In a sense, I know that we should respect everybody, but do we really just need to keep quiet when crazy religious people preach and yell and affect law? I personally don't think so. Maybe I am too closed minded, but I think the more vocal the atheist community becomes and LESS vocal the religious community can be the world would be better off...Faith is not based in fact, as everybody knows. So why not publicly denounce all faiths as ignorant and detrimental. 

Does anybody else have any thoughts on this?

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You ask one question: Do we need to respect religion, but then in your clarification you focus on something else, i.e., do we need to respect people that hold religious beliefs. To the first point I think the answer is easily, no. Much in the same way that I should respect whether the idea that storks deliver babies, people can be other people's property, or women are somehow less qualified to vote or hold important positions in society, ridiculous ideas whether they be mystical in nature or not, are unworthy of my or anyone else's respect.

However, when it comes to the respect granted to people that hold religious beliefs, that is entirely related to the person, your affection for and opinion of them, the risks in losing that affection/opinion, and the influence they have on your life. I can easily hold and deliver strong condemning opinions anonymously here and other places on the Internet, but I'm pretty sure that my boss who is a casual yet practicing Christian will not get my position in the same tone or extent. That's just a reality.

The other question is what is your hopeful outcome of the conversation? If its to persuade, fire away at the impossible, you are target hunting for sport. Gratifying perhaps but terribly ineffective. If it is to lead someone along the path of change, it will take a more gentle and respectful (even if it is painfully feigned) approach to help someone arrive at self-realization. Sometimes for me it's just to be clear that I don't want to be lumped in with any group of believers. But my purpose varies, sometimes its to express my disdain at the fan clubs of religion, whereas disdain for religious dogma itself might be a different discussion for a different day.

I hold all religions that profess complete and universal knowledge in contempt.

I tolerate the religious as long as they do not intrude on my secular rights as I perceive them. I hold little respect for the philosophical or moral intellect of the religious, however in all other aspects, I offer respect of the religious until proven otherwise.

The vast majority of people I know are "quasi" religious. The understand and disregard the inconsistencies embedded in their "faith", however they lack the interest or courage to come to terms with it and thus become enablers for the fanatics.

As every guy knows, respect is a scarce commodity which must be earned. The only type of respect I have for religion is the type which I have for heavy machinery or firearms: Use carefully or it may be lethal. While I tolerate others right to hold a religion, I do not have any respect for others which hasn't done anything to earn any, nor do I have respect for religion. 

Maybe god is Chuck Norris?

I don't and will never respect religions. As for religious people, I treat them the same as any other human being, with exceptions (religious extremists, criminals etc). But religions do not deserve respect in anyway, for all the good they have done is absolutely nothing compared to the amount of evil caused by them.

I try to. But I just can't. It's so foolish and I get so frustrated with them. 

I really wish I could.

Don't know where I heard this but I think it applies here, in a sense. Especially if you want to help change people's minds...
Don't look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.

I respect everyone's right to believe as they wish, regardless of how preposterous I think it is.  I see no reason whatsoever, though, for respecting the beliefs themselves without some corroborating logic or evidence of their truth and/or efficacy.  Nor do I feel any moral or ethical need to respect people who believe things that are detrimental to society, such as parents who deny their child medical care because their imaginary God prohibits it.

As other members have already noted (especially Marc), discussions about whether religion requires respect are prone to confusion because different issues are confused.  It seems to me that four distinct questions are very easily confused:

1) Is it legitimate to criticize religious claims? 

2) Is it legitimate to criticize religious (and religiously motivated) behaviour?

3) Is it legitimate to criticize these things given the unusual proneness of the religious to taking offence when this happens?

4) Where is the line between intellectual criticism and personal insult?

Believers and nonbelievers alike are prey to the ambiguity inherent in the ‘respect’ issue, whenever it arises, and discussions tend to slide imperceptibly between these four questions.  I think the answers to the first three are, unequivocally: ‘Yes’.  The fourth one is the Gordian knot, a can of worms…

(Codie, the elaboration beneath your question suggests you are concerned with religious behaviour, and whether it is legitimate to criticize it.)

The ‘respect’ issue has been one of the most discussed issues among the so-called ‘New Atheists’, ever since Sam Harris got on the lecture circuit in 2004, followed by Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens.  One of the features of what we call the ‘post-9/11’ world is the recognition that religion is no longer a private matter, that the implicitly-accepted taboo on criticizing religion is absurd, especially since religion impinges on so many aspects of public life and on the well-being of society at large, that religious beliefs and practices are legitimate subjects of debate as much as are any other political issues.

