On (Mutual) Respect

I’m striving to not be offensive
To respect every person’s belief
Though the effort is pretty intensive
And it’s giving me nothing but grief
No coffee or booze am I drinking;
I’ve given up shellfish and pork
I’ve given up beef, and I’m thinking
There is little that’s left for my fork

I’ve given up mocking the prophet
I’ve given up teasing the pope
I’ve told all my friends to get off it,
If we all have respect, there is hope;
Changed my clothes, my behavior, my diet
And I’ve given up shaving my beard
If they say it’s respectful, I’ll try it,
But I’ve noticed one thing, and it’s weird:

When I look at the faithful, my brothers,
There are times it’s not easy to see
They’ll insist I’m respectful of others
But they’re never respectful to me
I’ll give them respect when they earn it
It’s a matter of live and let live
And I’ll hope they’ll eventually learn it:
You only get back what you give

More, after the jump:

It’s everywhere. Today, for instance, Hank and Mano each have stories of Sikh offense, because Jay Leno used a picture of the Golden Temple and called it Mitt Romney’s summer home. It’s offensive! We should be respected!

Last week, it was Rhys Morgan (among others) doing the offending, with a picture of Jesus and Mo on his facebook page. It’s offensive! He should remove it and show some respect!

Or it’s the Cranston pledge–it should remain, out of respect for the Christians! Or the Pendleton Cross, or the Big Mountain Jesus, or women being asked to sit at the back of the bus, or girls not go to school in this ultra-orthodox neighborhood.

It’s all respect.

But none of it is mutual respect.

Your rules are not my rules. I will respect your rules, to the extent that you respect mine. My rules include women sitting wherever the hell they want to on a bus. My rules say nothing at all about not drawing a picture of any particular person. I will not force you to draw Mohammed, if you do not force me not to.

In Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, in Sophia Bulgaria, I was offered the chance to light a prayer candle. Everyone else was doing it, but I turned it down, out of respect. If I were to light a candle, it would not have been a sincere gesture; I did not imitate their behavior, because their rules are not mine, and pretending they were would have been (in my opinion) vaguely insulting. I also do not pretend to pray, for much the same reasons; by the rules of faith communities, prayer is a solemn thing, and not (in theory) something that one merely pretends to do. Out of respect for their traditions, I do not partake.

We are (often, not always, and not by all, but by vocal contingents of many faith communities) asked–no, demanded–to respect their rules. I will gladly respect them by not participating. I expect the same respect in return; I do not expect them to do as I do, but I demand that they allow me to play by my rules, just as they demand I allow them to play by theirs. And, here at least, neither of us gets to have the backing of government.


  1. Makoto says

    Nicely said. I know some religious folks who have said they wish I would bow my head during prayer times at gatherings, and I have to explain to them that me bowing my head would be equivalent to a lie, which is something I believe is wrong, just because it is, and their religion specifically calls out as wrong.

    I give them their time to pray, and after explaining why it would be wrong for me to pretend, most give me the time not to, though I do get some dirty looks on a fairly regular basis at such gatherings.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    You get it, Makoto. By their own rules (well, some of them), they should not be asking us to bear false witness.

  3. Carolyn says

    Shared on Google+. I’m a former UCL student and I added Jesus & Mo to Google Reader after what happened there.

  4. freemage says

    Heh. I just ran across another example of this today, and it stuck in my craw immediately.

    For those not wanting to follow the link, in the Ask Amy advice column, a secular humanist whose college-era friend became a Christian missionary is dealing with constant little comments and nudges towards adopting a Christian lifestyle. Instead of suggesting that it’s time for the writer to stand up for herself and her beliefs, and either challenge the old friend directly or make it clear that such overtures are unwelcome, Amy opts to advise, “This presents an opportunity for you to teach your children about accepting the views and behavior of people who are very different from you… The next topic for your household’s dinner conversation might be titled: “It is very easy to take offense. Can we do otherwise?””

    You may all retch, now.

  5. Linda Grilli Calhoun says


    I followed the link to that article, and while you may sigh over the article itself, the comment thread has turned out to be heartening. L

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