Should I respect other people's religions?



My point of view is that there is no reason to believe any god exists without evidence.

So I find religions a very irrational idea and I mostly heard people saying

We have to respect other people's religion

But I have barely heard:

We don't need to respect other people's religion but just respect people

despite it is not unheard for me. My question is:

Is either of them correct? If so, why?

Edit for Clarification: When I say 'not respecting a religion' I mean talking badly about or discrediting it, both of which I think differ from not tolerating a religion or its practitioners.


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 488

May I suggest an edit. No all religions are theistic and the three Abrahamic religions each have a inner tradition that states the existence of God is not a simple 'yes-no- question but far more subtle, a view said to be grounded in evidence and knowledge not faith and conjecture. If you added the word 'dogmatic' before 'religion' this would solve the problem. – None – 2018-08-22T11:45:38.130

12Just as long as you're prepared for theists to not respect your beliefs and call them irrational ;) – curiousdannii – 2015-11-16T14:09:45.847

4How exactly does one respect a person without respecting both their inherent physical traits (e.g., ethnicity and disabilities) and their central life choices and beliefs (e.g., religion, career path)? Maybe the intent of the second quote is to not necessarily respect religious institutions, like the catholic church, while still respecting the individuals who follow that religion, like catholics themselves. – Todd Wilcox – 2015-11-16T17:02:33.523

4@ToddWilcox that's exactly the question. If you are not able to respect someone when you strongly disagree with her views, that means you only respect people like you. You can barely call that respect. – MatthieuW – 2015-11-16T19:46:00.393

2Additionally, i you hide your own views to avoid conflict, it's not true respect either. – MatthieuW – 2015-11-16T20:07:29.440

2“We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” – H. L. Mencken – Michael – 2015-11-16T23:07:02.310

3@ToddWilcox The difference is that life choices are choices, and physical traits are not, although what respecting them means is vague. As the saying goes "one man's freedom ends where another's begins", one should not be dissuaded from expressing an honest opinion because it "offends" somebody's beliefs. There are too many people "offended" by hearing something they don't like. I will say this though, it is one thing to offer an honest opinion when asked, or when talking in a public forum, it is quite another to go look for someone who it is likely to upset, and throw it in their face. – Conifold – 2015-11-17T00:34:46.007

4@Conifold People respectfully express honest opinions every day. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the ability to respectfully express an honest opinion is a prerequisite for mature interpersonal relationships. A great number of the choices people make are just as worthy of respect as anything else, so something being a choice doesn't by itself disqualify it from being worthy of respect. – Todd Wilcox – 2015-11-17T02:21:03.803

4On a fairly regular basis, I tell door-to-door proselytizers thst I respect their faith, will never be able to accept their religion (I can't believe in a deity small enough that my belief matters), and find proselytizing disrespectful since it assumes I'm not intelligent enough to have previously considered the question. I consider that a respectful response. They may disagree. Such is life. – keshlam – 2015-11-17T03:56:44.933

1@keshlam I tend to instead wonder why everyone isn't trying to convert me to their own religion all the time. Do they think I'm going to hell and they just don't care? – Praxeolitic – 2015-11-17T08:04:52.640

@praxeolitic: Many don't believe their way is the only way snd aren't paranoid about someone else believing somethingbdifferent as long as they do good in the world. Many don't believe proselytizing does any good; people will come when they're ready if they ever are; some make conversion actively difficult to make sure folks are committed. Many don't believe in damnation and salvation at all. And, yes, some just don't give a damn. Pick any or all, and don't bother people who have no desire to be bothered. – keshlam – 2015-11-17T16:14:17.233

1Your point of view is that there's no evidence, but many religious people believe there is. So your question is more like whether you should respect that someone thinks something is true that you don't. What does "not respecting" their belief look like? – Demis – 2015-11-17T21:12:48.903

1To further your point @MatthieuW, someone who cannot respect anyone else with different beliefs is the textbook definition of a bigot. – NobleUplift – 2015-11-17T22:32:52.607

Scientology and Mormonism are two religions I'm unable to respect, while having little or no problem respecting many adherents. – user2338816 – 2015-11-18T15:15:02.643

I agree, @DevSolar. I thought the same after asking the question. – Danowsky – 2015-11-18T16:35:34.270

@Danowsky: Too bad I deleted the comment once I found (on second reading) that Demis basically said the same thing. :-D One point I find is surprising many atheists is: you can be religiuous / spiritual without actually believing in the existence of the beings you look towards / pray to / offer sacrifice to. I am, for example. I simply enjoy "thinking it might be real". It makes me feel better, and I think that's a good thing with no harm in it, as long as I don't start explaining or justifying anything with my faith. – DevSolar – 2015-11-18T16:39:16.533

Wow -- a three day old question already protected from answers. Just wanted to point out that faith is the true fail, not just religion. However what one has faith in can end up being good even if there isn't, by definition, proof given by the believer. I would also argue that religion can be as simple as believing in an abstract GOD, while ascribing to all things earthly a scientific explanation -- this may make that religious person more logical or good or both than an atheist. Ex: communism. – Gerard ONeill – 2015-11-19T16:08:52.770

1Ethical judgments, by definition, apply to people's choices. So, if by "religion" you mean the cultural traditions one was born into, or those imposed by a state, it would be irrational to judge someone by that. But if a person is living in a reasonably free society and chooses certain religious beliefs and practices when he would be free to choose others, then his beliefs and practices are absolutely fair game for criticism. – Lee Daniel Crocker – 2015-11-19T18:42:37.763

If you decide not to respect other people's religions, Arqade has you covered.

