How do you respect others’ beliefs?

Let me start this post by saying I’m doing my best to not be a dick about things, but I do have some honest questions.

Do you respect others’ beliefs? What does that look like?

This weekend I am giving a presentation to a Unitarian Universalist church promoting my books. At this church, there are many different beliefs — atheists, humanists, Christians, Wiccans, etc. I was told that they all respect each other. I am very curious to see what this church is like. 

Do any of you have experience with UU churches?

Is it possible to respect others’ beliefs? Do you just avoid the topic? Is avoiding the topic part of that respect?

Sometimes when I hear of someone’s religious beliefs or affiliations my perspective of that person changes — and I’m sure others feel the same about me.

Living in the US I often see the religious right infringing on the rights of others and attempting to dismantle the separation of church and state. They dismiss health issues, LGBT and women’s rights, and deny science. In these circumstances, a vocal few are affecting the lives of many. 

How do you respect people with those beliefs?

Are there good Christians out there? How do you “live and let live” with sayings like “hate the sin and love the sinner”. Does that ever really happen?

Is it possible to separate a person from their religious beliefs in the way that you view them? Strip everyone down to being merely human?

I would like to think so and I feel it is something I need to work on. 


I’m very excited about the presentation this weekend and I look forward to learning more about this group at the UU church. I think it will be a good experience.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    There are so many different axes that divide us — atheist vs. Christian, left vs. right, men vs. women, cis vs. trans, capitalist vs. socialist, black vs. white, urban vs. rural, white collar vs blue collar, etc. We too often tend to assume that groups clump together based on our previous experience, but that’s just a fancy way of saying we tend to be prejudiced. There is a long history of liberal Christians, conservative ethnic minorities, rural hippies, etc. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my 60 years, it is “never assume” … just because someone is a member of group A, never they are also a member of some other group.

    Also, because there are so many different axes that divide us, there is almost certainly one that unites you as well. Last week, because I live in Virginia, I stood out in the rain for four hours handing out blue sample ballots to people arriving to vote. Standing five feet away from me was someone else handing out red sample ballots. We could have spent all four hours in icy silence, but we didn’t. After all, we were from the same district, so we were neighbors, and we found some things to chat about. We even found an issue or two we agreed on — I said that I really liked the fact that our precinct uses paper ballots, and I wish Congress would rule that every precinct had use them so we could all feel confident about votes being counted, and he agreed. To preserve the peace, neither of us brought up hot-button issues that would have likely heated the conversation, like Trump or Biden or CRT.

    I actually wish I had more opportunities to talk to conservatives — the way they think baffles me. View every conversation with people who disagree with you as an opportunity to learn how other people tick. The fastest way to make friends is to ask questions that let people talk about themselves.

    Anyway, all the UU people I have ever dealt with have been super lefty, so you should be fine.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    A “presentation” consisting of mostly questions to/about the audience sounds like a unique and intriguing experience all around.

  3. Bruce says

    Different Bruce here.

    I would make a huge distinction between respecting other people’s right to hold their beliefs versus respecting those beliefs themselves.

    Did Jesus respect the beliefs of the Romans who worshipped the Emperor Tiberius? How can Christians, Muslims, and Jews take themselves seriously unless they show respect for the beliefs of atheism? Did Christians and Jews 2000 years ago tell themselves that we live in a polytheistic Empire, so our duty is to respect majority consensus and erase all monotheistic beliefs?

    It is obvious here that in practice nobody expects others to respect someone else’s beliefs. When they say that, they mean they respect the other person’s right to hold beliefs they disagree with.

    Atheists and humanists can work with religious people, but only on an equitable basis. That means you do NOT have any reason to respect their actual beliefs. And it means you do not have to respect their rights to hold religious beliefs any more than they show respect for atheist beliefs. That means, for example, that any opening solemnization ceremonies should not mention a God any more than they mention the nonexistence of any god.

    If you saw two toddlers arguing, would you be able to be fair between them, or would you say that one must be agreed with and the other must submit or stay silent? Nobody would call that fair. You have the ability to see and call out when you see unfairness. Think of other attendees who are hurt but fear to speak because they haven’t thought this through yet. Speak with power.

  4. beholder says

    How do you respect others’ beliefs?

    Conditionally. I ask myself what kinds of beliefs I’m up against, whether I even have the knowledge required to do a detailed blow-by-blow takedown of someone else’s worldview, whether it’s worth personally investing myself in such an effort, why I’m in that situation to begin with, and what kind of relationship I would like to maintain with the person I’m having a conversation with. You can probably guess that there are a lot of different ways to go with this, and some quick thinking lets you switch gears when necessary.

    This weekend I am giving a presentation to a Unitarian Universalist church promoting my books. At this church, there are many different beliefs — atheists, humanists, Christians, Wiccans, etc. I was told that they all respect each other. I am very curious to see what this church is like.

    Do any of you have experience with UU churches?

    There are a lot of atheists who affiliate with UU. They seem like an all right bunch to me. I would suggest that it’s a good idea to be polite when you’re invited to speak somewhere — with UU in particular you might make a few friends, but you need to read the room; if you find yourself in the unlikely circumstance of having to confront dangerous conspiracy theories or dehumanizing, bigoted beliefs, remember that you have an audience right there, and it may be worth it to speak up and say something that gets them off-script.

