Religion continues to benefit from a privileged respect that generally obliges us to respect the beliefs of a theist. As one article I read today pointed out, we should differentiate between a respect for the right to have a belief in something from a respect of the belief itself. The latter is not an obligation, especially if the belief is at odds with your own beliefs.
Rarely though, is a Religious belief a simple, passive thing, like believing that the Earth is round. It is expression of Religious beliefs that are troubling. If we should allow the right to a belief, there are times when the activation and material manifestations of a belief should most definitely not be granted.
For example, belief in Islam, in principle, is fairly harmless. Koran principally promotes respect for others. But, like many Religions, the ancient scripts are open to interpretation, and the beliefs can become extremist, even against the basic tenets of the faith. This is still fine, as long as they remain beliefs, and are not activated.
But the Islamist belief that homosexual sex is wrong is activated as the death of the ‘guilty’ person(s).
This is an extreme example of the danger of activated beliefs, near one end of a spectrum, with minor impositions to join in a prayer of thanks for a meal illustrative of the other end.
Religion’s privileged position in many societies confuses what it means by the respect of beliefs. It not only expects you to respect a belief differing from your own, but to passively respect the activation of that belief, with all that that might entail.
Fortunately in Britain, the predominant religion is Christianity, which tends to avoid extreme flavours of activation.
But why should a set of beliefs not only be granted a universal protection and acceptance, but also the activation of those beliefs, almost regardless of the consequences, just because those beliefs are labelled religious?
Supposing I were to have a belief that anyone who failed to eat a meal had to resume that meal before any other were proffered to them. You might respect my right to hold such a belief. You are most likely to deem this belief an overreaction on my part. You would probably treat me as crazy if I were to activate this belief with my family.
But incoporate this belief into a religion, and my right in the belief, the belief itself, and its activation would somehow have to be ‘respected’.
There are sad cases where an American child can die of a treatable illness because the belief (that prayer is the only appropriate action to take) of the child’s parents is similarly treated with this excessive 3 levels of respect. Similar behaviour outside of religion would see the parents sectioned for mistreatment and/or man slaughter through inaction.
Is it not better to be pragmatic about the beliefs of people, and treat them in their own right, independant of religious contexts? The World would probably be a lot healthier for it.