– Steve V. – 2015-12-05T03:14:24.813



But I barely heard:

We don't need to respect other people's religion but just respect people

There is a whole movement called the New Atheists, who have a similar view to this (Richard Dawkins is probably the most recognized New Atheist). Their central idea is, we don't need to respect other people's religion and in fact we shouldn't respect other people's religion because religion is not only wrong, but harmful. They think religion is harmful because
a) it stands in the way of science (Creationism vs Evolution, etc...)
and b) it leads to fanaticism and terrorism.

The only thing that should be respected is other people's freedom, as long as their freedom doesn't harm other people.

On the other hand, the current mainstream position in Western democracies is (e.g. Article 10 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in France (1789), or the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791)):

We have to respect other people's religion.

There are 2 unspoken assumptions here:

  • That a certain amount of religiosity is inevitable and necessary in any society, hence such religious tolerance is a necessary component of any modern pluralistic society.
  • And that there is a reasonable definition of what an established religion is, and that established religious practices are not inherently bad. Nobody is going to respect a religion whose beliefs fall too much outside of the accepted notions of religious belief. For example one should accept that a woman has to wear a hijab to work, and exempt her from following the workplace dress code in the process. But no one is going to accept the claim that I have to wear a spider-man costume to work everyday because I believe that Peter Parker is the son of God who has decreed that I dress that way. If the Aztecs were still around today, no Western society is going to allow them to practice human sacrifice in the name of religious tolerance.

I think probably the best (and most workable) answer to your dilemma was the one given by Karl Popper in his book The Open Society and its Enemies:

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal. -- The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) Vol. 1, Notes to the Chapters: Ch. 7, Note 4

Alexander S King

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 25 810

Thanks for your answer! I didn't know about Richard Dawkins neither about Karl Popper. I would like to clarify that when I say not respect a religion I mean talking bad about it or discredit it, but I don't hesitate in tolerate religion and tolerate people defending their ideas. Maybe I should edit the question? Thanks again – Danowsky – 2015-11-16T07:06:42.670

2Understood. I think my answer still stands. – Alexander S King – 2015-11-16T07:33:22.463

I agree. Indeed, you included one option I didn't contemplate before: Karl Popper's text. – Danowsky – 2015-11-16T07:37:56.647

7No one is going to accept the claim that I have to wear a spider-man costume to work except for Spider Man fans, perhaps. And other geeks like me ;) – Wayne Werner – 2015-11-16T19:57:31.920

10What a bunch of hogwash the last paragraph is. It says the tolerant should become intolerant against those they think are intolerant and destroy them. Thereby making themselves intolerant, which means that others should become intolerant against them and should likewise destroy those previously tolerant but now intolerant people. Which in the end only leads to nothing but intolerant people destroying each other. The exact problem the author was intending to do away with by calling for the destruction of the intolerant. – Dunk – 2015-11-16T22:20:27.630

@Dunk I'm not so sure that was the author's intent :P – Please stop being evil – 2015-11-16T23:29:55.040

3@Dunk here he is talking about people who use violence against the tolerant. Should the tolerant be tolerant of their own destruction? Note that he is talking of a 'paradox of tolerance'. – ThomasW – 2015-11-17T08:07:20.823

@Dunk That's not contrary; it's akin to Richard Rorty's thing about how you should be open minded but not so much that your brain falls out. It also amounts to saying you do not have to turn the other cheek. It says do not create or seek out enemies but do not ignore them either. Honesty is integral to respect and part of the reason I can be friends with very religious people, but there are still people (religious or not) I cannot be friendly with because, to be honest, I do not like them. To act otherwise would be disrespecting my real friends and discarding the value of respect. – selfConceivedAsEvil – 2015-11-17T12:57:30.790

Also important there is the value of "rational argument" and that it has an opposite. It is almost impossible, I think, to rationalize a radical tolerance for violent behavior. Consider the very ambiguous "suppress them if necessary even by force". Just as honesty is integral to respect, reason may be considered integral to tolerance and thus very intolerant people are irrational by definition -- and very often, in deed, at which point there may be no choice but to stop them. There might not even be that choice, then perhaps we have a "smile and nod" tolerance (i.e. stay safe). – selfConceivedAsEvil – 2015-11-17T13:23:43.237

"very intolerant people are irrational by definition" - by whose definition? Someone whose way of thinking and decision making utilizes facts and logic to reach a conclusion will naturally think other opinions are irrational because the other opinion might be based more around feelings which has no basis for actually being valid or useful. For the logical thinker who is actually trying to solve a problem it is certainly not irrational to be intolerant of opinions that aren't useful in solving the problem. Also, is it irrational to be intolerant of behaviors which are historically dangerous? – Dunk – 2015-11-17T15:28:58.837

2My brother-in-law works at Apple and says there is a guy there who shows up to work every day wearing ladies dresses. Can you imagine that flying at a company like IBM in the 1950's? Society's willingness to tolerate something changes greatly over time and within different groups. – peacetype – 2015-11-17T19:50:23.003

