As a result of my post on Friday regarding gay exorcism, I have come under personal attacks for being disrespectful to believers and for being intolerant of diversity.
I wish to put, in simple terms, why it is that I “do not respect” beliefs, and what exactly that means.
It is a BOLD claim. It is much harder to say than “I am gay,” or “I am an atheist.” I do not respect beliefs. Please allow me to clarify.
(1) I am referring specifically to supernatural beliefs held as truth. Please see my post about the word “believe.” I am not referring to values, but actual beliefs, truths without evidence, faith.
(2) This does not mean that I do not respect believers. This is an important distinction. My lack of respect is only for those ideas called beliefs, not the people who hold them.
(3) This also does not mean I do not respect the right to believe. Indeed, freedom of thought is at the core of my argument. People are not only welcome, but entitled and encouraged to have any ideas they want. The question I pose is whether all of those ideas deserve the same respect.
(4) My intent is an intellectual challenge. My argument is that a belief is an idea just like any other idea. It should be held to the same intellectual scrutiny. It must be able to demonstrate the same evidence and support as any other idea one might consider and is entitled to no extra protection or respect. Being shared by a majority of the population does not add to the merit of the claim.
(5) My resistance is a system of privilege that protects beliefs. This system entitles an individual to say, “These are my beliefs and you must respect them,” and to feel personally attacked if that demand is not heeded. This privilege is quite strong and largely unchallenged in our society, which is why I take such a risk in saying what I say.
(6) My goal is to promote critical thinking. This can only be done by challenging the privilege that protects beliefs from critical thought. When faced with arguments against a belief, an individual might respond, “Well, I still believe.” This is a rejection of critical thought. Beliefs are ideas that should be considered with the same scrutiny as other ideas and rejected just as easily.
(7) Respectable ideas demand proof. The burden of proof is upon the person who makes the claim. Thus, “There is a God,” is not a justifiable claim merely because it can not be disproven. That would be the opposite of critical thinking. Otherwise, “There is a Flying Spaghetti Monster,” or “Pigs can fly,” would be just claims just as valid.
(8) “I do not respect beliefs,” may sound like a pretty sweeping generalization. Please consider the rhetoric. A belief, by definition, is “truth of something without proof.” My challenge is that all ideas worth warranting demand proof. Thus, any “belief” that could be proven would no longer be a belief; it would be a fact. Thus, I can fairly say, “I do not respect beliefs,” without overgeneralizing, because my words are true to the scope I intend.
(9) I would further argue that there is no way to distinguish between the merit of different beliefs without using secular moral reasoning. A belief against blood transfusions might seem harmful to most, but it has no more and no less substance than a simple belief in God. The choice most believers might make against such a belief is a humanistic recognition that refusing blood transfusions could be dangerous. While believing in God is not inherently physically risky, it is still deserving of the same scrutiny as refusing blood transfusions.
(10) If we are using such humanistic criteria for what we believe, why do we have beliefs at all? I would argue that it is the humanistic, secular moral values that already guide us and the beliefs that get in our way.
(11) There are many social problems in our society that we need to address. While many see progress in changing beliefs, my point of view takes ten steps back from that. If we did not respect beliefs, then there would be no need to change what others believe. I see it as a question of the intellectual standard of society. Do we entertain truths without evidence? I say that we should not. We should hold all ideas, however personal or widely-held, to the same level of scrutiny.
(12) Lastly, I am still developing my own worldview. Considering it is already controversial and not widely-shared, I expect to make mistakes and to continue to make changes to it. As of June 21, 2009, I stand by what I have written here today. I expect to be challenged, and I am very open to new ideas (provided, of course, they can be substantiated). I recognize that many might not like what I have shared today, as it offers a direct personal challenge to their core beliefs. I ask that whoever reads this consider my argument critically, but recognize how emotional reactions might affect the way it is perceived.
I want to promote a higher level of human understanding and a greater peace among the world. Many might argue that refuting beliefs, because it is considered disrespectful, runs against that goal. I argue that it is that perception of disrespect that very much prevents us from being a more peaceful planet. I am putting myself on the line in many ways by making this broader point, and I hope that we can discuss these ideas in a respectful way.