions can not demand respect and toleration.
We're saying that in a free and secular society everyone has the right not only to hold whatever beliefs they choose, but also to openly discuss and challenge whatever topics they like, from religion and politics to civil unions and alien abductions. In our society no topic should be out of bounds, and this discussion should be able to be civil and polite. Of course people will always be frustrated and perhaps even annoyed that others can't accept their point of view, but this is the very nature of debate, and the religious must reconcile themselves with this fact. They must accept that there will always be opposition and challenges to their view of the world, and that the way to deal with this is not by insisting that their religious views are no longer open to discussion.
You mentioned publicly burning some religious texts, but this is not just freedom of expression, it is a deliberate attack against an enemy. And let's highlight that it's generally only religious extremists that seem to take indecent pleasure in offending other religions and even non-believers. If it's a protest over something religious, you can almost guarantee that it will be a devout religious person that is protesting, not an atheist. Burning a Koran is on a lower scale than physical violence, but it is clearly a ploy used in a perceived war to incite retaliation, perhaps so they can justify escalating the battle to outright war. Our article certainly wasn't written to encourage anyone, believer or non-believer, to deliberately think of ways they could go out and offend religious people just for the sake of it, even if the law might allow it. Freedom of expression allows people to anger and antagonise all manner of other people, not just religious groups. I'm sure there are many ways to offend the likes of vegetarians, dairy farmers and foreign tourists, but just because we can doesn't mean that we should. If we have a legitimate gripe with some group, then the civil way is to initiate a discussion to try and reach a resolution. The discussion might be face to face or via email, letters to the editor, Internet debates, books etc. But if the group we disagree with is harming no one, and discussion doesn't go our way, then we have little option but to let them continue believing as they do. Our thoughts are our own, and even our actions if they harm no one, we wouldn't appreciate people harassing us to change our ways, so we must extend the same courtesy to others. A tolerant society is one where we can all have our different views and where we can all openly discuss these views without fear of it all turning ugly. Of course we're not there yet, even family and friends tell us that we shouldn't discuss religion, politics and sex, and it is frustrating that not all of us are yet mature enough to calmly take part in intellectual discussions. We shouldn't immediately interpret a differing viewpoint as a signal for war, but instead listen and try and discover why our views are different, even if we think it's likely that it will end by us all agreeing to disagree. But instead we're advised to keep to safe subjects, like the weather and music talent quests on TV. Alas, how boring, but it is typical of many conversations. This may be seen as showing 'respect' for those with different beliefs, but we might as well stay at home and talk to the cat if we don't want to run the risk of offending anyone.
But of course Adam, the above viewpoint and course of action only works in a free and secular society like NZ. As you say, we live 'in an age of globalized capitalism', and if we want to trade with Muslim countries, countries that often aren't free and secular, you suggest that this trade 'is unlikely to process if we do not respect nor tolerate their beliefs'. This is where it does indeed get tricky. In what ways must we or should we compromise our ethical values in trading with Muslim countries and individuals? In trading with Muslims (or actually anyone who lives by a different belief system), where do we draw the line?
In the broad scheme of things, when people say that we should show respect to strangers or those that we want to trade with, and that we should tolerate their differences, be it in dress or cultural beliefs, I think they're using the wrong words, since as we argued in our article, respect must be earned and toleration depends on what we are asked to tolerate. What I think people really mean is that in dealing with strangers we should be civil, friendly, understanding, generous, caring and open. We should be diplomatic. If we know that a certain culture removes their shoes at the door or consider it an insult to point with the index finger, then it's polite to avoid doing these things in their presence, even though we wouldn't avoid them at home. It's no real hardship to modify your behaviour in these ways to show good manners.
I've worked in Muslim countries, eg Iran, and made some good friends there. They knew I didn't believe in their religion, and that I didn't respect their beliefs, in the strict sense that I didn't 'feel or show esteem or deferential regard' for Allah. But I was friendly and open and I didn't seek ways to offend them or mock their beliefs, and we got on well with no problems. I tolerated their going off to the mosque on Fridays and they tolerated my not going with them.