What evidence is there that New Atheism requires people to respect people (from the question) or respect other people's freedom? I skimmed the New Atheism Wikipedia article you linked to, but didn't notice anything related to that. – Andrew Grimm – 2015-11-18T10:29:18.630

1@peacetype that's just confirming the point. Apple will tolerate that, especially now that we as a society acknowledge LGBT and trans gendered people as a separate category, but if Apple hired a software developer from some pacific island who insisted that she who up topless and wearing nothing but a grass thong to work, because it is part of her cultural heritage, would she be tolerated? – Alexander S King – 2015-11-18T19:52:25.980

@AlexanderSKing - My point (which may support your answer) is that the parameters of tolerance can change over time. In other words, what it means to be tolerant varies over time, even within the same social group. At the individual level, necessity to tolerate or be tolerated depends on your capacity to dominate others. If you have great power, you can oppose the popular consensus regarding tolerance and practice the intolerable, or abuse those who society says you should tolerate. But if you possess little power, you have no choice but to go with the flow or be punished by society. – peacetype – 2015-11-18T20:37:24.677

1This "New Atheists" movement is a relatively small movement, most atheists don't follow them. Also, religion in general being by default against science and promoting terrorism is a very strong example of the strawman fallacy. – vsz – 2015-11-19T15:19:24.837

@AlexanderSKing I think of tolerance as a function of a pluralistic society not secularism or atheism. Blending disparate social norms causes us to rethink our social norms. If we were all atheists we would be less tolerant. Can I show up to work with no clothes on because as an atheist I demand rational evidence for anything I incorporate into my life and see no evidence for modesty? – candied_orange – 2015-11-19T16:47:08.390

@vsz I'm not defending the New Atheist movement nor am I agreeing with it. I do think however that it is relevant to the OP's question. You can see my own views

– Alexander S King – 2015-11-19T17:26:12.623

@CandiedOrange what I am trying to say is that even in a pluralistic society, there are unspoken limits and assumptions on what valid religious beliefs are and aren't. People assume that a pluralistic society would except any religious belief or custom, but in fact most modern pluralistic societies don't. – Alexander S King – 2015-11-19T17:28:34.490


I want to add something to the answer of @AlexanderSKing:

The question may be reformulated as "Should I be dogmatic?".

Dogmatism can be understood as stating a "truth" and not only defending it (by rational argument), but also discrediting every other weltanschauung.

In not respecting a religion, you implicitly are dogmatic: You say that the foundations of this religion are untrue and the foundations of your weltanschauung are true. Dawkins is a good example for a dogmatic position. But the point Popper is making is that as long as the opponent is not dogmatic, you can tolerate him and his weltanschauung, taking him back into rational discourse.

But in not tolerating religion, are you better than catholic church in crusades and inquisition or islamic terrorists of Boko Haram or IS regarding dogmatism and its related mindset?

This question is not as rhetoric as it seems, though of course not accurate. But for the sake of the argument go on reading ;). You will, I assume, never establish your view by force. But you cannot respect the person by disrespecting her religion either. Because the weltanschauung is an integral part of the person, it is a part of the autonomy of this person. And dogmatism is in fact rejecting a part of a person's autonomy, and by this her dignity. They do reject the dignity in total, but assuming that dignity is absolute, the connection, although harsh, is there.

The borderline of your freedom is the freedom of others. Popper is reformulating the old idea of a social contract: (Hobbes), Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Rawls. As long as the weltanschauung of others does not harm you in practical execution, you have to tolerate it, no matter how your feelings about it might be. That is why social contract theories are often theories of natural law, restricting practices, not opinions. That's the reason why the above mentioned cannot possibly be tolerated even in the widest sense. But dogmatism should not be tolerated in any way.

I also can't understand people that believe in religion. Sometimes their deep belief and the actions based on it even make me angry. But in order not to be dogmatic, I have to tolerate their belief as long as it does not have direct consequences for my practices (or, in a wider sense, autonomy). I have to respect their autonomy and dignity.

Edit regarding the dogmatism/respect dichotomy

In some sense, tolerance is a direct outcome of respect. Respect in the kantian (and most philosophical) meaning(s) is not to be confused with the feeling of sympathy. You do not have to like a person in order to respect her. For Kant, respect is due to the dignity every moral agent (i.e. person) has. And you do not have to think that there is a God to act respectful towards religious persons and their religious sentiments. See more modern approaches like Rawls or Axel Honneth's Theory of Acknowledgement which are also working with respect.
It is not disrespectful to say that you think that their belief is wrong, it is disrespectful to say that your truth is objective and they are talking nonsense.

You should rather ask for the meaning of what they say. And if they are not dogmatic, it will be that they believe in the existence and that there are proofs for the existence of God. This will be the point you will be able to enter a rational discourse with one another.
Dogmatism in a more traditional understanding is saying that a particular religion is not only about statements to believe in, but about actual objective facts.

This whole argumentation is from a kantian view with kantian concepts and terms, the terms are well stated in his Metaphysics of Morals, part 1, Ak. 221-28 or in this argumentation. They are technical, philosophical terms. Do not confuse them with common language usage. And this argumentation is deliberately overdoing it to point out the problems and differences of both the positions of the opener as well as the kantian answer.

