Quoting Johann Hari,

I respect you too much to respect your ridiculous ideas.

How is this quote relevant to this entry? Here's the context:

One of the notions that society as a whole seems to have accepted is the idea that beliefs should be respected - in particular, religious beliefs. It is generally regarded as somewhat a taboo to criticise, challenge or even just to discuss about religious ideas. When somebody does any of the above, it is regarded as distasteful, insensitive or just plain rude

In summary, it seems that, in the minds of the religious majority, mere criticism or discussion of religious beliefs is deemed "disrespectful". This is unusual. To paraphrase Douglas Adams (listen to the quote at the 9 minute mark in this video), it seems perfectly normal to argue about preferences of computer operating systems, about the virtues of one economic system over another, about particular political ideologies but somehow it's "disrespectful" when the same amount of respect is afforded to religious ideas.

One of the most common justification I come up against is this: in order to respect someone, we avoid criticising his/her beliefs because we respect the person who holds them.

I beg differ. I think that's an invalid justification. There's a few points that could be made (I can think of two others) but I wish to push this point forward - the one could be summarised with the quote mentioned at the beginning of this entry. And I think it's not made explicitly often enough.

I "disrespect" your beliefs precisely because I respect you as a person.

I "disrespect" your beliefs (ie, to criticise, challenge or discuss about them) because I
  • respect your intellectual abilities that you can understand the arguments I'm putting forth to you.
  • respect your integrity that you would want to be honest with others and with yourself.
  • respect your independence and personhood that you are reasonable to be reasoned with.
  • respect your right to knowledge and welfare that you should benefit from what I know.
That's assuming that I'm correct. If I am wrong, I
  • respect your abilities to defend your perspectives (why else would a discussion be worth having anyways).
  • respect that you care enough for your fellow human to explain why your position is more correct.
I place respect for the person over and above respect for his/her beliefs. The very idea that I bother to engage in the discussion/debate demonstrates this. If I do not think that you are smart enough, reasonable enough, mature enough, I wouldn't be bothered to be engaged in the discussion in the first place.

If you weren't the independent thinking human being that I think you are, I wouldn't bother even to begin "disrespecting" your beliefs.

In fact, I don't see the need to talk of respecting or disrespecting beliefs. It is the free market of ideas that enabled progress in our modern society. We place every belief/idea under scrutiny - and they stand or fall based on their own merits.

From this perspective, it is even more unusual to talk of "respect" for beliefs. If a belief has its own merits, it would stand without any need for special respect. So where's the point? Unless one already realizes that the belief is indefensible, why the demand for special respect? And if the belief is indefensible, isn't it a matter of vocabulary to use the adjective ridiculous? To take it even further, why bother having such indefensible beliefs?

Respect? Yes, you're getting some - just not the "special ones".