This week’s question: What is there not to respect about someone’s opinion about religion?


Whether it’s about that movie you watch that just never gets old or about how you thought the last midterm went, we seem to form opinions frequently and naturally throughout the course of a day. These however are usually not as reflective and deeply thought out as others we may have. That is, depending on the topic of the opinion, the time and thinking we’re willing put forth will vary. I’m not going to spend much time thinking about the taste of my morning Pop-Tart, but about how I did, say, on my last paper, I likely will. Pop-Tarts just aren’t that important, while the GPA I’ll be graduating with is.

At this point I wonder where the topic of religion falls, on the spectrum between what’s important and what’s not. Should religion be like the Pop-Tart, something we spend 10 seconds thinking about? Or should it be far more important, even more important than what may be personally most important to you? I think the topic of religion is at least roughly as important as the concerns we have about politics and legislation. At bottom, they both consist in beliefs about how we should go on living our lives.

Now, since religion is an important topic — it’s about how we should live — and since also the ideas involved are complex — unlike Pop-Tarts — it’s reasonable to expect people to take care and the required time if they are to speak about their views. This is what’s meantin saying that we respect someone’s opinion — no matter if we disagree or not, we recognize they’ve thought about the issue with the appropriate care and depth. I think it’s true in general that most people do not think deeply enough about the issues that are important, and this of course includes most people’s opinions about religion. If it’s clear that you have not thought hard enough, and if it’s clear you’re ignorant of things you should know, then no matter who you are or what you believe, people are free to ignore and dismiss what you think and therefore are free to not respect your opinion. It’s important that opinions have equal opportunity for respect, not that they all in the end are equally respected.

Brian Gallagher is a fourth-year philosophy major.


The word “opinion” is rightly used when there is not enough information to come to a meaningful absolute conclusion and thus there is still wiggle room in which to disagree. The theory of gravity has room, for instance, as to how gravity affects matter under circumstances we cannot observe, like inside a black hole. But an opinion based on no evidence is mere speculation. If I were to declare that inside black holes lay the fields of Elysium or that gay sex is an abomination, you would be right to not respect that opinion. Unlike an opinion about gravity inside a black hole, which is informed by the evidence of gravity’s effects outside and extrapolated to an unobservable situation, mere speculation ought to be discounted, as it only hinders humanity’s progress.

There are many who believe that we should respect one another’s opinions as a blanket policy. They misunderstand intellectual respect versus courtesy and conflate the two. There is a difference between being deferent because one respects a person and respecting that person’s opinion. For instance, I am deferent to my grandmother (100-years-old this week!) because I respect her as a person because of the firm moral foundation that she instilled in my father, her century of life experience that has given her amazing perspective and the loveshe has showered on my family and me. She is also a badass who once shot a rattlesnake from horseback. She happens to be very religious, but because I love and respect her, I am deferent and don’t engage with her in a debate on religion that would make her unhappy. But that courtesy is not something I extend to every person, because unlike my grandmother, not every religious person keeps their faith to themselves and out of politics, education and society.

But imagine a world in which it was not rude to respond to someone’s assertion of fact by saying, “Prove it.” What if we stopped respecting each other’s speculation and, when a politician said, “God is on my side,” we asked him or her how exactly he or she knows that? Maybe we’d have fewer people in politics who claimed to be literally hearing voices in their heads. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Connor Oakes is a fourth-year political science major.