Imagine this. What if we could talk about anything—face-to-face? We each could honestly tell the other what we really think. Why can’t we? Should we? Why would we want to? Somehow, after adolescence, I lost that open and honest relationship with the world.
You might say, “Bill, I don’t agree with you. Explain how you decided that.” I may provide my information based upon my experience, reading, some internet or TV source, or maybe I’d inform you about some scientific evidence. If you still disagree with me, you may then counter what I said by presenting similar evidence.
Or you might look at me and say, “I don’t care what evidence you have. I still don’t agree with you. I prefer to believe otherwise.” Maybe you think I’m nuts (get in line). Then I might say, “Ok, I suppose we need another round. It’s your turn to buy, right?”
A dictionary defines respect like this.
- A feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.
- A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.
- A particular way of thinking about or looking at something.
We may respect each other—people, not necessarily ideas or beliefs. I think we should always be civil, polite, and treat each other well. I don’t mean politically correct. Maybe we like (or love) each other. If we share any common opinions, those should make our relationship better. At some point, we may even find respect (see 1 or 2, above) for each other’s opinions.
If we differ in some of our opinions, do we opt to keep our opinions or beliefs private (not talk)? Or, we may publicize some or all of what we think. We may share beliefs only between us or within a limited group—semi-private.
What about our opinions or beliefs regarding sports, movies, music, restaurants, work issues, pot legalization, politics, or religion? How should we balance our differences while keeping with the priority of our relationship? What is our relationship? Are we family, friends, co-workers, or acquaintances in some other way? May we discuss or argue?
Is the metaphorical elephant in the room? If I am an atheist and you are religious (Christian, Jew, Pagan, Muslim; you pick), how is that going to work? Should we have that talk? If not, case closed. If we do talk, how do we do it? It seems to me that for some people, this is no problem. While others should not discuss religion or politics.
Respect for, or tolerance of, religious belief is an interesting topic in itself, especially to an atheist. All atheists want equal treatment (or respect, if you prefer) and tolerance in return from believers and religious persons—equal to what those folks want from everyone else. Look at the definitions of respect above one more time. Does the believer choose number 1 or 2 regarding someone’s atheism? Stop rolling your eyes and answer the question. Ok, then we shouldn’t talk about it. We need to move on.
Let’s drop a level and try tolerance. It’s defined as the willingness to tolerate (duh!) something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not agree with. That can work, but respect is gone. We don’t need it. However, we’re back at square-one because we still can’t have that talk. The elephant now wants to leave us because it’s grown impatient with our conundrum and is tired of us being wishy-washy. We’re merely putting up with each other’s crazy ideas.
Two weeks ago, someone objected to atheists saying, “I don’t believe in God.” Somehow, that is a profession of faith in her view. It’s not, but I agree with her point, sort of. I would prefer to say, “There are no gods.” It’s not so much a question of what I believe, or don’t believe. It is a fact and should be so-stated.
Following that comment, some believers would be personally offended by my blasphemy. They would be off, following the elephant down the street brooding about how insensitive and rude I was. They might rant about me in their blog. Perhaps they’d unfriend me on Facebook. Maybe they’d call my mom. Why? Because I was not respectful of their religious beliefs.
If you are a religious person, I don’t need to have feelings regarding the goodness, value, or importance of your religion any more than you need to regarding my atheism. We do not, and we will not, agree. We may tolerate each other’s opinion or beliefs, up to a point. We should be respectful of each other’s dignity and rights. But opinions and beliefs are not rights.
We should certainly not be limited in our actions by any religion, nor are we under any obligation to pay for any religious practice.
I am still working through this delicate, walking on egg shells, situation. How do you handle this? Are you willing and able to have the talk? What advice would you have? Have you had any good, or disastrous, outcomes to these personal, face-to-face discussions?
Life is complex, look both ways.