Grayling and Blackburn on Religion and Respect

Well this is what I keep saying.

It is time to reverse the prevailing notion that religious commitment is intrinsically deserving of respect, and that it should be handled with kid gloves and protected by custom and in some cases law against criticism and ridicule. It is time to refuse to tip-toe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, or any other kind of immunity, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having faith were a privilege-endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions.

That’s all. It’s quite simple. Faith is not a virtue, and it shouldn’t endow privilege. It’s not noble to believe in unsupported claims, especially in the guise of ancient superstitions. ‘Faith’ keeps insisting on throwing its weight around in public matters, so it can’t reasonably claim kid glove handling at the same time. It does claim exactly that; but not reasonably.

Grayling is forthright.

On the contrary: to believe something in the face of evidence and against reason – to believe something by faith – is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect. It is time to say so. It is time to demand of believers that they take their personal choices and preferences in these non-rational and too often dangerous matters into the private sphere, like their sexual proclivities. Everyone is free to believe what they want, providing they do not bother (or coerce, or kill) others; but no-one is entitled to claim privileges merely on the grounds that they are votaries of one or another of the world’s many religions.

Simon Blackburn said much the same in that article ‘Religion and Respect’ [pdf] that I commented on a year ago.

But, I argued to myself, why should I “respect” belief systems that I do not share? I would not be expected to respect the beliefs of flat earthers or those of the people who believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was a recycling facility for dead Californians, and killed themselves in order to join it. Had my host stood up and asked me to toast the Hale-Bopp hopefuls, or to break bread or some such in token of fellowship with them, I would have been just as embarrassed and indeed angry.

But the rules change for (established) religion. And they not only change, they creep.

People may start out by insisting on respect in the minimal sense, and in a generally liberal world they may not find it too difficult to obtain it. But then what we might call respect creep sets in, where the request for minimal toleration turns into a demand for more substantial respect, such as fellowfeeling, or esteem, and finally deference and reverence.

Or not finally; there’s another step: obedience and submission, along with silencing and censorship. In some places and on some subjects, we’re already there.

Grayling concludes:

But no organised religion, as an institution, has a greater claim to the attention of others in society than does a trade union, political party, voluntary organisation, or any other special interest group – for “special interest groups” are exactly what churches and organised religious bodies are. No one could dream of demanding that political parties be respected merely because they are political parties, or of protecting them from the pens of cartoonists; nor that their members should be. On the contrary. And so it should be for all interest groups and their members, without exception.

Yup. Time for the worm to turn.

7 Responses to “Grayling and Blackburn on Religion and Respect”