Religious organisations should learn what respect looks like in a secular society

South Africa's best satirical cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro (AKA Zapiro), is in hot water for depicting the Hindu god Ganesh in a cartoon. As usual, those who worship said god are demanding respect for religious beliefs (presumably their beliefs, not all religious beliefs).


Just consider the phrasing: The cartoon, according Hindu organisations, shows "flagrant disrespect and denigration of our glorious Hindu faith".

As you can see here, they're the ones who consider their religion worthy of respect; they're the ones who consider it "glorious". The beauty of a secular society is that not only are religious people of multiple faiths allowed to have their faiths, but that Zapiro and anyone else is welcome to not have any; it is not required of us as non-Hindus (let alone non-believers) to respect Hinduism or any of the religions.  Further, we should always be suspicious of those who "demand" respect; like adoration, respect isn't something that can be pumped out of your opponents.

Most importantly, concepts aren't phenomena that can - let alone are worthy of - respect. By definition, concepts - as human-made things - are there to be assessed from multiple angles or discarded as need be, as with almost anything. We are right to be suspicious of those who claim to have infallible beliefs or ideas, since it means improvement is not necessary and dissension is unwelcome. If an idea or belief is so perfect, it should be able to withstand all critiques and mockery thrown at it. That we want apologies for depicting concepts in a certain way is indicative of shakily held beliefs, not ones we're comfortable with.

Consider: If someone mocks the idea of equality of the sexes or equality of the races, would we want an apology? Would we demand the sexist "respect our belief" that women don't deserve prejudice because of their sex? Would we demand the racist "respect our belief" that black people aren't lesser than other races? Presumably, we'd either laugh off the childish, unfounded basis of the bigot's mockery or shrug it off, knowing they have no facts to back it up.

That is the adult thing to do. We don't need to show our conviction or our passion for how much we believe in equality of the sexes or races by silencing those who disagree; what matters more than passion is that our ideas are justified, have evidence, etc., which isn't aligned to passion. All the passion in the world doesn't change facts about it. This strutting of sensitivity from those with such fragile beliefs only does the believers a disservice, not their opponents.

Indeed, if Zapiro apologises, removes the post and so on, Hindu organisations would have less - not more - respect from us non-Hindus. And here, respect is rightly placed: at the people themselves, not the beliefs.

Respect me enough to tell me my ideas are bad, because you care about wanting me to have the best kind of ideas and views and beliefs. It seems patronising to think people of faith can't handle criticism or be treated like adults, yet organisations that claim to speak for them are demonstrating just that with such childish demands of respect. We're treating them like fellow, adult citizens by subjecting their ideas to mockery, satire and criticism just as I'd hope they do for me. That is what respect looks like.

Header image: Boberger / WikiCommons (source)

You can see Zapiro's cartoon and context here (link)

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