Philip Klöcking

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 9 269

3"In not respecting a religion, you implicitly are dogmatic" - Not necessarily; how could one respect or disrespect an unknown religion? Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong; we don't know. – Cees Timmerman – 2015-11-16T14:16:47.307

1"But in order not to be dogmatic, I have to tolerate their belief as long as it does not have direct consequences for my practices (or, in a wider sense, autonomy)." If your taxes go to pay for their temples do you still have to respect their religion? Doesn't this imply that it has direct consequences on your practices and hence not respectable? – Joze – 2015-11-16T14:21:19.080

@CeesTimmerman: A unkown thing is...well...unknown. But if you encounter a person having a religion you do not know, by merely knowing that this person has some, perhaps obscure, religion, you have to have respect for this person having a religion in the first place. In sensu strictu you can only have respect for a person. That is why I pointed out that by disrespecting a religion, you in fact disrespect the persons. I just adapted the talk of the questioner. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T14:23:15.373

1@Joze: They would by this be dogmatic, yes. That is why in Germany, taxes for churches do only have to be paid if you are a member of that church. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T14:25:11.150

3For those who don't speak German (like me), you might want to define weltanschauung so that those who don't know it means "World View" don't have to google it (like I did). – WernerCD – 2015-11-16T14:45:00.260

Dissing Zeus for sleeping around is disrespectful to Zeus fans, just like dissing Trump for hating illegal immigrants is disrespectful of Trump fans, but if i had no respect for either Zeus or Trump by virtue of not knowing them, how would i be dogmatic and disrespectful? – Cees Timmerman – 2015-11-16T15:00:51.740

I would have no respect for their fans. That is the point. Respect has something to do with autonomy and dignity of persons. Respect for religion is, like I said, an anologous talk adapted from the questioner. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T15:04:57.057

I respect Trump and his fans as human beings, but disagree with some of their views. – Cees Timmerman – 2015-11-16T15:05:57.077

6"[...]But you cannot respect the person by disrespecting her religion either. Because the weltanschauung is an integral part of the person[...]" How can be the _ weltanschauung_ an integral part of a person if it can change at any moment in their lives? Or cannot a person change of religion? Also, I realized you use the word respect and tolerance interchangeably. Do they have the same meaning in Philosophy? – Danowsky – 2015-11-16T15:16:15.337

1If you have to tolerate something that people think and that can change as Danowsky says then you are also obliged to respect their opinions and not criticize them. (Since religions can change they are probably interchangeable with opinions or political views) Why the special treatment for religions? – Joze – 2015-11-16T15:26:37.740

4"[...]And dogmatism is in fact rejecting a part of a person's autonomy, and by this her dignity[...]" Does the dignity of people depends on my disrespectful or respectful opinion? Dogmatism rejecting a person's weltanschauung means that person cannot still have that weltanschauung and maintain it, and by this maintain its dignity despite my opinion? – Danowsky – 2015-11-16T15:29:44.217

2Dogmatism is when you assert principles from an external authority. If you strongly reject religion based on your own argumented reasoning, this is not dogmatism. – ch7kor – 2015-11-16T16:38:18.787

1As stated, this is a kantian use of terms. Dogmatism for him is arguing with (subjective) not defendable/derivable/deductable axioms/presuppositions. @Danowsky: Please note that there is a difference between the implicit subjective ascriptions noted here and objective facts. And that, as stated, the position is exaggerated to point out the difficulties in both your and the described position. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T16:45:59.120

Imagining someone takes a particular point of a given religion and says : "This is so baseless and incoherent I can't even discuss it rationally. This is nonsense". Saying this is not dogmatic, on the contrary, the particular point is a dogma. You are just using the term in the reverse way. – MatthieuW – 2015-11-16T18:43:08.973

Yes, the particular point may be a dogma (in a narrow, religious sense as well as in philosophical). But your statement "This is nonsense" is one as well (in a philosophical sense). Dogmatic can be every position saying "I'm in posession of the only truth" while making implicit assumptions that are not justifiable. It is not by accident that Kant struggled so much by trying not to be dogmatic in this sense. I am using technical terms, do not confuse them with ordinary language usage. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T19:51:23.137

@Danowsky: Added something at the end regarding your comments – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T20:15:22.547

@PhilipKlöcking I was using dogmatism as kantian technical term. Most (all?) religious dogma are "not defendable / derivable / deductable axioms/presuppositions". Stating this is not dogmatism, it is just using the definition. You are reversing usage of dogmatism. And I think your are dogmatic doing so. – MatthieuW – 2015-11-17T01:29:28.900

@MatthieuW: Please (re)read the very last paragraph. It should make clearer that this is not the case. Not every religious person is dogmatic. Churches tend to be, though. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-17T13:28:23.027

Thanks for your answer and your edits, Philip Klöcking. Then are we dogmatic every time we say "What you just said is nonsense", no matter if it is concerning to a religion? Or it is necessary to add the second part "and what I'm saying is the truth"? – Danowsky – 2015-11-17T14:15:53.780

@Danowsky: I think what we have to do is saying why we think it to be nonsense, for example because of inconsistencies, sciences, etc. The difference between categorical and hypothetical judgements: Categorical judgements are true in every case, their truth is not depending on premises. They are dogmatic. It is like in Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action: We have to make rational discourse possible from our side, no matter what the other side is doing. It is in this regard very similar to Popper's thoughts, but unfolded from theories of language to a social dimension in two books. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-17T15:21:53.763

