Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Respect for the Beliefs of Others

The beliefs of others. What does this phrase mean? It certainly includes religious beliefs, but what about atheists and agnostics, who have a functioning system of beliefs but no religious beliefs? Religious belief is often defined as belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. Clearly, atheists and agnostics do have religious beliefs. Just as clearly, they have beliefs about the world, about ethics, and about justice and equity that constitute a system of beliefs.

Most of my life I have considered respect for the beliefs of others as a rule I must follow. As honestly and as completely as I am able, I maintain, in both speech and action, respect for the beliefs of others, religious or systematic. Too many things in this universe remain unknown and unknowable.

This morning I had a moment of clarity strike me - that others should respect my beliefs as well.

Admittedly, that will be a hard row to hoe, because my personal beliefs are not sustained and illuminated by thousands of years of written words. Even so, I follow no cult that might be offensive to mainstream religions, I respect the idea of belief as sustaining for all human beings, and I respect the beliefs of others and do not seek to change their beliefs, at least where those beliefs do not act in the real world in opposition to my beliefs.

Abortion is a such real world opposition. I do not believe that a blastocyst of less than 100 cells is a human being in anything but potential. I do not believe that a woman's autonomy must be sacrificed for the good of that clump of cells.

Now, in the spirit of our common respect for each other's beliefs, I ask that those whose beliefs run counter to mine respect my beliefs and refrain from calling abortion murder. I make this request not as an individual, although that should be sufficient, but as an informal, unappointed representative of the many, many citizens of this nation who share with me these specific beliefs about abortion.

Our nation is a nation of laws. Until such a time as our laws make abortion illegal, and may that day never come, I ask that all of us refrain from referring to abortion as murder.


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