David Thompson
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March 05, 2007

Comments

KB Player

This post sets out the difference between respect for someone's rights and respect for what they do with those rights very clearly. Everyone is entitled to civility unless they are outrageously rude themselves but it does not mean their ideas and pronouncements are entitled to respect. And they are certainly not entitled to cringeing deference.

Mr Grumpy

I'd differ slightly but significantly from OK. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, the imam is entitled to the respect implicit in the assumption that he holds his beliefs in good faith. It is the beliefs themselves which may or may not be deserving of respect. The notion that we are entitled to treat other human beings with contempt because of their beliefs is tempting but profoundly mistaken - I'd say sinful, but that just gives me away as a believer...

David Thompson

Mr Grumpy,

Perhaps you could explain exactly why having a low opinion of people who quite often say very stupid things is "profoundly mistaken", or indeed sinful.

If an idiot advances his idiocy in good faith, it's still hard to see how one responds with respect in the sense you imply. Amused toleration, yes, or patience, perhaps. But sincerity doesn't seem to compensate for being obstinately wrong, or for making grandiose and incoherent claims about hypothetical deities and their imagined preferences. How does being wrong or presumptuous, even in 'good faith', entitle one to respect, or to anything in particular?

A cherished misapprehension is a misapprehension nonetheless. And it's difficult to point out misapprehensions of this kind - i.e. 'deeply held' religious ones - without appearing to be disrespectful. Obviously, I'm not advocating gratuitous contempt, but whether or not a philosophical challenge or factual correction is felt to be disrespectful may depend on the hubris and dishonesty of the party being challenged. Especially among those who are unaccustomed to having their beliefs tested in a serious way, and who affect an intellectual gravitas they haven't actually earned.

Niko K

Perhaps the above commenter is alluding to the fact that in many Western jurisdictions representatives of a congregation receive special deference in court, thus one must conversely infer that there is something in the representative's upbringing that makes them more equal than others.

In light of that I'd like to remind of this incident not long ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_line

Similar ventures can be found throughout history. In fact, isn't it imams who invoke the picture of crusading Christian leaders every other day as if being a Catholic or Protestant priest in itself were a shameful condition? And wasn't the Pope urged to restraint precisely *because* he was a leader of the Catholic congregation?

Mr Grumpy

'Perhaps you could explain exactly why having a low opinion of people who quite often say very stupid things is "profoundly mistaken", or indeed sinful.'

David, if people say very stupid things I form a low opinion of their intelligence (just as someone watching me try to play football would be entitled to form a low opinion of my athletic prowess). I try (not always successfully) not to form a low opinion of them as people because they are no more responsible for their own IQ or for the intellectual and cultural environment in which they have grown up than for the colour of their hair or the size of their noses.

'I'm not advocating gratuitous contempt'

Then we're agreed. I'm just bothered that some seem to relish the giving of offence per se.

David Thompson

Mr Grumpy,

Thanks for getting back to me. Yes, I see the distinction you make. For the purposes of political discussion, it’s a somewhat idealised distinction, though, and I’m not sure how many of us would observe it in practice; but I’ve no particular grumble there. My comments were aimed chiefly at loaded demands for respect in the political arena, where a less charitable standard generally applies, often out of necessity.

And, as I hope is clear, I’m not enormously interested in giving offence just because one can. There are, however, plenty of legitimate reasons.

David Thompson

Mr Grumpy,

“…because they are no more responsible for their own IQ or for the intellectual and cultural environment in which they have grown up than for the colour of their hair or the size of their noses.”

Further to the above, you touch on an interesting point. In political debates, I’ve often wondered to what extent a person’s faulty or untenable position is simply the result of the limits of their comprehension or the information they have at hand, and to what extent it’s a matter of disregarding evidence and choosing to be dishonest (if only to themselves).

This, I think, is where respect becomes questionable.

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