Are we misunderstanding respect? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Quite recently, I have seen several interactions in the internet world with people of different beliefs and each time I have seen statements like “I respect your beliefs” or “Let’s all try to respect the beliefs of one another.” I understand why some people make such sentiments, but I cannot help but think that they are fundamentally built on an error.
For instance, let’s suppose I think a belief is fundamentally false. In fact, not only do I think that the belief is false, but I also think that it is dangerously false? If you have the belief that torturing babies for fun is okay, I am not going to tell you that I respect your belief. I am going to oppose your belief with all that I have. It is as far as I’m concerned, not just a wrong view, but a wicked one, and why should I respect something that I think is evil?
Now some of you are saying “But not all beliefs are like that.” Correct. There are varying degrees. I do not agree with a dispensationalist approach, for instance, but I can respect that it seeks to uphold the Lordship of Christ and to find a place for Israel. I just think the views are wrong. I cannot thus respect is as a whole, but I can give respect where it is due. I can also respect the rights of people to hold beliefs that I think are in error in some places. My own spouse after all is a dispensationalist.
Ultimately, what we are seeking to really have is respect for the rights of people to hold certain beliefs. We do value freedom, but we know some beliefs are dangerous to hold, such as the belief that it’s okay to murder your neighbor. When people act on such a belief, we respond by locking them up or giving them the death penalty.
Note also in this that it is not just what beliefs are held that matter, but how they are held. I have more respect for an atheist who can well argue for his viewpoint than I do for a Christian who can give no reason why they believe what they believe. I think the atheist is at least taking reality far more seriously than the Christian is. Even if I agree with the Christian on the essential matters, their approach is not one that I respect as it is simply the result of a blind leap.
Let us make clear where we stand. Some beliefs are wrong and we must oppose them, but this does not necessarily mean opposition to the holder of the beliefs. It all depends on how much they have researched their beliefs and how much they have researched the side that they critique. To use an example, I cannot respect the new atheism, even though I can respect some atheists. Why? The new atheism has done squat to understand the beliefs of those they argue against and consistently put up straw man after straw man.
Respect ultimately is not just given. It is earned. If you show up in the marketplace of ideas and know how to argue your beliefs and know what your opponents believe, you will get respected. If not, you won’t.