People keep telling me that I should respect the beliefs of others. That sounds entirely reasonable, at least until you think about it. The problem is in knowing where to draw the line. I can understand why, for example, Presbyterians should respect the beliefs of Methodists. They’re practically the same thing.
But what about those Heaven’s Gate guys who believed they should kill themselves so their souls could follow a comet? Am I obligated to respect those beliefs too? How about the people who give away all of their possessions because they have determined the exact date that the world will end? Do I respect their opinions up to the predicted end-time and then, after it passes, keep on respecting their opinion while they are begging the neighbors to give back their crap?
I respect the Mormons for doing a great job of creating good citizens. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working. You rarely hear about a gang of violent Mormons terrorizing a town. But must I also respect their practice of wearing special underpants to ward off evil? Is it a package deal, no pun intended?
I suppose you could argue that we should respect any religion that is peaceful and has good intentions at its core. And I certainly agree with treating all people with respect even if you’re not feeling it on the inside. But it seems to me dishonest to display respect for all beliefs equally. Surely there are beliefs that deserve slightly less respect than others.
This has to be an even bigger problem for those of you who have a religion of your own. You’re thinking something along the lines of “My prophet talked to a real angel whereas your prophet was evidently taking a drunken forest wiz and thought a tree stump was talking back to him.”
I also wonder if showing respect for all beliefs is causing more problems than it’s avoiding. The only thing that keeps most people from acting on their absurd beliefs is the fear that other people will treat them like frickin’ retards. Mockery is an important social tool for squelching stupidity. At least that’s what I tell people after I mock them. Or to put it another way, I’ve never seen anyone change his mind because of the power of a superior argument or the acquisition of new facts. But I’ve seen plenty of people change behavior to avoid being mocked.
Many of our biggest world problems are caused by different religious views. But it’s not socially acceptable to even discuss whether those views originate from the almighty or a drunken guy wizzing on a tree stump. At a bare minimum, just to pick one example, either Christianity or Islam is completely and utterly wrong. The beliefs are mutually exclusive. Muslims believe all Christians will burn in Hell. Christians believe that the Koran is fiction. They can’t both be right. (They could obviously both be wrong if the Heaven’s Gate guys turn out to have it right.)
I fantasize about becoming President one day and insisting on settling the question of which religion is “right.” I’d assemble all the experts on history and religious and science, and televise them arguing the merits and evidence of their sides, with cross-examination and – most important – mocking. There would be no stop date for this debate. It would continue until even a child could recognize which positions are the most easily mocked. Sometimes that’s as close to wisdom as we can get.