Commentary: Ridiculous and repugnant ideas don’t deserve respect

FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2017, file photo, actor David Cross attends the premiere of "The Post " in Washington. The University of Utah says a tweet from Cross showing him wearing undergarments sacred to the Mormon faith was "deeply offensive." President Ruth Watkins resisted online calls to cancel his upcoming performance on campus, saying in a statement on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, the photo, intended to promote the show, is protected by the First Amendment. (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP, File)

You’re wrong, Holly Richardson (“We can know God’s will and see His hand,” Oct. 6 ). Ridiculous and repugnant ideas don’t deserve respect. They deserve rejection. Religious beliefs included.

I don’t “respect” the belief that gay lovers (Leviticus 20:13) and sassy children (Matthew 15:4) should be killed — in times now, or in times then.

I don’t respect the belief that men should kill their wives for apostasy (Deuteronomy 13:6-11) or slaughter thousands for worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32:23-28). I don’t respect the belief in a worldwide flood or that drowning every baby on Earth was the perfect thing to do (Genesis). I don’t respect the belief in a risible tale told by a magic rock in a hat, relayed by a convicted fraudster (The Book of Mormon). I don’t respect the belief that black skin is a curse from God (2 Nephi 5:21).

And I don’t respect the core belief in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity that’s held by essentially every Christian, moderate and fundamentalist alike. God is all-powerful, so he readily could have stopped 6-year-old Sierra Newbold from being sexually assaulted, strangled and killed — even though he didn’t. And was later credited with helping police find the perpetrator. And God is always right, so willfully letting it happen was the perfect thing for him to do.

Respect all that, simply because it’s religious? No way, Yahweh.

Such beliefs aren’t worthy of respect. “Let’s do better,” indeed.

Some readers may self-righteously riposte that they themselves don’t believe in, say, the Noachian flood, so such examples don’t apply to them. They miss the point. The conceptual issue at hand is whether it’s necessary to respect the religious beliefs of others, regardless of your own individual beliefs. The correct answer is, “No.”

Esteem isn’t the default requisite position for any proposition, religious or not. Admiration must be earned. The notion that religious beliefs deserve respect simply by virtue of their existence is one of the most pernicious and vapid of claims. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most popular — even in academia, where presumably ideas should instead rise or fall on their intellectual merits.

Consider the University of Utah’s accommodation policy, which allows students to avoid legitimate course content simply because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. Or consider Professor Bob Goldberg’s claim that a goal of the U.’s Mormon studies program is “fostering … respect.” That’s not the appropriate goal of unbiased scholarship.

Or consider the recent remarks by U. President Ruth Watkins, who condemned comedian David Cross’ pictures of underwear — aka “sacred garments” — as being “in opposition to the university’s values of respect.” Such empty corporate-speak regarding respect rings false. That’s because it is false — as any number of concrete counterexamples show. I doubt that Watkins truly respects the religious belief that women should be quiet and submissive, and shouldn’t be allowed to teach or assume authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11). Corrections welcomed.

Watkins’ argument — and Richardson’s — is essentially the same as the Muslim argument that no one should visually depict their holy prophet, Muhammad. Out of, you know, respect. Muslims can freely choose not to depict Muhammad themselves. But no one else is under any obligation to respect their injunction, either in the sense of admiring it or following it.

It’s selective cowardice on the part of so many newspapers to bow to this demand, The Salt Lake Tribune included. (So far, however, the apparently irresponsible Tribune will continue to use the word “Mormon,” even though it offends the Lord.)

Ironically, the old Deseret News had no such reservations in naming and showing Muhammad as he’s depicted in the central mural in the rotunda of the U.’s Park Building, its administrative showcase. But the presumably secular U. more recently blanked out Muhammad’s name, willfully obscuring the mural’s history, content and meaning.

"The viewer can interpret the figure as they wish,” weaseled U. spokesman Fred Esplin, explaining the coverup.

Oh, well. At least the U. hasn’t removed Muhammad from the illustrated versions of “Dante’s Inferno” in the Marriott library. Yet.

Richardson got it wrong. Watkins did, too. Fortunately, Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” and the resultant target of a religious fatwa, got it right: “Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and yes, our fearless disrespect.”

| Courtesy Photo Gregory Clark

Gregory A. Clark is an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Utah. He lives, works, plays, and draws occasional pictures of Muhammad in Salt Lake City.