Not All Beliefs Deserve Respect

“I’m not trying to be ‘that douche’ but it kind of pisses me off that people here accept other’s beliefs only if they’re liberal. What if I tried to post advertising all over about why ‘I’m not an ally’ or why I think abortion is about the most disgusting crime someone can commit? I hate that I feel like I have to hide who I am, because I know I will be judged. Probably won’t even get this posted for that reason exactly.”

This is from a Facebook page at my partner’s school where people anonymously submit confessions. In the comments, people trip over themselves to assure the OP that they respect conservative beliefs and that it’s “ironic” how closed-minded some liberals are towards conservatism.

It’s definitely not the first time I’ve come across this sort of sentiment. Many people of all political orientations seem to think that being a liberal means “respecting” and “accepting” everyone regardless of their beliefs or actions. I can see how they might get that impression, given that liberals sometimes try to frame themselves as more caring and accepting than conservatives (hence the “bleeding-heart liberal” stereotype).

However, liberalism actually has nothing to do with accepting anyone’s beliefs. Traditionally, it meant valuing ideals such as liberty and equality, replacing monarchy and feudalism with democracy and private property, and so on. (Note: this is intentionally simplistic.)

Nowadays liberalism admittedly has a broader meaning. At least in the United States, liberals tend to see a role for the federal government in ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and that vulnerable people receive assistance, and they tend to be associated with the Democratic Party.

When it comes to the opinions and beliefs of others, American liberals (like most Americans) tend to believe that everyone should have the right to express their opinions. The government may not infringe on that right, and while others are not required to listen to your opinions or allow you into their private spaces in order to express them, most people would agree that a healthy society encourages the expression of all sorts of differing views.

But none of that means that I, an individual, am required by virtue of my political orientation to respect and accept everything you think and believe.

Now, it’s important to draw a distinction between respecting/accepting people and respecting/accepting opinions. Political orientations, like all labels, take on a lot of value for us, and sometimes when someone rejects your labels it feels like they’re rejecting you. But that’s not necessarily the case. I reject conservatism but I do not reject my conservative friends and family; I reject all religion but I do not reject my religious friends and family. The reason I am able to keep up relationships with these people despite our vast disagreements is because I am able to see them as more than just their labels, and they are able to see that my rejection of their beliefs and opinions does not constitute rejection of them as people.

At this point a hypothetical conservative might ask why “rejecting” homosexuality doesn’t work the same way. Here’s why. I don’t reject conservatism and religion because I find them icky and weird; I reject them because I think they’re harmful to society. Politics and religion affect us all, so it’s reasonable that we might have opinions about the political and religious beliefs of others.

But someone else’s homosexuality does not affect you in any way. If you find yourself having strong opinions about what someone does in their bedroom with consenting adults, that’s a problem with you, not with those people and their behavior. If anyone ever managed to present a strong argument based on evidence and reality for why homosexuality is harmful, I’d reconsider that position, but I’ve yet to see one. In contrast, there are strong arguments based on evidence for why conservatism and religion are harmful. You might still disagree that they’re harmful and find contradictory evidence showing that they’re helpful, but you can’t deny that good arguments against them exist.

I can divide opinions into three general categories: the ones I agree with, the ones I disagree with but can still accept as valid, and the ones I disagree with and cannot accept whatsoever. The latter category includes opinions such as these: same-sex couples should not have the right to marry. Racism is no longer a thing. Women who dress revealingly or drink alcohol are “asking” to get raped. There is no climate change currently occurring. Homeopathy works. Abortion is murder. People with mental illness should just snap out of it. I refuse to “respect” or “accept” these opinions because they are either barely-concealed attempts to impose religious ideology onto a supposedly secular society, and/or because they are contradicted by all of the available evidence.

That middle category, though, are opinions that I definitely disagree with, but I can sort of understand where they come from and appreciate the thought process that led to them. For example: the government should not mandate insurance coverage. People shouldn’t eat animals or animal products. Government intervention is inherently problematic. That soda ban in NYC was a good idea. We should ditch the Constitution. We should ban third-trimester abortions. Libertarianism and socialism tend to fit into this category for me, except when taken to extremes.

The reason I mention this is just to illustrate that disagreeing with an opinion doesn’t necessarily mean finding it ridiculous and dangerous. It’s entirely possible that someone would look at different evidence, or look at the same evidence in a different way, and come to conclusions that I disagree with but can accept and even respect. But you can’t just throw out any opinion, no matter how ridiculous, and demand that it be taken seriously and respected, not even by liberals who you think are supposed to be “open-minded” and “accepting.”