Of course Adam I assume you're suggesting some serious cultural differences when you say some of us might 'not respect nor tolerate their beliefs'. This is where it becomes personal, and for me I guess it would come down to exactly what the expression of those beliefs is. Using your example of Islam, if I was asked to trade with the Islamic State in Iraq or Boko Haram in Nigeria, meaning that I must respect and tolerate their beliefs, I would decline. Even if they were desperate to trade with me regardless of whether I respected their beliefs, I would still refuse. If I felt that the expression of their beliefs was genuinely harming their citizens, and clearly it is, I would refuse to do business with them, and I would advocate against them. I would not turn a blind eye to real suffering just to sell or purchase a product.
Of course you'd be correct in pointing out that the majority of Islamic countries do not commit the heinous atrocities that Islamic State and Boko Haram do. But many do still allow and even encourage the horrendous act of female genital mutilation, some enforce the totally unjust, in my view, Sharia law, untold young women are still murdered by their families in honour killings, some force their women to wear head to toe coverings in public and be escorted by male relatives, Saudi Arabia prohibits women from driving, etc etc. Where do we draw the line, which acts are we prepared to ignore in order to source the products we desire? It's a personal decision we all must make, what levels of harm are we prepared to have inflicted on others just to make a trade?
Of course it's not just Muslims that have customs and beliefs that I view as unjust, reprehensible or just plain barbaric. Back in 2010 our government allowed Jews in NZ to continue killing chickens in a primitive, barbaric, inhumane manner, a manner for which I, not being Jewish, would be arrested for. In some countries many cultures still (unnecessarily in my view) sacrifice animals in religious rituals, and like the aforementioned Jews, do it barbarically with no thought to the suffering the animals must endure. Many parents in NZ, mostly Christians, Jews and Muslims, still mutilate the penis of their male children, for no good reason except so that their silly god can recognise them. Apparently he's not good at remembering faces, and needs to peek down our pants (you can see where the Catholic priests get it from), but since Christians, Jews, Muslims and even non-believers can circumcise their boys, the reason for doing it now seems to be a waste of time. Catholic priests are raping children and being hidden and protected by the Church, but local Catholic churches, schools and communities are carrying on as though nothing has happened. There are some African countries where albinos are killed to be used in magic potions, unruly children are killed as witches, men rape little girls in the false belief that it cures AIDS, and of course animals like rhinos are driven towards extinction by being killed for their horns, all for the silly belief that it is an aphrodisiac. In India the caste system still exists, the Untouchables are treated worse than animals and brides are raped and killed if the husband or his family are not pleased with them. I read recently that there are more slaves in the world now than there have been throughout history. Women and children are being mistreated in numerous countries, think sweat shops, and many countries deny their citizens true freedom, think North Korea. There is no end of countries that we could and should choose to engage with in an attempt to help improve the lot of some of their citizens. Of course this list of countries would be different from person to person.
But me, I would never willingly support dealing with countries, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, secular or even run by Scientologists, if they acted in ways that harmed their citizens. Personally I would be willing to forgo certain products or pay a higher price from other sources than deal with countries whose actions I disagreed with.
I don't have to tolerate, let alone respect someone's beliefs if they are doing harm. This attitude if adopted would lose us some trade, but it might also force real changes if countries are desperate to trade on the world scene. Many religious people and countries have greatly modified their beliefs over recent decades in order to coexist and/or trade with others. Christians, Jews and Muslims generally coexist peacefully because they have all consciously elected to embrace their humanity and ignore the more harmful commandments of their god. Trade is usually two way, with each having something the other desires. This means that most people are normally willing to compromise to make a deal as long as those concessions don't contradict their core values, and are willing to tolerate certain foreign practices to gain a desired product or make a sale. With some form of trade at stake, a little diplomacy will usually see most parties agreeing to ignore or forgive practices that they might not otherwise. But again, it is a personal decision as to where each of us would draw the line, what practices might we turn a blind eye to, what level of harm might we decide to tolerate, and what level of fawning respect might we offer to close a deal?
To use some historical examples, if the USA still had slavery, would you ignore that just to keep getting the latest movie from Hollywood? If Australia were exterminating the aborigines, as they once did in Tasmania, would you continue to holiday on their Gold Coast, ignoring what was happening further south? Or returning to the present, would you buy some cheap sports shoes knowing that had been made in a sweat shop in India or holiday in a country that executed people for adultery or countries that imprisoned the victims of rape? That's right, where not the rapist but the victim is imprisoned for having sex outside marriage!
