That Humanist

So how do you deal with religious belief in someone you like?
January 25, 2008, 3:57 am
Filed under: All | Tags: ,

Wherein I consider how I treat my friends, and how a government agency considers “three little pigs” offensive to Muslims.


A friend recently asked me how I dealt with religious belief in someone I liked, and in particular, if I would be bothered by their beliefs and how they spent their time.

I responded with, “Well, I guess I tend not to behave any differently,” and “I respect people – but I don’t respect religions,” which sums up the situation quite nicely.

I have a wonderful friend who is religious. That doesn’t stop me from talking to her, nor does it make me switch into some evangelical atheist mode. At the same time, if she said something that did relate to her belief system, I may say something about it if I didn’t agree. It would also not stop me from discussing one of my passions, evolution or humanism for example.

In other words, I treat my friends equally, irrespective of their religion, without tiptoeing around topics. I believe this is honest and respectful. Perhaps I have lost potential friends due to this. I can quite imagine someone being offended by something I’ve said, though without them telling me their belief system I would not know.

Should we go around assuming someone may be offended by secular humanism given that we know that (depending on context) many people we meet may be religious? No. Do you go around assuming someone may be offended by a description of the wonderful cannelloni you had last night given that there is a probability that you may be talking to a vegan?


My relationship with my friends is quite different to that of a government and its people. How does a government deal with religious belief in its people? In Britain there is a push to respect multiple faiths in schools and elsewhere by the government (at least I perceive that there is – I should find proof).

But how far do you take this? Clare wrote about “a test to see whether a particular decision is secular or whether it privileges religion.” Now take for example this BBC story that Three Little Pigs considered ‘too offensive’ by a government body . I’m not sure if this is respecting Muslims, or insulting them.

It’s obviously a decision that privileges a religion. Perhaps they’re doing it for “respect” of that religion, or to promote “multi-faith”.

But this brings with it a host of questions: Why only that religion though? Should we expect a ban on the phrase “The cow jumped over the moon?” Does the size and vociferousness of the religion determine how much respect the government should give it? What about my beliefs about a secular government?

I’m hoping this particular case is simply a bad decision by a few individuals obsessed with political correctness, but it does highlight concerns about just what respect means to a government. Unlike the situation with a friend where there are only two parties involved, here there are multiple parties, each with their own beliefs, rights, wishes and traditions. I like to treat my friends honestly, equally: the government, it seems, has no such desire.


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