I got a comment today on my post, Dealing With Believers – Accommodation VS Confrontation, from Rob, the person that my friend Maria is debating. He brings up some good points about my post which I want to address here.
I think there might be a mistake somewhere in here, which is that ‘respect’ is somehow a binary thing. It’s not. I respect some people for their conviction and intelligence while at the same time not respecting them for their racism, sexism etc. I respect what I percieve as the good qualities in people and disrespect what I have decided are the bad qualities.
Considering the religious, I don’t respect credulity as a position or the credulous as adopters of that position. I don’t respect senior officials in churches who enable and excuse child abuse. I don’t respect people who make assertions for no good reason.
When I talk about respect for the individual, I mean respect for their right to say and believe as they choose. I don’t mean that we have to respect their ideas, thoughts or actions, but we do need to respect their rights to free expression and belief and express to them our respect of those rights.
In his book, When Prophecy Fails, Leon Festinger, says:
If we merely mock or make light of a believer’s beliefs, without also expressing our respect for their right to hold those beliefs, no matter how absurd they may be, then we will most likely drive them deeper into their belief. If we can let them know that we value their right to their beliefs and to express them, then we at least have a chance of meaningful discussion. Otherwise, we might as well be taking to a brick wall and it becomes a waste of our time and energy to bother talking to them anymore.
I agree with Rob that respect is not binary and I never meant to infer that. The only thing we need to respect in our dealings with anyone, including believers, is respect for their rights to hold and express their beliefs. Other than that, we shouldn’t feel bound to hold back on criticizing their beliefs. The caveat here, as Rob pointed out, is that it depends what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. That and the willingness of the person you are engaged in discussion with to accept or at least discuss, your criticisms. As Maria has often said to me, and others, each situation and discussion is different and you need to gauge your response accordingly.
The really important thing to understand is that we need to make sure that whoever we are dealing with knows that we respect their right to their beliefs and their right to express those beliefs, no matter how irrational they may be.