To bring it back to the anonymous comment that spurred this post, I cannot respect someone who wants to proudly state that they’re not an ally to LGBTQ people. (You don’t have to be an ally, sure, but that’s nothing to shout from the rooftops, you know?) And as for abortion, if you really think that’s “the most disgusting crime someone can commit,” you need to check your priorities. What about sexual assault? What about child abuse? Sorry, I do not “respect” those two opinions. I refuse to.

It’s worth noting, too, that it’s much easier to “respect” dissenting opinions when they do not have an immense detrimental effect on you personally. As I wrote in my post about ending friendships over political differences, sometimes what someone considers “just an opinion” hits too close to home. A straight person may be able to disagree but still respect the opinion that marriage should be between a man and a woman only, but a queer person may not be able to respect that. A neurotypical person may be able to disagree but still respect the opinion that mental illness is a sign of weakness, but a non-neurotypical person may not.

With this issue, as so many others, the difference often comes down to privilege.

I have complete sympathy for anyone who is bullied, harassed, or made to feel subhuman because of their political beliefs, even if I disagree with them. (Not only do I think that treating people this way is morally wrong, but it’s also a terrible way to get them to change their minds.) It’s difficult to be a minority of any sort, including political. I know because I’ve been that awkward conservative kid at a liberal school, wondering if everyone’s going to judge me the second I open my mouth about politics.

I have sympathy for those who feel that way, but I do not have sympathy for those who expect others to “respect” and “accept” their beliefs no matter how ill-considered, dangerous, hurtful, and unrelated to actual reality they may be.

Not All Beliefs Deserve Respect

9 thoughts on “Not All Beliefs Deserve Respect

  1. 1

    Otherwise known as the, “No, actually, espousing tolerance as an ideal doesn’t mean I have to tolerate your intolerance,” argument. Making efforts to be more inclusive means excluding those who don’t want to be inclusive. Etc., etc.

  2. 2

    It has come to my attention that there are those among us who do not love their fellow man — and I hate people like that! Tom Lehrer from the introduction to the song “National Brotherhood Week”

  3. 3

    Respect people, not beliefs. A person’s value lies in his/her ability to suffer, to think, to feel, to act, to function according to his or her own desires. A belief’s value, by contrast, is its entirety– it has no value if false, and if it’s true then you value it by believing it.

    Don’t treat people like beliefs– they don’t become worthless if they believe the wrong things; they don’t become “false,” just wrong. And don’t treat beliefs like people– they don’t deserve “respect” if they are not true, especially if they’re both false and harmful.

    The person you quote is trying to have his/her beliefs treated like people– don’t criticize what I believe, that’s disrespectful to me. Nobody gets that. Nobody should get that.

  4. 4

    Ugh, I hate this argument I just ran into it a few days ago over the French anti-gay marriage protests. Someone noted how ironic and hypocritical it is that the gays are so intolerant of there “deeply held” beliefs while gay people ask for tolerance all the time.

  5. 6

    There’s a bunch of these fundamental misunderstandings from the regressive Right about how progressives view things, that lead to all sorts of “would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and/or harmful” non sequiturs. I’ve also seen conservatives call progressives “secretly racist/sexist” when a black or female Republican loses to a white male Democrat, because they think that the progressive view of equality is “beat the white man at all costs.”

    On the tolerance issue, I get the impression that they believe that progressives accept certain ideas because they refuse to judge them once they are labeled “liberal”, rather than because they’ve judged those ideas to be worthy of acceptance or not. They think we’re engaged in some sort of weird moral relativism where we excuse the “evils” of homosexuality, abortion, feminism, non-whites getting equal treatment, and so on. So then they feel like they’re being unfairly excluded from that judgment-free rule because we apply criticism to them, but not to other more clearly “evil” people and ideas.

  6. 7

    I usually say that I have more respect for someone’s beliefs when they disagree with mine if that person will at least critically look at other options/opinions to the situation. If they reject them at hand, there’s no point in going any further and I won’t waste my time.
    I do not respect most of the teabaggers at all. Their messages are littered with racism, misogyny, xenophobia, paranoia and delusion. They refuse to listen to any contrary opinion or consider any flexibility on any of the difficult issues.

  7. 8

    I’ve noticed something lately where conservatives…I dunno. Seems to me like they try to avoid the actual issues around liberals, preferring to go on about how they’re conservative and liberals don’t like them. Sometimes comes in the form of wondering if all the liberals around will accept a single poor ol’ conservative.

    It’s really as if they think this is all some philosophical sporting exercise, and what matters is just that they’re on the Blue Team (Red Team for Americans), not that the Blue Team are horrible people with horrible ideas and horrible ways of going about things.

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