@PhilipKlöcking Thanks for your clarification. I think I understand your point, but I still disagree, especially with "In not respecting a religion, you implicitly are dogmatic". Dawkins is not dogmatic, his critics to religions are baked with rational arguments, and he is the first to say you should not believe something without evidences. Dawkins can be harsh sometime, but that's another point. – MatthieuW – 2015-11-17T23:18:43.880

@MatthieuW: If you have evidence, you have knowledge. It contradicts the whole notion of belief. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-17T23:20:22.960

"Also, I realized you use the word respect and tolerance interchangeably" ... came for that comment :) Mixing these up might have caused more suffering in history than anything else - when people entitled to tolerance (everyone) claim they are entitled to respect (no one), tension is near inevitable. – rackandboneman – 2015-11-19T13:09:27.590

@rackandboneman: This is in fact what the Popper-quote is after. And the reason why I only sticked to the situation where it is not obvious wether the other person is respectful/tolerant or not, but only your own actions are taken into consideration. Because the other situation is quite neatly pointed out by this quote already. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-19T13:40:22.303

Are you sure Dawkins is a good example? Most of his videos I've seen are not actually an example of a dogmatic view. For example, he argues with people who try to put religious views on the same level as science - while completely sidestepping the rules of the game. Or he argues about the morality inherent in supposedly perfect sources of knowledge, when we can prove beyond reasonable doubt that those "perfect" sources have flaws. Neither of those is really dogmatic - it's just playing a game by its rules. Do you have an example where he's truly dogmatic, e.g. "There is no God, therefore..."? – Luaan – 2015-11-19T13:49:47.483

@Luaan: Please see my Edit here for further details on this problem.

– Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-19T14:10:22.643


Unfortunately, I think many of the previous answers aren't quite focusing on the question as asked. The term "respect" can mean many things. The OP asks specifically for:

When I say not respecting a religion I mean talking bad about it or discrediting it.

Of course, there are many different means of "talking bad" that we need to distinguish.

  • Should we point out flaws, shortcomings, or otherwise difficult problems in one or more religion? Yes! Whether one is religious at all, or part of a particular religion under criticism, this is the process by which one discovers truth.
  • What flaws should we point out? We should never point out flaws that we are largely ignorant about. For example, as a Catholic, I can acknowledge that the Crusades were far from perfect; almost inevitably though, criticism comes from people who either (1) have never read a book about the Crusades or (2) the only bits they know about the Crusades come from those that have an axe to grind against the Catholic Church. For one to respect a religion (or any intellectual tradition, for that matter), criticisms should focus on things that one is relatively well informed about.
  • How should we point out these flaws? We should always do so charitably - meaning, (1) with an eye towards seeking truth (and not just being right), and (2) looking at the best arguments offered, not attacking a straw-man.

Of course, all of the above is just common sense on how to have a productive philosophical debate about anything.

James Kingsbery

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 5 868

1Thank you for philosophizing the question into coherence. – commando – 2015-11-16T17:57:24.813

3"For example, as a Catholic, I can acknowledge that the Crusades were far from perfect; almost inevitably though, criticism comes from people who either (1) have never read a book about the Crusades or (2) the only bits they know about the Crusades come from those that have an axe to grind against the Catholic Church." I am curious (and I have a lot of respect for your opinions) which aspect of the crusades if any do you find defendable at all? – Alexander S King – 2015-11-16T19:28:34.727


Well, for example, I would read Steve Weidenkopf's book for a different perspective. I don't think it's about justifying the Crusades, it's about saying what they even were in the first place.

– James Kingsbery – 2015-11-16T20:31:26.163


As a philosopher I'd suggest you first define the term God. The whole discussion would be ruled by your definition. Also you need to define what do you define as "respect". But lets look at your question regardless.

You say there is no evidence of God. First (as a philosopher) you could consider that you know no evidence and many people do not see any evidence. So (as a philosopher) you could consider that there at least might be people that have such evidence. That's one thing.

The other thing is that you cannot rule out any options just because you have no evidence. That means your position (that there is no God) is not fundamentally worth more.

So I don't find it very wise to behave disrespectfully to other people or other people religions in such circumstances. And if you do have the desire to behave disrespectfully that may likely mean you're trying to prove things to yourself by convincing others. Usually a well convinced and balanced person does not have a great desire to discredit others' beliefs.

just my 2 cents


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 171

3I appreciate your observation that "you cannot rule out any options just because you have no evidence". This seems often to be missed. OP says "there is no reason to believe any god exists without evidence". But just as strongly, there is no reason to believe no god exists without evidence of this absence. – commando – 2015-11-16T17:40:05.457

I think this was a good answer until I read: "And if you do have the desire to behave disrespectfully that may likely mean...". It seems like you are just using the words "may likely mean" gratuitously. Because It "may likely mean" a lot of things. And it is not part of the answer of the question, so it looks a bit out of place, from my point of view. – Danowsky – 2015-11-17T14:37:28.577

@Danowsky, the question is related to proving things. There is the psychological aspect of wanting to prove things. Having a strong urge to prove things to the others is very often a sign of internal uncertainty. I wrote that for self assessment. If you don't have such desire, then it is ok. If you have such desire, then that's also ok but it will help a lot if the reason for that is well understood instead of remaining into sub-conscious where it makes you behave irrationally. But this is a real-long topic. Nothing wrong to be uncertain btw, only smart people can be uncertain :) – akostadinov – 2015-11-17T15:30:48.607

