Respect, Tolerance, and Silence

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.

Respect1You 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.

  1. A feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.
  2. A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.
  3. A particular way of thinking about or looking at something.

Respect5We 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.

REspect4Respect 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.

Respect6We 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.


20 thoughts on “Respect, Tolerance, and Silence

  1. Unfortunately, religious organisations don’t score very highly on tolerance. Although one feels bound to tolerate them (at least in their moderate form), I do think It would be nice if they disappeared, leaving only personal faith for those that want it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Curtis, I think we are at the end of the Christian era. Truly. If you’ve ever read Will Durant’s History of Civilization, in it he describes the approximate 2000 year path all major civilzations follow, and how each ends in an eerily similar fashion to the others. This one, I suspect, is no different. We are already seeing the crumbling edges, and have been for a few hundred years. Like those mudslides in California, once it starts, it just keeps sliding.

      So I think in the next hundred years or so Christianity will be gradually supplanted by something else. Cold comfort though it be right now, it does happen. It’s kinda sad to think that so much good will disappear with so much ungood, but that too does happen.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Certainly church-going is on the decline in Europe, though still huge in Africa and elsewhere. I wouldn’t bemoan that as long as we retain the (humanist) values. I don’t know the Durant book – thanks for the pointer!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Reply seems to work arbitrarily right now. Sorry if I double up on posting.

      It’s a 12 volume set; if you can find the one on Rome and Greek civilizations, it’s eerily similar to what we have right now. Religion begins to splinter off into a multiverse of gods and factions (Luther got ours rolling ‘way back when), and cultural pursuits like art and sculpting, painting, music, lose the patronage that keeps it alive; finally it starts becoming less recognizable and turns into what so many artitsts now call modern art. uh huh.
      Our last huge classical composers faded away long before the 20th century got rolling, painting was on the decline long before that.
      Education declines, on and on and on. It takes 2000 years to go from start to finish. What we will need is a new god (don’t flinch) or gods to worship. My money is on computers as the new god. Or the man who runs the computers. It’s interesting to watch, but I won’t be around for the end of it, thank god.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for the reply, Judy – I must admit that if it saves me reading a 12-volume set, I’ll be happy to stick with your summary! And I fully agree – AI is the next thing. And we won’t just worship computers / robots, we’ll be superseded by them.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. This world is full of close minded people looking for conflict, something to fight about……it inhibits growth. No one listens, they only seek validation through others.

    I don’t know if I’m ready for the talk. I’m not ready to argue, that’s for sure…..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The only place I would feel comfortable with ‘the talk’ is online. Im not a confrontational person, and it makes me very uneasy being personally confronted or doing the confronting. When it comes to that kind of dialogue, Ill back away very fast.

    However, I do avoidance really really well.

    In fact, the only times I have ever been deeply questioned were by people who had their own agenda to promote. And I suspect my flat responses really didnt impress them one bit. I find face-to-face religious discussions like that to be inevitably one-sided, and when you both agree, well, there’s not much to discuss.

