10/10/11

Should Religious Views be Respected?

The answer is no, views should not be respected in and of themselves. If a person posits a belief in unicorns, that view should not be respected, but dismissed. That said, I think we have a moral obligation to respect the person who posits the belief, as in, perhaps we should suggest that the unicornist seek a good therapist, and we should do what we can to help him.

A good debate is going on over at Salon.com about how faith should be treated among atheists, beginning with what I see as a rather silly view put forth by Alan Lightman, who argues for some nebulous value in faith for those who have it. Dawkins, and those who dismiss such faith as useless because it fails to account for reality, are dismissed as militaristic and/or assholes for not being nice to believers.

Daniel Dennett responded with a short piece that I would have written myself. Essentially, Dennett says that atheists have no impetus to be nice with regard to belief. Atheists are right to dismiss ridiculous claims, and they are doubly right to highlight the atrocities committed under the name of God throughout history.

Two points to make here: Back to my original assertion that we should respect the believer, not the belief, certainly seems to be an important distinction with which I think Dawkins and Dennett would agree. After all, both of those men are by all accounts personable and amiable fellows who would, no doubt, tell you you are wrong and then buy you a beer.

Secondly, and what gets lost in the labeling of those guys as assholes is that they are academics, which means they work for expertise and that they support their claims with evidence. If one brings bullshit into the academic arena, he or she should expect to be called on it. One doesn't base his claims on faith and superstition in an academic arena without meeting with derision and dismissal. That's how the evidence-based community functions, and I, for one, and glad for that.

In a country, hell, a world, in which god-belief is given for all manner of claims, from opposition to stem cell research to sex education and beyond, I am happy to have outspoken academics like Dawkins and Dennett pointing out that the emperor wears no clothes. We need more people like them, and we certainly shouldn't take a namby-pamby approach to bullshit claims. We shouldn't treat those claims withe kid-gloves as if they have merit. We should respect the humanity of those who make those claims (even if those religious folks who make those claims refuse to respect humanity, which is often the case), but we should feel absolutely fine with dismissing their bullshit out-of-hand.

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