Do we want to trade with them, or more importantly, do we have to trade with them? Can we deal with someone else, and convince our fellow citizens that it is better to pay a higher price than support certain countries? Can we find alternatives to oil and gas? Did you know that in 1900 there evidently was a fleet of electric taxis in Manhattan, and in 1912 there were some 30,000 electric cars in the USA, and they competed with petrol and steam powered cars? Oil and gas will eventually run out, maybe it's time to change to alternatives before we have to?
It's all down to personal ethics. Do we say we have to deal with country X, even though we don't like how they treat some of their citizens, simply because we can't do without that amazing goat cheese or the ingredients for a good bikini wax? Or do we forgo some silly habits and perhaps try and force some change in country X? Do we fake some respect and tolerate the intolerable to get something cheaper from country X than what country Y could provide it for, or do we take a stand for the rights of humans everywhere and tell country X to change its ways or take a hike? We each get to decide the ethics of our global wheeling and dealing.
Comment by Adam, 01 Mar, 2015
Hi John, I am deeply, deeply appreciated for your detailed and sincere reply, the 2500 words reply must have took you a while to write.
According to Darwall (1977), there are two types of respect: recognition respect (an unconditional respect such as human right) and appraisal respect.
The main conflict between religious believers and atheists is that many religious believers believe their religions deserve recognition respect while atheists do not agree.
Globalized capitalism is a double edged sword, different societies are now more tolerated to each other as we all have something we need from others (I personally think globalized capitalism is a catalyst for "liberty, equality and fraternity", as you cannot sell products to slaves or hostile countries and vice versa, but this is off-topic so I will stop here). On the other hand, we may also have to respect (recognition respect) silly ideas if it is in accord with the national interest. For example, Iran, the country you have worked in before, I personally think Iran is doing a better job on human right issues compared to other Islamic countries such as Saudi Arab. But US government called Iran evil, while let Saudi Arab off easy (This article has expressed my thought pretty well so I will just paste the link here http://onviolence.com/?e=606). Seems like national interest is far more important than challenging silly beliefs for some people, and I cannot judge which side is right. Alas, as you say, "It's all down to personal ethics", you conclude the question perfectly.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Mar, 2015
Hi Adam, thanks for your reply and comments. Both articles you linked to were interesting reads. I hadn't heard of recognition respect and appraisal respect before. I read that Darwall writes that recognition respect means 'To respect something in this way is just to regard it as something to be reckoned with (in the appropriate way) and to act accordingly', and that when we are looking at people, 'We are judging that the fact that he or she is a person places moral constrains on our behaviour'. I'm reading this to mean that when I say we shouldn't harm others, merely because they are fellow humans, not because I know them personally, that I'm invoking recognition respect. I would also give recognition respect to religions, in that I view them as 'something to be reckoned with (in the appropriate way) and to act accordingly'. Of course the religious and I might well disagree as to what we each think is the appropriate way to act in dealing with them. Appraisal respect plays a much larger part in how I feel about religions.
And yes, globalized capitalism is a real minefield. There are certainly no easy answers.
Comment by Anonymous-2, 28 Dec, 2015
The only times when I respected someone's religion was when I was at least trying to believe in the religion, and envied a true believer in that religion could do or was doing faithwise, which I could not do because I did not believe nearly as much as them. I wished I could, and I respected those who could, would, and did.
Now.... things deserve respect based on their effects. Religions that have leaders who get involved in sexual scandals because of behavior opposed to what they claim, and do not immediately get rid of those leaders. Religions who have leaders who are caught doing illegal sexual activities (e.g., sex with minors) and do anything other than immediately turn their evidence over to secular authorities do not deserve respect. Religions which teach violence and some of their most loyal followers (those who I *respected* years ago because they could believe more than I), and injure or kill innocent people do not deserve respect. Religions which actively prevent part of society from accessing healthcare, education, or jobs do not deserve respect. Religions that teach that God "loves" some people more than others are preaching God as a child abuser, and neither they nor God deserve respect.
Religions that feed the hungry, clothe the poor, house the poor, help them get education, help them get medical treatment.... they deserve respect. If it is tied to accepting the religion, that is not respectable.
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