Harmful Beliefs Deserve No Respect Even When Justified By Religion

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Everyone can think of at least one belief system which is detrimental to human welfare. What I mean by "detrimental" in this context is that it leads to unnecessary pain and suffering. This does not mean it could not still have some positive attributes. But whatever positives might apply cannot make up for the harm caused.

Consider something like racism. The detrimental nature seems obvious. So obvious that it is hard to think of anything positive. Should you respect the racist beliefs of others? That question seems absurd, doesn't it? You might respect someone who held racist beliefs. You might respect the fact that they have the right to believe whatever they want. We all have that right, and it is rarely in jeopardy. But isn't respecting the beliefs themselves quite different?

Suppose that someone with racist beliefs sought to justify these beliefs with religion. Would this make you more likely to respect their racist beliefs? I hope not. In the United States, most of our most vocal racists are Christian Nationalists. Packing racist beliefs in religion doesn't make them any less racist.

Religions, both Islam and Christianity, are often used to justify anti-LGBTQ bigotry. This doesn't make that kind of hate any more acceptable. It doesn't make me any more likely to respect such beliefs. "I respect your hatred of gay people, but..." isn't something I'll ever have to hear myself say.

In the United States today, some are vocal in promoting "corporal punishment." I prefer to refer to it by its other name, "child abuse." Many of those who celebrate beating their children are fundamentalist Christians. Some see it as a biblical mandate. Does this mean that we should respect it?

What about religion itself? Some non-believers regard religion as detrimental to human welfare. This is far from universal, even among atheists, but many of us might agree with it. Should those of us who do respect the religious beliefs we regard as harmful? Are these beliefs somehow more deserving of respect because they are religious? Are we supposed to overlook or even deny the harm because we are talking about religion?

Carving out this sort of exception for religious beliefs is not something I'm inclined to do. I respect many religious people. Respecting one's right to believe whatever they want seems like a silly concept. Why? Because we are all secure in that right. Nobody else has complete control over our beliefs. Still, I can go along with that and say that I respect your right to your beliefs. What I won't do is go along with the suggestion that I must respect the content of detrimental beliefs. The fact that many have a religious justification does not change that.

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