Respect.

May 20, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More

Earlier today I stumbled onto a One News Now article by R Albert Mohler, Jr with the title: “Should Christians ‘respect’ other religions?

Unusually, I read the whole thing instead of reading the first couple of paragraphs, saying something uncomplimentary and then selecting something light-hearted from my bookmarks menu. Equally unusual for me in response to a ONN article, I found myself agreeing with the author. A bit. First, on the Pope’s visit to Jordan, he states:

… we have the spectacle of a Pope being received as a head of state. This is wrong on so many counts.

I agree entirely. I’ve long been opposed to the Vatican’s pseudonational status, its seat at the UN, the undeserved deference shown to its capos wherever they go and whatever they say. The fact that this institution has been around for centuries, used to hold Europe’s kings in its gnarled talons and materially enriched itself through various nefarious means while claiming absolute moral authority and a hotline to God should give it no automatic authority of any kind in the current century. Longevity, especially in combination with massive wealth (much of it ill-gotten) does not and should not entitle anything or anyone to undeserved, unearned power & influence.

Leaving that aside, the thrust of Mohler’s column was to question this statement of Ratzinger’s:

My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.

Mohler points out that it’s the Papacy’s official position from Vatican II that  “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” Fair enough, include all ‘people of the Book’, to borrow the Islamic term – if there’s anything the Papacy likes it’s bums on seats, however they’re acquired. However, Mohler seems to think no such respect should be accorded to Islam. As an Evangelist he believes he and his brethren should be out, well, evangelising. Spreading the word of Jesus. There is but one way to be saved and that is, as you might guess, through acceptance of Jesus Christ as mankind’s saviour. No surprise there, we’re all familiar with that basic tenet of Christianity. He states:

… we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and His Gospel.

In this light, any belief system that pulls persons away from the Gospel of Christ, denies and subverts Christian truth, and blinds sinners from seeing Christ as the only hope of salvation is, by biblical definition, a way that leads to destruction. Islam, like every other rival to the Christian gospel, takes persons captive and is devoid of genuine hope for salvation.

Again, no surprises. What caught my attention was the following paragraph:

Thus, evangelical Christians may respect the sincerity with which Muslims hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves. We can respect Muslim people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture. We can respect the brilliance of Muslim scholarship in the medieval era and the wonders of Islamic art and architecture. But we cannot respect a belief system that denies the truth of the gospel, insists that Jesus was not God’s Son, and takes millions of souls captive.

A familiar-sounding principle, isn’t it? Mohler respects and could probably empathise with the sincerity of Muslims, if not their specific beliefs. He respects their positive contributions to humanity, science, art & knowledge. Excellent – Islamic contributions to such things are legion. What Mohler cannot respect, however, is a belief system that clashes with or contradicts his own. He cannot respect a belief system with which he does not agree. He will not respect a belief system in which he sees no truth. He looks at Islam and says “No. This is not the way things are or the way they should be. This is not Truth and this does not deserve my respect.”

To Mr Mohler, it must be said that I wholeheartedly endorse this principle. In principle. It is this principle that many people like myself, who are not religious, also subscribe to (though less selectively). Atheists, agnostics, humanists, rationalists and secularists (who, it must be pointed out, are not necessarily non-religious) are generally quite happy to respect people, their contributions, their right to believe as they choose and their freedom to express their beliefs (applying usual caveats regarding illegal, immoral or unconstitutional behaviour of course). We, like Mr Mohler, reserve the right to not respect beliefs which we find disagreeable or mistaken or unsupported and, especially, any negative actions which are based on them. There are many beliefs which I find undeserving of any respect: that  men should have lordship over women; that homosexuals should not be accorded full legal rights; that everyone is born into sin and needs ‘saving’; that anyone not subscribing to a particular minority sect’s view of a particular religion will be condemned to a place of infinite torture for eternity; that certain religious texts are infallible and are always right despite what contradictory evidence is unearthed; that education about sexual facts leads straight to promiscuity; that this planet is only millennia old; that ‘respect’ for a belief equates, in many minds, to ‘not ever publicly expressing any doubts with or disagreements with it, as respecting a belief means you say nothing unless you share that belief.’

There are also inexhaustible examples of actions based on religious beliefs which I find equally unworthy of respect: denial of equality to women or homosexuals; denial of the right of a woman to reproduce at a time of her choosing; denial of effective sexual education to young people; denial of established scientific truths; dishonest campaigns to insert certain religious doctrines into science classes; denial of medical or psychological care to people in need in favour of prayer or ritual; the indoctrination of children. I could go on, but my time on this planet is finite.

