Our society overall, and even we atheists, have largely bought a bill of goods sold to us by the religious community. It is the flimflam that deeply-held beliefs are more sincere, more legitimate, less crazy, and more irreproachable than any old “ordinary” beliefs. Often these are also marketed under the labels of sincere or cherished or even deeply-cherished™ beliefs.
We have all been manipulated into granting an undeserved level of respect and deference to beliefs when they are immunized by these adjectives. This deference is not only undeserved, but it excuses some of the most damaging practices by those espousing these deeply-held beliefs. We tend to push back on beliefs until someone proclaims that it is deeply-held, sincere, and cherished. Then suddenly it becomes taboo, insensitive, and disrespectful to criticize it. In fact, we often accept that such deeply-held beliefs should be exempted from or even protected by the law.
Well unless of course it’s a deeply-held, sincere, and cherished belief of Muslims. In that case it’s clearly crazy.
Take for instance the vehemence by which “deeply-held” beliefs are defended by Katie Geary from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (see here). According to Geary:
“Groups that insist on insulting others’ deeply cherished beliefs are the truly immature ones here. Little do they realize how juvenile they appear to the “fairy tale” believers they so ardently wish to cut down.”
That’s quite a dressing down, and this is only a small sample of her attack against any criticism of deeply-held beliefs. However, as the Humanists of Minnesota point out, it is often impossible to see any difference whatsoever between deeply-held beliefs and plain old bigotry (see here).
It was her deeply-held beliefs that inspired Kim Davis to refuse to grant marriage certificates to gay couples in defiance of the law. Just last week cherished beliefs led right-wing Conservative leader Kevin Swanson to publically call for the mass execution of gay people. Deeply-held beliefs resulted in the owners of Hobby Lobby claiming religious exemptions so that they are free to discriminate.
Likewise, deeply-held beliefs that abortion is murder led anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder to shoot Dr. George Tiller in the head. It was sincere beliefs that prompted John Salvi to bomb a Planned Parenthood clinic killing two and wounding others.
These are just a few extreme examples but such incidents are hardly rare. We could go on and on citing examples of harmful actions motivated and justified by claiming they are in accordance with deeply-held beliefs.
These are extreme examples, but that does not make them irrelevant to all of those “harmless” deeply-held beliefs that we ought to respect. Quite the opposite, these only point out the danger of ever letting ourselves get taken down this path. Any time we give any special deference to more benign beliefs, we necessarily make it that much more difficult to criticize and curtail any belief no matter how destructive. In a world that is fundamentally based in fantasy, logic offers little assistance in drawing such lines. Our deference to innocent little deeply-held beliefs leads directly to carve-outs that condone and institutionalize bigotry, prejudice, and violations of civil rights.
We don’t accept the notion that racism or terrorism or homophobia are any more legitimate if these beliefs are claimed to be deeply-held, sincere, or cherished. Similarly we should not be bamboozled into accepting this same justification for the acceptance of or favoritism toward religious beliefs.