Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Respect Creep and Senses of Believing

I just finished reading the Blackburn essay, and I very much enjoyed it so this can account for Group 1's posting on the matter. Blackburn addresses the question of what it means to "respect" religious beliefs, and how this turn can run a wide gamut. It seems to include simply staying out of the way and allowing someone to partake in something they happen to enjoy and which (in the case of something like a Friday night Shabbat service in a mostly secular Jewish home) is mostly harmless, to the sort of "respect creep" he talks about in where one is expected to show deference and awe towards something, whether they agree with it or not.

He also discusses the difference between onto-theology/religion and what he chooses to call "expressive" theology/religion as they are held in modern studies on the subject. He seems to have rather mixed feelings about the attempt to push for "expressive" religion. He seems to suspect that regardless of how metaphorically or paradigmatically one chooses to explain religious belief, it must always hold something of the onotological about it - at least in so far as one's religious beliefs are used to support and reinforce attitudes. In general, it's all well and good to say that certain attitudes found in modern orthodox Islam towards women (and their supposed inferiority to men) are merely expressions of ingrained cultural values and male attitudes... but it's a pretty terrible deal for the women and the religious language (even if taken non-literally) seems to add extra force towards the prejudice.

I have to confess at this point to being a bit confused as to the distinction he is drawing between attitude and emotion. I was inferring from the contextual clues that attitudes are 'about/towards something' whereas emotions are more centered on the self perhaps? If anyone is more familiar with Blackburn or with these uses of the words, please help me out! But in general he seems to have mixed feelings towards expressive interpretations of religion. He talks about his "piety towards pieties" and how he not only expects but in some way demands people show respect and empathy towards it, along with the gross difficulties involved in finding any grounds to be against expressive interpretations of religion in so far as they express the great human emotions and common humanity of people. As he says, "After all, who wants to be put down as against love and hope?"

There was more of course, and I really found his discussion on respect creep interesting, but I want other voices to jump in right away. The comments sections are usually more fun than the blog posts, so what did YOU guys think?

Question: What is the difference between onto-religion/theology and "expressive" religion/theology?
A: Onto-religion/theology makes statements that are factual claims about how the world "is"


  1. I'm glad you're prompting your groupmates,Jamie. I'd also like to know what people think about "respect creep," and if others share my discomfort at gatherings like the annual Thanksgiving feast when a Christian pietiest is invariably given the floor to bless the occasion.

    How much respect, beyond simple non-interference, does anyone owe others' pieties? When is it appropriate to voice our discomfort?

    Blackburn surprised me, with a much more ambivalent conclusion to his essay than expected.

  2. A particular Dawkins quotes comes to mind here:

    'We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.'

    One can respect his fellow person's right to engage in almost any manner of weirdness, all the while maintaining that said behavior is in fact weird. As long as it doesn't pick my pocket or break my leg....

  3. I really like that quote David, the Dawkins one. I might have to use that sometime, do you remember where it's from in particular, or was it a debate or something?

    Dr. Oliver, I was surprised by the somewhat ambivalent conclusion myself. I think for myself the key ultimately comes down to, like with so many things, the attempt to identify with the other. We put ourselves in the person's shoes and realize, if you'll pardon the expression, "there but for the grace of God go I." One of my dear atheist friends says frequently that he finds he can never get too upset for someone holding to a particular religion even after thought, because he always thinks that if he had been born in a different culture, or not had access to the right books and education, or had a different family life, or a million other things.... then he would probably still be just as firm a believer as anyone, in whatever religion happened to be local to the environs he came up in.

    It's a bit of a determinist viewpoint, but I do think it's important to understand whether someone has a different religion or no religion at all, that they came to it through a process that we may not share, but that if we had would perhaps have done the same.

  4. Its from The God Delusion, at the end of the introduction. He is trying to forestall the argument that his book doesn't show proper respect for religion, which of course many believers feel that it failed to do.

    Christopher Hitchens even had this to say, on the matter of respect:

    "When I go to the mosque, I take off my shoes. When I go to the synagogue, I cover my head."

    I guess I would be in this same camp as well, in as much as I also have friends who insist that no shoes be worn in their house (for purely practical reasons of dirt, wear, and tear.)

    I guess the subtle difference is that in the case of my friends, it is *their* wishes that I am respecting. In the case of religion, by going along with the particular observance I am in essence respecting the object of that religious belief. So instead of respect for the believer, it is rather the religion itself that ends up garnering the respect. In small instances like shoes and yarmulkes, this seems harmless enough. But I agree with Blackburn that this can lead to respect creep, where practices and beliefs are expected to be respected merely because they are religious in origin.

    The fine line that I see here is between respecting people and respecting ideas. In religion especially, this is often a hard distinction to make in practice.