I fully believe that followers of any religion or worldview should be treated equally and with respect. This is true no matter how ridiculous your beliefs are. Whether you are a young-earth-creationist, a Scientologist, a Muslim, a Mormon, or someone who believes in astrology or crystal healing, you should be allowed to hold and practice your beliefs. That being said, this is only possible if those who hold each belief does not impose them on others. No matter how positive you are that your beliefs are 100% accurate, you don’t have the right to try and force others to agree. Arguing and debating is healthy, but only when each party is willing to do their best to listen to and understand the other side. You don’t have to “respect their beliefs”, but as long as the beliefs aren’t harmful, the person should be treated respectfully. After all, we are all just doing our best to accurately understand and interpret the world around us.
My mother and family members are absolutely positive that God exists and the bible is true. If you utilize the Dawkins scale, my mom would be a strong 1, while I would be a 6.9. This is not to say that her beliefs are more likely to be right, but it means that I understand that the existence of god cannot be known with 100% certainty. Since the truth cannot be absolutely known, we shouldn’t be surprised that everyone believes something a little bit different. So assuming that your truth is the true truth, and since you know that it is true, imposing it on others without facts to back it up because it’s just true (hi mom, I’m talking to you here) gives you and your beliefs a special and undeserved advantage. Since when is her truth any more true than my truth? Can’t something be true for others but not for me, so we are both free to exercise our equally-true beliefs?
I partially believe this. As I already said, you should be free to believe what you want, as long as it isn’t harmful, whether or not it is true. If my mom wants to hang bible verses in our hallway and drink out of mugs with bible verses on them, then I should be equally as free to hang this right next to it and drink out of this. If my brother-in-law wants to compose and preach a weekly sermon, then I should be equally allowed to compose and publish my weekly blog posts. It’s part of being free to practice what you want to.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t relentlessly pursue the truth. Just saying that you believe something doesn’t make it true. Just because Christians refer to the Word of God as the Truth with a capital T doesn’t make it true. My mom saying “you know that God exists, don’t you? Because he does, you know. He exists,” after I came out to her doesn’t make him exist. I do not believe in God no matter how often people tell me he exists. But this does not mean that for them, he exists, and for me, he does not. As I said once before, something being true doesn’t depend on who you ask. It is either true, or it is not.
God either exists, or he doesn’t. Which means that what is “true” for some group of millions or billions of people, be it the theists or the atheists, is not actually true.
In regards to which religion is right, there is a certain amount that we can demonstrably prove true or false, and there is some that we can conjecture about but never positively know (which is frustrating for those of us who just want to know for sure but can’t). This is where holy texts come in handy. Consider what my family believes because of the bible and their Lutheran doctrine tells them: the earth is 6,000 years old, evolution is not real, homosexuality is unnatural, and the stories of Noah’s Ark, and Adam and Eve, and Moses, and Abraham, are all true. More centrally, they believe in the fall of man and how it led to the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his death on the cross to redeem everyone for their sins, and his resurrection. Beliefs such as these correspond with events that supposedly took place, and we have the means to discover whether or not they are historically accurate. (Hint: they are not)
Other beliefs are harder to disprove. My family also believes that Jesus ascended into heaven, and that there is a holy trinity consisting of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They believe that Jesus will return, everyone will rise from the grave, and there will be a “New Creation”. They believe that baptism cleanses babies of their “original sin” and that at communion they are eating Jesus’ literal flesh and blood. These beliefs are harder to disprove, as they aren’t physical truths that can be proven true or false. The existence of a deity, unattached to any ancient stories to be taken literally, falls into this category as well. It can’t be proven or disproven, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our best to discover the truth. Personally, I believe that it is all man-made nonsense and if it has no basis in reality, then we have no business believing it.
I like to use this cartoon as a way to illustrate the idea of “what is true for you is not true for me”. Of course, the first thing I notice when I see it is the abysmal use of commas when, as a matter of absolute truth, no commas should be anywhere near that sentence. But beyond that, the cartoon is illegitimate, because as an analogy for whose conflicting beliefs are accurate, here is a corrected form of the cartoon (although I wish they had edited out the commas as well).
This is how I feel about my family proclaiming their beliefs as absolute truths and trying to make me feel crazy for disagreeing. They don’t just believe that a deity exists, they also believe all of the specific, historically inaccurate ideas that I previously listed.
When I came out to my sister and her husband and suggested to them that although I believe differently than they do, I should still be given equal rights to exercise my beliefs, my brother-in-law said: “But if what you believe is equally true for you as what I believe is for me, then there is no true, foundational truth. Isn’t that absurd?”
Yes, as a matter of fact, that is very absurd. You have beliefs—beliefs that you are 100% positively sure of—that directly conflict with science. The Earth isn’t 6,000 years old for some people and 4.6 billion years old for other people. Its age can be empirically measured, and it doesn’t care how old you think it is. The truth is the truth no matter how much one resists it. It’s true whether you believe it or not.