@commando: But just as strongly, there is no reason to believe no god exists without evidence of this absence. This is incorrect. One can never prove that there is no god (at least with the definition of god as an omnipotent, omniscient being). Similarly, nobody can prove that I wasn't just abducted by aliens, placed on an idyllic planet for 1000 years where I didn't age, and returned back to earth at the exact same instant I was abducted. The onus isn't on others to prove this didn't happen - it's on me to prove it did. – Gerrat – 2015-11-17T20:52:45.177

@Gerrat, with the instrument of logic, you certainly can't disregard any of the options without evidence. Not sure how your example should prove otherwise. – akostadinov – 2015-11-17T21:27:57.557

@akostadinov: The main thing here is the burden of proof. The burden of proof can't rest on the side of the argument that is impossible to prove. There are about a million ways one could offer as proof of god's existence - there are exactly zero ways to prove the non-existence of god. Saying we can't disregard options without evidence is misleading - we don't include the options to begin with unless there is evidence. Nothing would ever be proved if everything not explicitly disproved was on the table. – Gerrat – 2015-11-17T22:14:31.093

@commando oh, then I can state that there is an invisible pink unicorn. beware of the IPU, it shall follow you in the bathroom should you be unworthy. – v.oddou – 2015-11-18T01:34:08.087


@v.oddou basically yeah. I can't prove you false. Russell's teapot. Whether or not you think god is unfalsifiable is a different question - but this is where the good ol' Razor is often brought in.

– commando – 2015-11-18T13:57:51.373

@Gerrat, burden of proof is to the one that tries to convince the other party. If one does not need to prove, then there is no burden for him/her ;) -- nobody was talking about burden of proof I think – akostadinov – 2015-11-18T20:00:38.737


A great number of nations base their constitution explicitly on the set of humans rights. Or they are members of the United Nations and have subscribed to the UNO-declaration of human rights.

In these nations the people are in duty to respect the rights of their companion fellows, in particular the right to adhere to or to abandon a distinguished religion. Moreover, nobody must be privileged or discriminated due to his religious choice.

According to these rights one has to respect other people on a legal base.

On the other hand - and particularly in a philosophical context - no religion or worldview should be considered sacrosanct and exempted from critique. Because I consider questioning, argumentation and also critique the best means for understanding different worldviews and enabling a rational choice on the field of religion.

Jo Wehler

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 17 204


If one considers the larger view, that religions represent a particular view on the world, as do philosophies; then the concept translates into respecting other worldviews or weltenschauungs.

What is the ethical basis of such respect or tolerance?

One might point to the golden rule - do as you would unto others as you would want done unto you; but not thought through persons but through worldviews.

To which, one might argue, as you have is not better to respect persons rather than worldviews; to which one might reply the two aren't mutually exclusive - and the relationship between one and the other and between is complex.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 1

1"Do unto others" is fine as long as others have the same taste. "Don't do unto others what you wouldn't have done to yourself." is a safer alternative. – Cees Timmerman – 2015-11-16T15:15:56.800


To get along with me, you need respect my religion no more nor less than I respect your irreligion. You should check out who Dawkins, et. al., are so you know what Alexander King is referring to.

If we let each other bring up our kids, within societal norms, but with respect to our own world view, we'll get along. If some of us force the others to rear the others' kids in accordance to their own world view, we won't get along. We need to respect each other's world views at least to that extent.

What are those "societal norms"? They vary with societies and some societies are nasty and oppressive. But if someone's supposed religion requires or excuses some practice like human sacrifice or even adults using kids for sex, I don't care what they think about their religion, I am for the State intervening. to that extent, I do not respect their religion.

In a pluralistic society, it can be sometimes hard to come to a consensus regarding what domains of activity are protected and what are not. I feel we do pretty well in the U.S., but had not always done so well. Religious pacifists were not granted space to practice their pacifism until the mid 20th century (WW2). Even today there are issues regarding parochial schooling and the State's interest in accreditation.

There are religions, even various quasi-Christian denominations, that I do not fully respect. But I respect them enough to agree to disagree peacefully and to provide mutual dignity.

robert bristow-johnson

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 516

1"they vary with societies and some societies are nasty and oppressive. but if someone's supposed religion requires or excuses some practice like human sacrifice or even adults using kids for sex, i don't give a shit about what they think about their religion, i am for the State intervening. to that extent, i do not respect their religion." So you're introducing a normative "some societal norms are better than others"? And moreover, "religions promoting those societal norms I think are bad should not be respected"? – commando – 2015-11-16T17:43:12.743

2@commando: sure (even though the second quote is not a quote from words of mine). and that's the whole issue of morality in our lives and of government and politics in our collective lives. – robert bristow-johnson – 2015-11-16T19:07:38.650


We don't need to respect other people's religion but just respect people

As Alexander explained, this is a position taken by Dawkins and "new atheist" movement. And this position makes sense.

We can't "respect" religion. Even religious people don't respect other religions. A catholic will find dogmas of Later-days Saint Church utterly absurds, but their own dogmas will seem also nonsense from an external point of view.

Even is we don't respect religion (even if we consider religion harmful), we have to respect people and especially freedom of religion. It is essential to be able to peacefully live together.

But that's not so simple.