It’s important to recognize that the ‘respect’ issue is an entirely modern one, and is Western. It is the product of the decline of Christian orthodoxy and the rise of science and rationalism, of democracy, pluralism, moral relativism, and (to some degree) of political correctness. There was no need for it during the many centuries when the Church was an unchallenged orthodoxy, and it remains absent for the same reason today in Muslim countries. The demand for respect is essentially a defensive behaviour on the part of an ideological community in retreat, no longer invested with great power, aware of its vulnerability – like an aggressive dog switching its behaviour and rolling over to expose its belly.  The angry rebukes and the moralizing tone one hears from religious believers in response to criticism are the entreaties of the weak – like a woman’s demand for ‘chivalrous’ behaviour from a man.  But whereas a woman’s expectation of chivalry from the ‘dominant male’ is legitimate, the religious believer’s demand for immunity from criticism is less obviously legitimate.

Religious claims extend to every important field of knowledge – the physical world, history, the future, the nature of man, the meaning of human existence, ethics and the good life, as well as basic aspects of human life like marriage, sex, health, diet, dress, and so on. Across religions, these claims present a riotous cacophony of contradiction, and most are either false, questionable, arbitrary, or discreditable. It matters to know whether our earth is 4.5 billion years old or a mere 6 to 10 thousand years old, and whether it formed from the collision and sticking of dust and rocks from the solar nebula or was created ex nihilo by a deity called Yahweh. It matters to know whether moral values and principles arise from human sympathy and cooperation and are amenable to reason and discussion, or depend on absolute commands believed to be of divine origin.  Religious claims derive from the primitive history of our species and are legitimate objects of critical scrutiny, especially as they’re advanced on the basis of inherited dogma rather than evidence or reason.

Then there is religious behaviour itself, based as it is on social contagion and the herd instinct, whereby a set of beliefs, values and practices, handed down by tradition, is embraced en bloc from the religious community to which the believer happens to belong, and affirmed on the basis of faith (with theology and apologetics sometimes coming in as subsequent but optional supports to the doctrines, in the manner of rationalization). Everything we know of the psychology of religion shows that religiosity is a self-deception, founded on the satisfaction of emotional and spiritual needs of individuals within faith communities. Then there are the social ills fostered by religion – sectarianism, ethnocentrism, intolerance, oppression, opposition to learning, progress and free enquiry, wars, inquisitions, and in the case of Islam, terrorism on a daily basis.  These things, too, are legitimate objects of criticism.

What, then , of the unusual proneness of the religious to taking offence when their beliefs or behaviour are criticized?  Given the nature of religion, the offence is inevitable, but the religious have no entitlement to being cosseted or treated with special consideration.  When our deeply-held political or ethical convictions are criticized – particularly when the criticism is effective – we inevitably take it personally, but we accept this as part of life.  We recognize that criticism of ideas and institutions is a core value of Western culture.  It is no different with religion. But the objections of the religious to criticism seem prone to the confusions previously mentioned.  Their complaint often seems to be that they are not being shown due respect as persons.  To the critic this merely complicates the matter and adds a dimension of emotionalism that seems out of place, for his criticisms are directed at religion itself.  True, if religion is a psychological condition, founded on self-deception, and its nature is analyzed and exposed with particular effectiveness, the believer is bound to take umbrage.  But this is hardly the critic’s fault.  On the other hand, critics of religion, animated by the contempt they usually feel for religion, often go too far in personal disparagement of believers.  Then again, believers often ask for it, with their stubbornly reiterated faith affirmations, quoting from scripture, their weak logic, circular arguments, and constant evasions of the points at issue when engaged in discussion with sceptics, whom they often describe as blind, in denial, driven by hubris, or in pact with the Devil!  I say ‘go too far’.  But where is the line that separates legitimate criticism from uncalled for personal disparagement?  There isn’t one. For many religious believers the smallest degree of criticism is experienced as an aggressive and inappropriate onslaught.  As Richard Dawkins has often observed, whereas a certain level of criticism directed at any subject other than religion seems perfectly normal, when applied to religious faith it suddenly strikes people (even nonbelievers) as “shrill strident, intemperate, ranting”.  Again, this arises from the conditioned taboo against religious criticism. Critics often feel they can’t win; Dan Dennett remarked that no matter how mildly or respectfully he tried to present his criticisms, believers would still “play the hurt feelings card” and accuse him of offensiveness and insensitivity.  So critics often decide they may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, abandon all pretence of treating believers with kid gloves, and adopt a policy (as A.C. Grayling puts it) of “plain speaking”.  This has long been my own conclusion.     

Hey Mark,

This is a great post. Thanks.

Everything we know of the psychology of religion shows that religiosity is a self-deception, founded on the satisfaction of emotional and spiritual needs of individuals within faith communities

I'm wondering if you might expand on this for the reader. I don't think most atheists are all that knwledgeable of this area and I think you're touching on a key point here.

- kk

Mark, cheers for being more thoughtful, intelligent and encyclopedic than I could ever be on my best day.


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