By Boo Su-Lyn
January 1, 2016
The problem with demanding respect for so-called religious “sensitivities” is that it often blinds us from showing the same respect for people of another faith.
A sense of entitlement to respect for our religious beliefs makes us intolerant towards questions, challenges and criticism of those beliefs. It allows powerful groups to dictate that their views be protected above others.
Demand for respect is particularly pernicious in a subject like religion, as faith turns human beings into irrational creatures who are willing to burn women at the stake on suspicion of witchcraft, or to issue a fatwa on the rules for having sex with female slaves.
Political correctness in religion has reached absurd levels in Malaysia, to the point that the Kedah state government ordered a developer to redesign the rooftops of a Langkawi housing project just because they looked like they were displaying crosses from a certain angle.
Politicians like Khairy Jamaluddin may say that we “waste too much time on stupid issues.” If that’s the case, why do we allow the authorities to intervene in such a foolish issue then?
Why not tell the state government to leave it be, especially since it’s likely that they will be paying for the cost of redesigning an entire housing project, just for the sake of avoiding “offending” religious sensitivities?
I’m not saying that we should disrespect religion and do absurd things like use a holy book as toilet paper just for the sake of annoying people.
But we should respect religion in the sense of respecting people just as human beings in their entirety — their gender, race, profession, political and social ideology etc.
We shouldn’t go around calling a feminist a bitch, for example.
One’s belief in how the world was created doesn’t merit any more respect than another’s belief in women’s rights.
One’s preferred moral rules in religion should be as open to criticism, especially if they violate human rights, as other ethical philosophies like utilitarianism.
There is absolutely no basis to demand respect only for religion and not for other beliefs that are equally important to other people.
By doing that, we inflate the importance of religion and seeing that Abrahamic religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism all lay exclusive claim to the so-called “Truth”; we are often inclined to hold a dim view of other people who do not share our beliefs.
That inevitably leads to disrespect and oppression in cases where the authorities sanction religious discrimination.
Those who demand respect for their religious beliefs are often the same people who have no qualms issuing rape or death threats against critics who question such beliefs.
They are the ones who call their female critics sluts and say that they should burn in hell just for criticising hudud in Malaysia. They are the ones who shoot people dead at an abortion clinic in the US. And they are the ones who lynch a woman falsely accused of burning the Quran in Afghanistan.
If you demand that your religious beliefs be respected, you should be prepared to give equal respect to those of other faiths, atheists, or even fellow believers who have alternate interpretations of the Holy Scriptures.
Only then can you demand respect.