Saturday, 17 October 2009

Respect Creep

An interesting and honest article by Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer in The Times, on interfaith dialogue. He says:
To declare similarity between Judaism and Islam on the basis that their practitioners fast or pray is to betray an astonishing superficiality that does not do justice to either faith.
I think this is right. Unfortunately he follows this up with:
More importantly, the instinctive desire to find commonalities between faiths fundamentally undermines the whole point of interfaith dialogue in the first place, which is to learn how to respect those whose faith is profoundly different from your own.
I have a difficulty with this; why should one respect those whom one profoundly disagrees with? Respect means to esteem or regard highly. It's certainly *possible* to respect someone with different views, but is this always a desirable state of affairs? Should Churchill have respected Hitler and his views? ("Hitler is a monster of wickedness, insatiable in his lust for blood and plunder. But I respect his megalomaniacal views." - OK, I added the last bit - would he have said that?) I would suggest not.

The rabbi concludes:
There are profound differences in how various faiths conceive of God and instruct their adherents to behave. Honest interfaith work takes as its point of departure that I will never truly understand the faith of the other, nor will I necessarily see any reflection of my own faith in that of the other.
This certainly seems a possibility, but quite a counsel of despair; will we never understand each other? There is a way out; consider all beliefs in the cold light of reason and evidence, and eliminate those that don't stand up to scrutiny.
Different faiths cannot all be conveniently collapsed into a basic common language. This is neither possible nor desirable.
Neither possible nor desirable? Is it really not desirable we should understand each other?
Most importantly it is unnecessary. We already have a common language: our humanity.
This is a tacit admittance that interfaith dialogue amounts to 'let's agree to disagree'. Fair enough; it also concedes, I think, that some form of humanism is our only hope for common agreement. I have to say I agree. Nice to see a churchman admitting this!

Simon Blackburn writes well on Respect and Religion; he recognises that respect is sometimes used as a synonym for *tolerate* (although this is probably incorrect usage):
We can respect, in the minimal sense of tolerating, those who hold false beliefs. We can pass by on the other side. We need not be concerned to change them, and in a liberal society we do not seek to suppress them or silence them. But once we are convinced that a belief is false, or even just that it is irrational, we cannot respect in any thicker sense those who hold it—not on account of their holding it. We may respect them for all sorts of other qualities, but not that one. We would prefer them to change their minds.
I quite like that formulation; one cannot respect someone on account of their holding a belief with which one disagrees. This still leaves us open to respecting them on account of their character and other beliefs. But if they are foolish on many matters, then one would lose one's respect for them. This is surely normal behaviour, and justifiable.

Tony Blair supports state funded faith schools, which often teach that their particular world view is the only true way to heaven. At the same time, his foundation supports a project to teach kids to respect the beliefs of others:
Respect - Our world is a diverse world. To communicate and grow we must respect one another's beliefs, values, attitudes and faiths.
No. Not unless one agrees with them. If one respected a belief, one would agree with it, surely? If one assumes that this means *tolerate* not *respect*, then one can agree to a *small* degree. But even then, one does not, in practice, tolerate everyone's beliefs. We don't tolerate racism, sexism and homophobia. Tony Blair doesn't. He doesn't respect the Pope's beliefs on homosexuality, quite rightly.

So why is he promoting something for kids that he doesn't practice himself?


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