Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Respecting Others' Beliefs

A couple of months ago, Renee of Womanist Musings wrote a post in which she talks about the hostility that people often show towards Christianity in liberal-oriented spaces, particularly online. A good many of the comments absolutely infuriated me; it wasn't so much the fact that the issue of Christian privilege was brought up, but the way that so many people decided that it was perfectly OK to mock Renee's beliefs in her own space, and say that because Christians have Christian privilege, especially in the USA (though Renee is a Canadian and Christian privilege is often very different up here—especially since we're overall a much more secular society), it was perfectly OK to crow about how they themselves didn't believe in an invisible sky person and keep holding all Christians responsible for the worst, most despicable actions of a few who also call themselves Christians. And in talking about these things the way they did, they provided an example of the very thing that Renee was talking about—all the while saying that it was their perfect right to be hostile because Christians are the ones with privilege in North America, and if Christians can't let a little justifiable anger roll off their backs, then Christians should just bugger off because their beliefs are a destructive force of oppression. And they said this on a thread in a response to a post on one of the most progressive blogs I've ever encountered—a post in which the writer herself said,
When I enter into liberal spaces, quite often those that have been victims of fundamentalist Christians will attack the validity of my belief system by lumping us all in the same group. I know that this comes from a place of pain, but purposefully erasing me is also hurtful. Quite often I am met with the idea that Christians don’t really practice what they preach, and if there was really a conflict regarding bigotry, more Christians would be speaking out. Well, everyday on this blog I attempt to speak for marginalized bodies. I encourage everyone through my open guest posting policy to speak their truth.
Of course, there were many comments which put an emphasis on the advisability of showing respect to people of faith, but at least one person took a major offense to this idea because apparently it's too much like allowing a Privileged Person's Privilege to Remain Unexamined.

You know what? I don't think that showing respect to other people's beliefs necessarily means that we ignore the bad and allow another person's perspective to run roughshod over us. I don't even think that it means that we have to like the fact that someone else believes differently. But what I do believe it means is that if we respect someone else's beliefs, we stop attacking each other for faith (or lack thereof), we do not speak of other groups as monolithic structures of hatred and abuse, we do not make reference to "invisible sky people" and mock them for "silly little superstitions". We do not argue with them about whether it's logical or rational to believe in what they do, and we certainly do not call them names for believing what they do. We do not accuse them of being worse people because of their beliefs. And if we feel angry because somebody else has wholeheartedly embraced a belief that we do not personally subscribe to, instead of trying to argue or annoy them into seeing the world from our perspective, we simply shut up.

Call people of faith out for asshattery, by all means. There are too many people out there who see it as their right to act in hateful, hurtful ways because they're able to use readings from their preferred holy book in order to justify their attitudes. But don't be an asshole by default towards people who believe something that you don't. That kind of attitude is not only non-progressive, but it is profoundly damaging to everyone involved.


  1. Zillah that was well written and very beautiful. Your friend is someone I would like to meet. I grew up Christan (loosely) went fundamentalist for a while then had a major crisis of faith and found myself pagan. I did not know though I did ask around that Christo-paganism existed. I am slowly going back there I have been called I am answering it but I am dragging my feet.
    I won't go without my Goddess and the other beauty I have found. I am coming slowly into greater understandings and among them is that there is just as much hatred and right wing fascist bigotry towards the Chritains coming from paagans as there is from the Christians they villify. Perhaps to some degree even more so. It is sad. A people who claim there is no one true way should not villify others for their beliefs. It is just as wrong and damaging as what the Christians have done to them. Not all Christians are narrow minded, not all pagans are open. In the end it would be nice if we could just all simply learn from each other take the good and work through the misconceptions. There must be middle ground somewhere.

    respectfully Greenwolf

  2. Hi Greenwolf,

    Thank you for your comment and your kind words. As for finding middle ground, I completely agree. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that most religious and/or spiritual paths have more in common than they have differences, and we would all do much better to take the attitude that as long as they're not actually harmful to the people who practice them, other people's beliefs and practices should be respected and learned from. We can always use a bit more enlightenment.

    Whatever path you end up taking, I wish you well.