Most religious people feels offended when you claim there is no god. And well, you just said they believe nonsenses, so they may think you consider them stupid. (historically, many highly intelligent intellectuals have believed nonsense.)

They also feel offended when you make fun of their dogmas and taboos. It's a difficult concept for them to understand that their religious taboos are not universal and don't apply to people not sharing their faith. Or to understand that laughing can be considered more important than praying.

So we have to respect people, but we offend them anyway, just because we don't share their belief and we want to be able to tell it. So be it.


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 158

1I do not see how we "offend them anyway", because it is an important difference saying "For me, this does not make sense, because I cannot believe it" rather than "This does not make sense. It is wrong". It is the difference between a dogmatic and a tolerating mindset. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T13:52:56.313

1@PhilipKlöcking I have long hair as a male, and my female friends like to show skin in summer. That's offensive to quite a lot of people. – Cees Timmerman – 2015-11-16T15:23:46.813

Misunderstanding occurs even when you are cautious and some people can be easily offended. – ch7kor – 2015-11-16T15:42:21.043

1Well, this might be because these people tend to be dogmatic and therefore offended. I just wanted to point out that this is not necessarily so and one has to examine his own actions first. As I seem to be misunderstood easily in this matter: I am not judging for or against atheism/theism, nor do I think that people are dogmatic/tolerating. Religion just happens to be one field where it seems to be normal to impute dogmatism to others while not reflecting on yourself. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-11-16T16:55:58.413

I'm not sure I understand the connection between respect and offense. – commando – 2015-11-16T17:38:19.713

Remember the question is "is is ethical to discredit a religion while you should respect its followers". @PhilipKlöcking you assume that discrediting religion is dogmatic (in kant sense), this is not always the case (you can use a correct argumentation while doing so). And this is not the subject of the question. – ch7kor – 2015-11-17T08:46:08.443

@commando the connection is that you may try to be respectful of religion followers, but they will probably think you are not because they feel offended because you discredit their belief (even if your are very careful) – ch7kor – 2015-11-17T08:46:16.433


From a pragmatic point of view, we live in a multicultural, multi-faith world, in which religion is among the things that many people find most personally important. If we don't agree to respect each others' religions, regardless of our personal opinions about those religions, it will make it almost impossible for us to interact peaceably with anyone of different beliefs.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 23 641

True. But the boundaries are constantly being challenged (gay marriage vs polygamy, scientology's tax status, abortion, etc...), making such a pragmatic response almost unworkable. (pragmatism and crisp boundaries don't mesh well). Hence, I think Popper's tolerance quote is very relevant. – Alexander S King – 2015-11-17T20:32:49.987

Thanks, Chris Sunami. That makes me wonder why other people is going to feel ofended if we don't respect their personal beliefs but we just respect them – Danowsky – 2015-11-17T23:10:05.357

@Danowsky Since many people feel very strongly about their religious beliefs, if you are openly disrespectful of those beliefs, you will --rightly or wrongly --come into conflict with them. A certain level of public respect for diverse religious beliefs is part of what allows a secular society to operate smoothly. There's no particular requirement that you be privately respectful of those beliefs (i.e. around people you know to agree with you). There are, however, many people who are not personally believers who still hold a respectful attitude towards religion. – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2015-11-18T01:26:48.293


We can use these definitions of respect to make this an easier question to answer.

If you mean 'refrain from interfering', then I would have to answer no. Religions may require people to do things that go against laws or accepted norms. A religion requiring people to kill the poor would not be one I would be happy to have in my local community.

Religions could also just be really strange (from my point of view). So in terms of 'holding them in high regard', again I think no would have to be the correct answer.

You can respect people's freedom of thought and freedom of expression perfectly well without having to make special allowances for concepts and ideas classified as religion.

To reply to the comment below: It is irrelevant if one specific religion or all of them happen to promote 'good' values. The question asks whether we have to respect every possible religious belief.


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 165

1What about a world where everything we consider most horrible and odious is the norm? Do religions there supporting those norms deserve respect? What if the religions there promote our societal values and oppose those of that world? Does something make our norms better than those? – commando – 2015-11-16T17:44:37.480


You don't agree with their beliefs, because you find them irrational. Finding them irrational is not disrespectful. Voicing disagreements kindly, and with the right choice of words, also would not be disrespectful in my view. For example, your choice of the word "irrational" instead of "dumb".

PS: There are very rational arguments for following a religious life, too.

PS 2: You haven't exhausted all religions in your search, so you can not conclude they are all irrational. Maybe witnessing a miracle will convince you!

Ozgur Ozturk

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 121


What does it mean to respect a person? The definition of respect is "regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others".

If a person wishes to cover their head for religious reasons, or they wish to not work on a Sunday, then to allow them the freedom to do so is a sign of respect.

I think most people would agree that the above is reasonable, unless the person's wishes are to do harm on others.

What about respecting someone's ability to decide for themself? Every person makes their own mind up about what their beliefs are. And their beliefs are influenced by their experiences, their worldview and many other factors. It is not possible to completely understand in full the motivations behind a choice to ascribe to a specific religion (or none at all). One cannot presume to completely understand someone else, and no person can perfectly, accurately portray their opinion in words in a fashion so ideal that everyone listening will be able to understand their point of view in its complete entirety. People are complex, their opinions are complex, and it's necessary to keep that in mind when discussing stuff like this.

