People sometimes say that we should respect the beliefs of others. If you consider respect to be synonymous with “politeness” or “common decency” or “refraining from abusing others”, sure, I’ll sign on. Here’s my beef, though: I don’t actually think “respect” is synonymous with those things.

My friend the Interweebz tells me that respect is:


  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
    “the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor”
    synonyms: esteem, regard, high opinion, admiration, reverence, deference,honor

    “the respect due to a great artist”

Look closely at some of those synonyms: ESTEEM, ADMIRATION, REVERENCE, DEFERENCE

  • People should esteem other peoples’ beliefs
  • People should admire the beliefs of others
  • People should revere the beliefs of others
  • People should defer to others’ beliefs.

Are those sentences as comfortable and easy to co-sign? For me, no.

In other words, why do I have to respect (esteem, admire, revere, defer to) your beliefs? No one has ever been able to give me a satisfying reason for this bit of folk wisdom. People in the past have said to me that refusing to respect the beliefs of others is bigoted, but I don’t think it is. I think we can support diversity, leave discrimination behind and behave politely and fairly to each other without even once referencing your beliefs or mine. In other words, I can respect your personhood and humanity without having to “respect your beliefs”.

In my experience (yours may be different) people start talking about their beliefs being “respected” when they do not want anyone to challenge or contradict their beliefs. If that’s the case, I think it’s more honest to say “I don’t want to discuss my beliefs with you, as it’s clear we disagree”.

5 thoughts on “On respect for beliefs

  1. Funky…

    How about this common usage of the word?

    He did not respect her privacy.

    No one asked him to admire, esteem or revere her privacy. What is implied is that he invaded her privacy. What he did not respect was her right to privacy.

    When people say “Respect the beliefs of others” they are not suggesting that anyone should revere those beliefs, hold them in high regard. What is being revered is not the belief, but the right of people to have them. Respecting other people’s beliefs and opinions is asking that one person should not try to stuff their beliefs down the throat of another.

    One way to show such respect for that right is, as you noted, to simply say “I don’t want to discuss my beliefs with you, as it’s clear we disagree.” Or, more simply, “Let’s just agree that we disagree.”

    Now, all that said, I may not agree with your opinion, but I certainly respect it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, man. I *hate* it when you make good points, Patrick, then I have to adjust my views. Darn you! 🙂

    Yes, in the sense you outline, it’s legit to “respect others’ beliefs” . . . though perhaps respect for people is already covered by the notion of “common decency” and “refraining from abusing people”. Whaddya think?


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