Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Respecting Others' Beliefs

*the following post is best enjoyed if read in a deep sarcastically droll voice*

We hear a lot of pleas about respecting the beliefs of others, don't we?  But we can't always figure out why we ought to respect a belief that we may find especially distasteful.  

I think respecting others' beliefs is really about respecting others. 

By this definition, beliefs, and the holding of them, falls within the same category as taste in food, art, and fashion.  If I look at a piece of art and absolutely hate it, but my friend beside me loves it, out of respect for him I won't make a mockery of the painting, and while I don't mind telling him, "I don't really care for it... at all.  In fact it makes me feel terrible when I look at it," I'm also not going to mention my hatred for it every time I see him or hear him talk about art.  And I'm certainly not going to spout off my dislike for it if ever I come upon him sharing his heartfelt transcendent experience with someone else, though I might mention to that same person (if he asks what I thought of the painting) that I did not care much for it at all, but perhaps he should see it for himself and make up his mind.  Perhaps he'll even like, and be glad of having found such art that he never knew existed.

Of course that's all well and good if the painting doesn't get very popular and end up plastered all over the walls of every establishment you enter.

Unfortunately some art, however horrific (you should be thinking of Twilight), is not only over-appreciated, but widely evangelized as well.  "Look, I'm glad YOU really enjoyed it, but I think it's absolute rubbish."  As you're right, you soon find yourself politely explaining to person after person that you think it's rubbish until you find yourself wishing to drive a taser into the neck of anyone who brings it up. 

If that weren't bad enough, fans of said art begin to gain a sort of false conviction when they see the swelling of their company, and soon their personal appreciation for "art" becomes confused with being right about art, and anyone who doesn't want sweaty Cullen love must be an absolute imbecile. 

I digress.

When art encroaches upon those who would rather not, it becomes not only less beautiful, but less tolerable, less valuable, and less enjoyable. 


The problem is everyone has a taste and it's not bloody likely that anyone is going to think that what they like is rubbish, so we can hardly fault them for spreading their love of it.  As long as I politely decline, and the art lover politely changes the subject to something we may have more in common, the world can be a lovely place.  Sure, perhaps someone might feel an above average urge to promote a piece of art (i.e. "I'm sorry, I don't care if you're not interested, you are watching at least ONE season of LOST with me") then they bloody better be someone who I love enough to at least try to appreciate something they care about.  After one season I can just as politely say, "Listen, I tried, but it's just not for me" (even though that probably wouldn't happen until season 5 of LOST, which is probably the religious parallel to half of the old testament, polygamy, or speaking in tongues; it's just too weird for a lot of people to accept, but others are willing to hang in there long enough to see if they're able to make sense of it by the end).

The problem with religion is that the people shoving it down your throat are as vigorous in refusing to have anything else shoved down their throat.  There's no tit for tat like there might be in my art scenario.  Today I read your book, tomorrow you read mine.  When I trade books with a friend I cannot wait to mine his for precious instances that I imagine mean something to him.  When swapping religions, we might only endure another's point of view just long enough be counted as due diligence before it's our turn to parade ours around again. 

Of course this entire post presumes that most people are open to the taste and opinion of anyone else, but I think we all know that most people can't even offer that one courtesy; not even to their friends. 

Fights about sports, movie taste, politics, and religion are all the same to me:  this overwhelming feeling of "I'm right, you're wrong, now go leap off a cliff onto a rusty spike."

In short, I think that we can respect others' beliefs if we respect others.  I give respect where I get respect, and have no need to take away anyone's art. As long as they don't take away mine, I don't really mind seeing theirs on display once in a while.  I know I can always go home and stare at my own paintings.

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