A Response to Stuart Aken’s Blog on “Why are we required to respect religion?”

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Writer Stuart Aken, in his blog entitled I’d Like to Know: Why? #3 Religion, asks the provocative question: “Why are We Required to Respect Religion?” This question is of interest to me as a Christ-follower (even though I would not characterize myself as religious—I know other people would characterize me in that way).
As I thought about Mr. Aken’s blog, it led me to think about how the phrasing of the question channels the responses that this question elicits. It’s always handy to set up a contest or a discussion so that only one side is given the bows and arrows while the other is left only with a shield. It’s like a Canadian or American football game where the rules of the contest allow only one team to play offence (and hence is best set up to score points) while the other is perpetually on defense. I think such a rule-based asymmetry is neither sporting nor does it readily necessarily let the better team prevail.

If one looks at the question in its current form, then Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other adherents of a religion are on trial to justify their beliefs and explain why their beliefs merit respect, but atheists, agnostics, materialists, and secularists are excluded from scrutiny by the form of the question itself.
It seems to me a more instructive and fairer form of the question would be: “Why should I respect the World View of others when their World View differs from my own?” In this context I use “World View” to mean how I and others view reality. I think this re-configuring of the question has important advantages:

1. Now everyone, religious and agnostic alike has a chip in the game and has beliefs that may be called into question.
2. It ought to be understood that everyone intrinsically believes that their World View best explains the real world (material and spiritual).
3. Any criticism that is leveled at another World View can also properly be asked of one’s own. So if one asks if religious world views are prone to violence, one has to ask if one’s own World View is different in this regard and why.
4. In this kind of a discussion, if one begins to believe that many of the key things one genuinely believes about the nature of reality are wrong, this will be a very unsettling development for everyone who experiences it—not just religious people.
5. Finally, I think it prevents participants in the discussion from making the disastrous mistake of assuming that all religions are really the same, merely because they are religions. Even within a religion there may be substantial differences in World View by adherents because of differences in emphasis, in interpretation of sacred texts, in theology, or by reconciliation with other sources of evidence.

Thank you Mr. Aken for raising this important topic. Perhaps as time becomes available, I will be able to give my perspective on some of the other follow-on questions you raised in your post.

About Peter Kazmaier

Lover of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Author of the SF series THE HALCYON CYCLE. I frequently re-read my favourite books. http://tinyurl.com/p46woa4

Posted on February 25, 2017, in Apologetics, Christian Worldview, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedoms, History, History of Christianity, Independent Authors, Materialism, Modernism, Postmodernism, Questioning Your Way to Faith, Stuart Aken, Worldviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. An interesting comment on my question, but one that rather misses the point, I’m afraid. The issue the question is raising is that of the way in which religion, as a phenomenon, is granted special status. Unlike politics, philosophy, food preferences like veganism, pacifism, or any of a number of outlooks, religion carries both a social aura of prohibition and, in many countries, a legal restriction on adverse comment. It is that ‘required’ respect I am raising in the question. In other words, why does society and, in many cases, government, accord religion (of whatever flavour) a special status that prevents open and full discussion?

  2. Stuart, thank you for your comment. I apologize for the delay in posting your contribution. Since this was the first time you commented on my WordPress site, I had to moderate the entry. Hence forth, if the system works correctly, your comments should be immediately visible as you post them.

    With regards to the point you made in your comment:

    “The issue the question is raising is that of the way in which religion, as a phenomenon, is granted special status. Unlike politics, philosophy, food preferences like veganism, pacifism, or any of a number of outlooks, religion carries both a social aura of prohibition and, in many countries, a legal restriction on adverse comment.”

    I cannot comment on other countries or other religions. I can only recount my own experience in Canada as it relates to our public school system, the Canadian university system, cinema, television, and Canadian publications as they portray Christianity.

    From where I sit the portrayal of Christianity was uniformly hostile and pejorative. The World View that was promulgated by provincially-funded schools and Canadian media (I only later learned to recognize) was Materialism. Attempts by other voices to provide an alternative narrative were silenced using the argument that Church and State must be separate (an American argument but one that seems to be used in Canada anyway), or if someone with a theistic point of view did speak out, journalists would generally control the microphone and re-translate the message in such a way that it was unrecognizable and supported the over arching Materialist narrative.

    Do I think Christianity as a religion “is granted special status?” I would say “yes,” but probably not in the sense you intended. I think pretty well any criticism of Christianity in Canada is not only allowed but encouraged. Apologetic responses are generally transmogrified or completely stifled in an effort to keep religious discussion out of the public sphere.

    At this point, I can see my description may lead to a major misunderstanding. I think it is important to discuss the endpoint I would like to achieve or at least hope for. I would NOT turn our Canadian system on its head. I am NOT advocating for an education system and media which would treat Materialism or any other World View with the censure I now see reserved for Christianity. Instead I would like to see a public square where everyone is able to present the best arguments for what they believe. In turn the public can freely choose whom they will listen to. This is what Kinnaman and Lyons in their book GOOD FAITH refer to as “Principled Pluralism.” If public discourse were a meal, everyone would bring their best dish, but no one would be required to eat of any dish.

    Once again, Stuart, I appreciate that you raised this topic and that you have been kind enough to consider my views.

    • An interesting point, Peter. I’ve never visited your country, though I have some connections online there. It’s good to know that Canada is a secular state, but sad to learn about the concentration on materialism, which I always felt was what characterised the US view, along with its Bible Belt preaching, of course.
      Here, in UK, and in much of Europe, there are discrimination laws intended to prevent hate speech and incitement to violence or the grounds of religion. Unfortunately, these laws are often interpreted to mean that actual discussion of religious issues is prohibited. The laws have been poorly drafted (or, of course, made deliberately ambiguous to allow those with vested interests to have their own way). I’ve always felt it’s unhealthy for any society to prevent open discussion of any serious topic, to not only allow, but to encourage an atmosphere in which comedy, debate, and all the other factors involved in mature discussion to thrive. And it was this aspect of ‘respect’ for religion that I was questioning.
      I agree with your final paragraph. Open discourse on all issues should be the norm. Without such freedom of speech we risk allowing those with their own agenda in positions of power to overwhelm the rest of us with their own views; not a healthy way to run a democracy.
      By the way, I had the same issue with your original comment on my blog regarding the need to moderate. As I tend to approach my online coms in a specific order, I came across your tweet before I found your comment awaiting moderation! Another lesson learned. I shall have a look at comments awaiting approval first in future!
      Thanks for your contribution; I welcome all views in such debates.

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