    Living in the US I often see the religious right infringing on the rights of others and attempting to dismantle the separation of church and state. They dismiss health issues, LGBT and women’s rights, and deny science. In these circumstances, a vocal few are affecting the lives of many.

    How do you respect people with those beliefs?

    I would say give them no quarter, but if you’re forced to deal with employers, co-workers, or family, that’s where the question of maintaining or cutting off ties would come in. If you’re dealing with powerful individuals or agencies, you could be putting yourself in danger if you confront them. Use your discretion.

    Are there good Christians out there?

    Sure there are. Whether or not they can even admit to themselves that they succeeded in being a decent human being despite the teachings of their religion can be an interesting source of cognitive dissonance.

  5. John Morales says

    I do not respect the belief that any belief is perforce worthy of respect by virtue of being a belief.

    Much as with people, for me respect of beliefs is based on their merit and worthiness, as I perceive them.

    Also, I am aware of the distinction between respect and tolerance.

  6. billseymour says

    I was once a member of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis.  I think brucegee1962’s description of “lefty” is pretty accurate.  I don’t remember discussions of one’s metaphysical beliefs ever coming up.

  7. Katydid says

    I went to a UU church for several years after college, then I moved away and there wasn’t one close to me, so I didn’t go. I think individual UU churches can be different from each other, so your mileage may vary, but what I found was a community of people who got along, and a belief in god or gods isn’t necessary. Each Sunday the pastor (or whoever might be filling in for the pastor) would read/talk about something–religious or not–and then the congregation would discuss it. Afterwards people would hang around and continue the discussion, or not. That particular church supported a soup kitchen, so there’d be a sign-up sheet for people to volunteer. I can’t remember a time when they needed volunteers and didn’t have them.

    A couple of times a month, on average, there would be a guest group holding an event–this was the early 1990s so it was often Pagans, but sometimes Buddhists or other faiths. People showed up, food was eaten, music was listened to.

    The UU church’s gift shop was where I bought the book Buddha’s Brain (about meditation and its effects on the brain) and a t-shirt with a Neil DeGrasse Tyson saying on it and one of those collapsible shopping bags that folds up into its own tiny pouch.

    But, as I said above, your mileage may vary. UUs as a group aren’t particularly tied into any one way of doing things.

  8. Ichthyic says

    “Do you respect others’ beliefs? What does that look like?”

    For me, it’s a small, easy to understand list:
    1. You have to clarify your beliefs in a consistent fashion, and you have to explain to me what your beliefs are based on, exactly.
    2. You have to provide either: Direct evidence that lead you to those beliefs, and/or that your beliefs have support in the real world that suggests they have predictive power.
    3. You are willing to examine the roots of your beliefs without getting defensive about them.

    If you cannot or are unwilling to do these three simple things, I have no respect for your beliefs. simple as that.

  9. says

    I “respect” beliefs by not being a dick about it and by making sure that people aren’t excluded just because of their faith. We have many muslim kids at school, my kid has muslim friends, so when I bring treats, I make sure they don’t contain pork gelatin. But I and we as a school firmly put our feet down when those beliefs become discriminatory. I don’t care what Allah supposedly said about gay people*, you’re not welcome to spout that at school, just like I protect them from racist and islamophobic bullshit.

    *I’m pretty sure they don’t know either, but they’re in their majotriy hyper masculine boys. though we also have one or two ultra christian LGBTQphobic girls…

  10. Katydid says

    Also, I think you need to be more specific about respecting others’ beliefs.

    For example, this morning I read a news story about a group of college students in Washington State. They’re Sikhs. Back in the fall, they went to a state park together to hike to a waterfall. As they got close, they heard people shouting for help; two men slipped on rocks and landed in the icy waterpools. The Sikh men unwound their turbans and used the cloth to haul the men to safety.

    As I learned from the story, a Sikh is not to remove their headcovering in public, but they are also called upon to save people’s lives using any means they have. So, in their faith, they can break the rule about removing their headcoverings if it means saving another person (or a dog, in another case).

    Saving a life however you can is a belief I’m perfectly fine with respecting.

    Other beliefs I’m more familiar with, I’m not so respectful of. For example, in Israel recently, a group of Orthodox Jews assaulted a group of women for praying in public at their prayer wall, and one of their group is openly calling for violence against women for acting like actual people. And of course all of us can point to Christian beliefs that are not worthy of being respected.

  11. Holms says

    I respect the person and that they have their own thought process and conclusions which may disagree with mine, however this does not mean I necessarily respect the thought process and its conclusions. While I am not the cliched atheist that demands others justify their beliefs to me, if a person gets pushy with their religion I will push back. I’ve also gone to creationist presentations at my university specifically to get stuck into them in the QA portion. Or I can have a discussion about religion and the justification, or lack thereof, of their conclusions in a much friendlier manner; if the person is not being a jerk, I see no reason to be a jerk while disagreeing with them.

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