Respect the right to but not the belief

All the backlash through the years of Western Christians censoring, protesting and demanding that various art works not be published, screened or displayed because the work critiques their broad category religion and the more recent actual violence over Islamic art critiques, has made me wonder.

When did the respect for person’s right or entitlement to a religious belief of their choice start to include respect for the belief itself?

We seem to be in a time where people think that they have the right to not be offended. I find that offensive.

Offense is essentially a clash of rights. But how do we balance one person’s rights against another’s when offense seems to be greater the more the offended party feels entitled to said rights.

There’s this idea of inalienable rights enshrined at in the UN’s declaration and in many Western countries charters and bills of rights.

But are rights really inalienable?

I don’t think so – if they were, wouldn’t they be defacto in all countries?

Wouldn’t each person find it difficult to not respect other people’s rights? Especially when it comes to the big ones like life, bodily integrity and even property?

Particularly when property rights don’t seem to be enshrined anywhere – buying a plot of land doesn’t entitle you to keep it if your government or powerful enough other people/corporations want it.

Wouldn’t everyone understand that one person’s right to swing their arm ends at the point that someone else’s nose begins?

So, why does the religious person’s offense and sense of rights entitlement often override the other religious believer or non-believer’s right to freedom of expression, assembly and their access to art works or information that the religious find offensive.

Can’t the believers just not go to the movie theatre or the art gallery during the time of the offensive display? Or not buy the book, skip that page of the paper, not click on the website or plain avoid what they find distasteful?

At this point in the argument, this is when believers try to make a plea that their offense is reasonable by comparing it to things that are plainly offensive  to 99% of the population – the standbys are pedophilia and bestiality.

But, these aren’t relevant or comparable to artistic expression, ideas or someone else’s rights – since pedophilia and bestiality plainly cause harm – and for the child or teen, it’s an infringement of their rights and it sometimes is for the animal, country dependent.

Oh, and if the right under debate is gay marriage, then polygamy is brought into play. Never polyandry (one wife, multiple husbands), interestingly enough.

But, polygamy isn’t relevant to gay marriage since gay marriage actually doesn’t change the nature of marriage in the west – which is 2 people exclusive of all others.

In polygamy, it’s one man married to several women – the women aren’t married to each other. While polygamy is legal in many countries around the world, this was usually referred to in Canada and the US as bigamy and is a criminal code offense.

Marriage is essentially contract law – and with it comes legal kinship and over 1000 rights under various other laws – and these rights are linked to kinship, inheritance, property, power of attorney, immigration sponsorship, separation, taxes and everything else that requires you to check a box on a form that indicates your marital status.

That religions originally had control over marriage – partly as an income stream for the ceremony, partly as a means to control peoples behaviour – doesn’t mean that marriage in the middle ages and earlier wasn’t also a means to consolidate wealth in particular socio-economic strata, make allegiances at the state or family or business level.

The idea of romantic love being the basis for marriage is actually pretty new – and pretty much until women were allowed to vote and hold property – guess what – they were marital property.

Isn’t that offensive to our modern sensibility?

People do have under the law in many countries, the right to belief in the religion of their choice. You don’t tend to have this right in a theocratic country though – telling, isn’t it?

But one person beleiving in a particular religion does not obligate people who do not beleive in that religion to obey the rules of said religion.

Otherwise, everyone would have to follow all religions and not only would that not lead to anything productive going on – being too weak or tired from not eating and meditiating and praying all the time, but most of the year would be religious holidays.

Atheism isn’t a religion, but has gained the legal status at the US Supreme Court as an on-par belief – so everyone having to observe this also throws a monkey wrench into the all religions all the time mix.

The reality is that we as a society do not deem all ideas on par with all others.

When we have a discussion or class about WWII, we do not include holocaust deniers. When we have a biology class, we should not be “teaching the controversy”.

We as individuals get to pick and chose what we believe and what we don’t – no matter how repugnant it is to everyone else. And, we get to teach those beliefs to our children and it’s up to them to keep them or reject them.

Social norms are culturally dependent and they vary from time period to time period and country/region to country/region. And even between cultural subgroups in the same geographic location. Immigrant groups tend to become a blend of old country and new country over time – and a large enough immigration wave and a welcoming enough new country, that new country also experiences something of a slower change. The sum of the parts thing.

Wow, all those connected ideas is making my wandering mind tired.

It comes down to this – we can only get along as long as everyone has the same rights, entitlements and basic treatment as anyone else in a geographic region.

Otherwise, resentments and ghettoizing occurs and that benefits no one, as that tends to erupt in riots.

As long as we all accord everyone the same amount of rights as ourselves – and mostly to recognize that someone else having rights does not impede our own in any way – we can get along.

Pretending that our differences don’t exist will not work. Better to acknowledge that each of us – as individuals as well as our under each of our various group identities – all being different doesn’t make us all the same – and difference doesn’t always translate into inferior, just different.

We really only have the rights that our legal system allows us – but our ability to act in accordance with those rights has become limited by the backlash of other people who expect rights of their own and none for anyone else.

This should not be acceptable to anyone.

As a lesbian who came out in the early 1990’s, when it was legal to be evicted, not hired/fired, denied services and it was not legal to be married, sponsor an immigrant partner and you had no real expectation of protection from police – in fact, it wasn’t that much earlier when the police were the bashers – yes, even in Canada.

I understand that rights are dependent on law and the “generosity” of the population – people who have always had them do not understand this.

Times change, and what offends people changes.

So let’s stop finding offense at what people 1000 or more years ago would find offensive.

If we can’t do that, then at least remember that you aren’t entitled to or have a right to not be offended.

3 thoughts on “Respect the right to but not the belief

  1. [17th-century Lutheran pastor] Meyfarth was a funny guy, Emma thought, so terribly serious and conscientious. He had taken at least an hour to talk about the fact that his personal liking for them did not in any way mean that he was endorsing their [Mormon] teachings, or even that he respected their teachings. “Only,” he had insisted, “that I have come to see that if truth is to have a chance to prevail against error, then the civil authorities may not be given the right to suppress any one body of ideas. No, I do not respect your beliefs. If I respected them, I would join your church. I do respect your right to have and teach those beliefs.”

    So anxious, he had been, as though he had expected them to order him to go away and never come back. “I do not respect your faith,” he had continued. “I believe that it is contrary to biblical truth. Utterly contrary, utterly wrong. As Herr Blackwell would say, `wrong-headed.’ But I respect that you honestly hold that faith. And, however reluctantly, I have come to accept that if the law forbids one variety of error, that of the papists, from forbidding us to teach the truth, then the same law must also prohibit us from forbidding the teaching of other errors, such as those of the Calvinists and Anabaptists. And that we, to gain the right of free teaching, must allow it as well. But . . .”

    “But you think that we are going to hell.” Willard had completed what Meyfarth clearly did not want to say.

    “Well, yes. And I also make no claim that everyone else within Lutheranism shares my views. For which reason, if `We mean it’ does not prevail, I may someday lose my head. But until that day . . . I am here.”

    –Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce, 1634: The Ram Rebellion

  2. I respect their right to believe anything they want but if it is a stupid belief, I call it a stupid belief. Just because it’s about god, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu or whatever god one believes in is not a get respect free card.

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