I think that respecting a person also means giving them the benefit of a doubt that they are not crazy and that their decision to choose their religion is justified in their own mind, even if one doesn't understand their thought process, or even if they can't satisfactorily describe their opinion.

With this in mind, when one approaches someone to discuss these things, it shouldn't be with an attitude of "I'm going to convince you I'm better" or "If only you saw things my way, the right way", because just those thoughts themselves show disrespect toward the person. It essentially means you're assuming that you are better able to make decisions like this than they are, and that their ability to think and reason is lesser than yours.

And this I think is where the distinction lies. There is nothing wrong with discussing religion and questioning eachother about beliefs, but it is necessary to do so with a respectful attitude, remembering that the other person is just as complex, and to give them the benefit of a doubt that they are able to make their own decisions. This is what is means to respect them as a person, and assume that their ability to make their own choices about their religion is just as good as our own.


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187



Because of the use of the word "should," we are engaging in a moral or ethical issue. For purposes of communication, I like to rely on a utilitarian ethical approach. Most people can at least recognize utilitarianism as having some value, even if they elect to declare that their personal moral system supersedes it. Thus, utilitarianism provides a decent common ground to at least begin the discussion from.

Of course, utilitarianism is built on the concept that acts have utility, a quantifiable sense of value. Any discussion of utilitarianism would be remiss if it did not include a discussion as to how to arrive at the value of a given act.

A key question in such a discussion is whether we know everything we need to correctly assign a utility. Very often there is some element of the unknown involved in the process, and it is markedly difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at an agreement as to how to handle this unknown. This is doubly true in the case where multiple individuals have experienced different sets of events in their life, leading to different unknowns.

Thus it should be clear that utilitarianism offers us little reason to believe our beliefs have any more utility than another's beliefs unless you account for selfish utilitarian arguments (I should protect my own beliefs and destroy others' beliefs because they may try to destroy mine). One would need to supersede this argument with a different moral code to arrive at a different outcome.

The debate between whether one's utilitarian system of values should be "selfish" is a much more nuanced debate, which has fewer clear cut answers. If one is not interested in exploring that side of the debate, the remaining solution is to coexist with other religions. The concept behind the English word "respect" has been found to be an effective one for generating peaceful coexistence between disparate groups, so it is a recommended course of action. It also has an added benefit of being a useful concept as one explores the "selfish" side of the arguments, helping to identify potential win-win scenarios that can otherwise be quite difficult to discover.

So in the end, you should do whatever should be done by a moral code. However, utilitarianism offers a least-common-denominator reason to suggest that respecting others' religions may have utility, so that can at least form a departure point for more in depth analysis.

Cort Ammon

Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 16 681


To attempt an answer to your updated question - ie. should you respect as in not talk badly/discredit it I would suggest that you should.

To clarify, I'm not saying that you have to believe that all religions or even any religion is true or correct or whatever, merely that you should show the same respect that you would desire for yourself.

You say that you find religions to be irrational. You have used your rational mind to come to this logical conclusion. However, there are other people who have used this same process and have come to the opposite conclusion. Would you want them to ridicule you/your position and regard you as an idiot for what you consider reasoned logic?

I would suggest that you should respect other religions as to not do so shows an extreme arrogance - that you in your clearly superior logic/intelligence can safely look down on people because you feel you've got it all worked out.

I would say this is precisely the same reason that people who do hold to a religious belief should respect people who do not.

This is all not to say that everyone has to agree - this is the error shown in the Popper quote. Merely, that when you do disagree and debate, you do so with the assumption that your fellow human has thought this through. If they haven't that will be shown by their lack of reason and is their loss.


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 139

1"Would you want them to ridicule you/your position and regard you as an idiot for what you consider reasoned logic?" This is two different questions. Yes, I want them to ridicule my ideas if they think they are wrong. No, I don't want them to regard me as an idiot as I don't regard them as idiots. If any of us have a wrong or even an stupid idea implies that person is stupid? I think a lot of times, at some point, smart people have maintained ideas we now consider wrong or even stupid. – Danowsky – 2015-11-18T16:03:14.810

"[...]that you in your clearly superior logic/intelligence can safely look down on people because you feel you've got it all worked out.[...]" You're presupposing I look down on people just for not respecting their ideas, which is actually the question I want to get answered, besides this, I find the act of criticize my own ideas and other's the opposite position of "you've got it all worked out." – Danowsky – 2015-11-18T16:04:24.323

I apologize if it came across as a criticism of you in my answer - I merely wanted to show the extremity of what not respecting a religious belief might look like. I'm not actually presupposing you look down on people, I'm trying to show what an extreme version of disrespecting a religion might look like. As for wanting people to ridicule your ideas, that's fine, however, I think you'll find most people would rather a reasoned discussion rather than ridicule. – CCarter – 2015-11-19T08:44:53.260


In general terms I am neutral in terms of respect towards religions. They are just another instrument to help us to navigate. However, my neutrality stops when religions stop to be tolerant or when religions are tolerant but their members are not. Among other authors who follow I think this line of thinking are Mark (yes, that one of the Bible), John Rawls, Eduardo Paz Ferreira.

Anyway maybe persons such as Graham Harman got it right with the concept of "God to come" a "God that does not exist YET".

But Saint Shrodinger could be right ☺

enter image description here


Posted 2015-11-16T05:30:41.187

Reputation: 107