The point is that just like Mr Mohler, I’m happy to respect peoples’ rights to believe what they want, even if I find the beliefs themselves offensive or mistaken and certain actions based on them destructive or oppressive or morally repugnant. I can’t help wondering if he would understand or appreciate that this principle, applied non-specifically, works equally against his own chosen beliefs. I’m wondering if he would respect another person’s right to apply the same disrespect to his belief system as he chooses to apply to Islam (and, presumably, anything other than Evangelical Christianity). I’m wondering if religious people in general would understand that this principle is applied across-the-board by non-religious people to all religions. I wonder this because most religious people assume that it’s their specific religion we don’t have any respect for. Well, no. It’s all of them. I have as much respect for the claims of Christianity as I do for those of Islam, Hindi, Buddhism, Scientology, Norse, Greek & Roman paganism and everything else before & since. But for your right to believe in Thor or Xenu and your right to pray to them five times a day and eat only fish on Friday, I have the utmost respect.

To close, I’m going to exercise some artificial selection & non-random mutation on Mr Mohler’s most pertinent paragraph:

Thus, rationalists may respect the sincerity with which the religious hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves. We can respect religious people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture. We can respect the brilliance of religious scholarship and the wonders of religious art and architecture. But we cannot respect a belief system that denies the evidence for the workings of the universe, insists that gods instantly created us and wish to control us through bribery, coercion or fear, and takes billions of minds captive.

There. Fixed.

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Category: Communication, Religion, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (3)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: The Pope is making an effort to reach out to YOU through his new Facebook account. I hope you two guys can become Facebook "friends," exchange some notes and eventually work out your differences. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30886063/

  2. Hank says:

    [insert obvious joke about internet paedophiles here]

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Hank: I re-read your thoughtful post just now, and it occurs to me that I tend to avoid using the word "respect" because I've never really felt that I understood the word. Maybe if I had a better grasp on the word (maybe if we all did), we wouldn't struggle with the sorts of claims and contentions that you have illuminated here.

    But let me give it a try. I have respect for someone to the extent that I would be willing to acknowledge that they are part of my social circle.

    Now I admit that my definition is rather wobbly, but it does provide a few handles. First of all, because we humans are complex bags of tricks, there's immense room for ambivalence toward someone else. Maybe we like the way they work hard to achieve what they've accomplished, but we don't like what they've accomplished. Truly, the Pope must have jumped through lots of hoops to get to wear all those fancy clothes, and that shows lots of determination, but for what ultimate purpose? To stand up in front of millions to claim that he knows things that he doesn't know at all? Once again, I might respect his determination but not his intellectual honesty.

    Here's another handle my definition would offer. We have various circles of friendship. Do I "respect" another person enough to include her in my innermost circle of friendship? What LEVEL of friendship? Is she the sort of person that I would hold high as one of my closest friends? Or would I simply have her as one of my closest 130 friends?

    Respect seems, then, to come in various levels of both purity and intensity. I offer these tools to anyone who gets snagged up on whether someone is "respectable" or not. There is no need for "respect" to be treated in binary fashion. Do I respect Joe? Yes and no.

    Writing the above just reminded me of a member of my extended family who is a really smart and highly accomplished progressive-minded attorney, who has long been best friends with a nationally prominent yet extremely conservative judge. This friendship has many in the family scratching their heads. How do those two get along? How is it that they can "respect" each other given their diametrically opposite views?

    All I can figure is that it can't possibly be the "pure" and "intense" respect that I have for those I hold in the highest regard. I wonder how socially awkward my extended relative might feel in the presence of this extraordinarily conservative fellow. Maybe he thinks "This is my good friend who repeatedly strikes down legal principles that I hold near and dear." What kind of "friend" maintains those sorts of friendships?

    I'd suspect that if questioned about this relationship, my relative would go down the list of his friend's traits one by one, suggesting that he "respects" this and this, but not that. I've never asked him, though (he's distant family). Maybe it's just in my own mind that there is an awkwardness. Don't opposites often attract? Don't many married couples have intense areas of agreement and disagreement. Don't they somewhat respect each other?

    Isn't it the case that there is no such thing are "pure" respect. I would suspect that if I got to know them really really well, on a daily basis, if I got to see their personal flaws, I might find out that even my heroes (e.g., Bill Moyers and Amy Goodman) would eventually come to seem less than perfect in my eyes. For those of us who pride ourselves on our ability to think AND change, no one is really qualified for an infinitely high pedestal. Yet, they'd be way up there, and it would be meaningful for me to claim that I "respected" them even though they did something that aggravated me.

    My humble suggestion, then, is not to throw away the word "respect" (as I am sometime tempted to do), but to see it as an analogue function varying in purity and intensity, often fraught with ambivalence and ambiguity. Bottom line: it is certainly a useful term for people (and religious movements) who/that rate at the extremes.

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