This week in the Darwin class, I'll admit I mostly zoned out the discussion in class. One part which did draw my attention however was a discussion of respect of other people and other people's beliefs. One guy in the class argued that he shouldn't have to respect other people or their beliefs, specifically religious beliefs. He then sent out a letter after class to the entire class giving all his reasons. I figure I'll post this controversial letter, and let everyone comment on it. I think that it's obvious to all what I think...
Alright, here is the letter, in it's entirety. Names are left out to protect the....well, I'll let you fill in the blank.
It was suggested to me in class this week that I ought to respect thebeliefs of others, or, if not respect their beliefs, than respect them.This claim was made particularly with respect to religious beliefs. Iwould like to explain why I hold the position I do: namely, that notonly do I not respect the beliefs of religious people, but in manyinstances, I also do not respect those persons.
First I'd like to point out the irony and hypocrisy of people who giveme a hard time for my view - they aren't very respectful of it! If youhold to the principle that people and beliefs ought to be respected,then you are actually committed to respecting the view that otherpeople's views and those people themselves ought not to be respected -thus, if you do not respect me and my beliefs, then you arecontradicting the very position you object to my not holding. Universalrespect actually obligates you to respect disrespect - which is why itis a self-defeating and ultimately absurd principle. It is the verysame people who advocate "respecting" literally everyone who alsoinsist on "tolerating" everything - even abject tolerance. Suchpositions are absurd, self-defeating extremes born of ill-thought andunreflective ideality, not reasoned consideration.
Anyway, I will state this with particular regard to religiousauthorities, for whom I hold no respect whatsoever. This is why. One oftwo things is likely to be the case with a religious figure. In thefirst place, I would maintain that religious figures, because they aredealing with unverifiable information, are no more competent a judge ofreligious “truths” than anyone else, and, lacking any genuine insightinto anything within the confines of theology, they are no morequalified than a layperson to be an authority on moral matters,scientific matters, or any other matters. This being the case, suchpersons are, with respect to the claims that they make, incompetent.Insofar as they are incapable of understanding, or object to scientificconflict with their views, they are also incompetent, and representingthemselves as authorities when in fact they are not is irresponsible.
Second, they may recognize this fact, or understand full wellobjections to their religious beliefs, and yet reject them anyway. Ifthis is so, then such persons are not only exhibiting willfulignorance, they are propagating this ignorance by preaching what theyought to know to be false or at least dubious to others, which, again,is irresponsible, and, I might add, morally reprehensible.
In neither case do such persons deserve respect. In reality, there isno such thing as a religious “authority”, not in the Pope, not in arabbi, nor a priest, nor an imam. There are no authorities on God anymore than there are authorities on faeries or unicorns. Just as none ofus ought to respect silly and ignorant beliefs, neither should werespect those who actively defend and promote silly and ignorantbeliefs – we should not respect them either because, A) they areincompetent, in which case my “disrespectful” charge of their beingstupid is vindicated, or, B) they are competent, in which case theyought to know better and are doing a positive moral wrong bypropagating ignorance. No one would call a psychotic cannibal whohonestly believed he was doing good by eating others a “good” person,simply because his motivations were good; why, then, should we call apreacher good if his motives are good, if his actions are, in fact,harmful to humanity? And, I submit, preaching religion is preachingignorance, and this is harmful to humanity. And, as it happens, moreharmful than cannibalism.
I will add as an aside that the Judeo-Christian religions not onlypropagate ignorance, they propagate hate, discrimination, and a host ofevils and harms: Christian apologists standardly oppose gay rights,women’s equality, and the moral standing of atheists. They oppose manythings that may very well be good for society, at least in someinstances: abortion, science education, stem cell research, euthanasia,sexual liberties of various forms, and birth control.
The Catholic Church actively campaigns to spread lies andmisinformation to the poor folks in Africa, claiming that condoms areevil and don’t work. This has led to untold human misery by increasingthe transmission of AIDS and continues overpopulation, and, ultimately,starvation of children. And this is the largest church on earth – withsuch vile ideas promoted all the way up its hierarchy to its leader,who was complicit in protecting child rapists and the hypocrisy andextortion of their clergymen. If complicity in the molesting ofchildren isn’t something someone ought to lose respect for, then whatis? And given that the present pope, previous pope, and very likely allor many of the present cardinals were aware of their church’sactivities, then I submit that not only are such persons not deservingof respect, but we have a moral obligation to publicly and vociferouslydisrespect and scorn such persons, and the hypocritical, bigoted idealswhich they purport to represent. And that's not even going into thehistory of an institution that committed itself to purging the world of"heathens", made an art of torturing innocents, and aggressivelysilenced truth-seeking scientists and philosophers.
Now, there are some billion or so Catholics in the world, who activelydonate to a misogynistic, homophobic hierarchy of greedy old menactively complicit in covering up and protecting child rapists amongtheir own ranks, many of whom themselves are child rapists. I impugnanyone who tells me I ought to “respect” persons who hold religiousbeliefs: such persons are, if not actively, then passively complicit inthe propagation of ignorance, and ignorance is the principle enemy ofprogress.
If anyone wishes to engage in a dialog about the matter of respect, I'dbe happy to. I am able and willing to put forth a reasoned and robustdefense of why I not only don't respect other people or their beliefsautomatically, but why I feel we have a moral obligation to go aboveand beyond this, and actually oppose and ridicule such persons (whenthey hold bad beliefs). If you object to this, it is not enough merelyto say that I "ought to" respect others - you must articulatelegitimate reasons why. Anything less is intellectual apathy and merelytrumpeting social norms you have no justification for believing.