    I take that back. I had a neighbor who was a Witness, and she and I were good enough friends that we would talk about it, in a general way–why they never celebrated Xmas, how she grew up in a JW family…but nothing really major.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s funny but I had this exact discussion with my daughter the other day! (I mean, should you discuss heavy topics online or is it better face to face). Having a discussion when you’re on the opposite side of opinion is so much easier online! You can get your whole argument out without being interrupted and, hopefully, you think about your response before putting it out there. Respect can be shown if you take a moment to consider. But face to face has so many other elements to it. Looking into your face, I always see respect, my friend. How can I argue with that?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting question – to have the talk, or not have the talk? I don’t initiate such discussion generally speaking, but my calling card does read, Artist, Mystic. The latter inspires a few raised eyebrows and the occasional question – do you have a crystal ball? No, I do not. But I do believe in the spiritual realm and that we are indeed spiritual beings immersed in this human experience.
    Many of the great spiritual teachers of the past and present have a common message of compassion towards your fellow man/woman. I have my own creed I try and live by: do no harm, show compassion toward all living creatures and live with an open mind and an open heart.
    I have Christian friends that pray for me, fearing that some how I have lost my way, but I assure them that I am not lost, but found. We each walk our own spiritual path on this earth and in the end I believe our souls live on, or as Rumi has said, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
    I do think we have a right to our own beliefs, to walk our own unique spiritual path as long as we do no harm to another.
    I admire the journey you are undertaking to “know thyself”. It’s clear now what you don’t believe. I’m curious though – what you do believe? I ask this question not as a challenge but because I know from first hand experience that to answer the question requires an inward journey – one you have already embarked on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. You’re a spiritual person, seeker, and mystic. I agree with (believe?) what you wrote, and I am still atheist. That there is more than we know to the human “spirit” is likely and probably permanent. We don’t know everything. So, get a crystal ball. Why not? You’ll have to wait for my answer to your question about what I do believe. Next Tuesday’s blog will help a little.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve had the “talk” quite a few times online and a few times face to face. It’s easier online in some ways since you have the wealth of time and research to chat with someone about their religion. However, it’s been my experience that most theists aren’t as ready for the talk as they might think, and come to realize that they don’t know much about their religions or how to defend that religion, so they pull out the claim that anyone who points out their religion’s failings is being “disrespectful” and use that as an excuse to end the conversation. A face to face discussion is easier because you can do nuances better, and it’s a lot harder for someone to make up nonsense like the above, when you’re right there looking at them.

    I just had a pair of Jehovah’s Witness ladies on my porch. I think it was the first time for one of them to do the door to door, and poor thing got me. She asked me where I found comfort, and I told them “I’m an atheist, so I find comfort in my family and friends.” She looked like I struck her between the eyes with a bat, and repeated “but but where do you find comfort? Don’t youj know there are other sources?” “Sorry, ma’am, but I don’t believe that is true.”

    oh well, I’m sure I gave them something to talk about for days. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I have some stories. When I was Catholic I used to ask them if they would like to join me in watching one of our apologist videos. No one ever took me up on it. It just occurred to me that Witnesses were always women and Mormons always men.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hadnt thought of that before. Where we live it’s a half mile walk (they apparently aren’t allowed to drive to a house, as near as I can tell) and usually it was a man and woman together. Now and then a woman and a child. One was an old classmate of mine, who had led what might politely be called an interesting and very public life, and she and I did the straight face with this stuff while she expounded her theories. She had me, because she was toting along a ten year old kid.
        I’ve known two Mormons, both male. I don’t think the women are allowed to proselytize, perhaps.
        Rude begets rude. If they insist on taking up my time with leaflets and bible passages i refuse to let them in, no matter how cold it is. they dont last long at -10 degrees.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I only want to discuss ANYTHING with open-minded people. I find differences interesting and I enjoy learning, even if the learning is only about what someone else thinks or believes or experiences. When people aren’t open-minded, I close my ears and eyes to not quite shut and wait for something else to pique my interest.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. the nice thing about online discussion, when someone strikes a stupid part, or challenges you, (which is sometimes the same thing), or just goes off on a rant, you can move away for a bit, think over a response, and make all the funny faces you want. So can they.
      Or just walk away from it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The taboo stands. We may not openly criticize religion, but the lack of belief is not only ok, but expected. What follows is elitism and oppression of free thinking.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. True enough. But we have the choice to walk away from the entire mess if we choose. I find endless scripture quotes as proof to be as boring as someone giving me their recipe for Apple Pan Dowdy as proof that they made it.
    Christians are often convinced that a lack of belief in a god implies a vacuum, a space to be filled and therefore we are to be pitied and ‘filled’ like empty buckets. They’re insulted that we don’t share their joy (and terror). Ah. that’s it. Believers are scared, and they want company in the cave so that we can all be afraid together.
    I suspect it also worries them that we seem so easy with ourselves and our heathenness, there must be something WRONG with us.

    Liked by 1 person

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