“You can respect someone’s opinion while still disagreeing with them.”
When’s the last time you heard that statement? Probably just the other day, right? I know, it’s contagious, like all shallow memes. Well, time to put this one in its place.
First of all, what does “respect” mean? Let’s get out a dictionary: “A feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem.” Or, “Willingness to show consideration or appreciation.” Does that seem fair? Yes?
Good. Now that we’ve established what respect means, let’s discuss the implications of this meme. Let’s also consider the contexts where we often see it used, because let’s face it, you’re probably not going to encounter it in a discussion about what people’s favorite color is, or whether you prefer dogs to cats. This is a meme created pretty much solely for the context of political debates. And sometimes, moral political debates. Sometimes, especially moral political debates.
And that’s where things go south. At warp speed.
This is a favorite meme of the “pox on both your houses crowd.” You know who I’m talking about—these are pastors, writers, bloggers, opinion-makers who like to stand on the sidelines of the public square, shaking their heads and clucking at the “nastiness” of the debate over [insert hot-button issue here]. “Both sides are just getting this wrong,” they cluck sadly. “Oh, the vitriol! Oh, the insensitivity! Oh dear, d-dearie dear! I’m sure if we could all just learn to be nice to each other, we wouldn’t have these nasty debates and everyone could live in peace and harmony.” Ah yes, peace and harmony… that dweam wiffin a dweam.
There’s a boatload of memes these opinion-makers like to use. I would be bored to tears if I tried to dig through them ALL and explain why they’re so shallow before throwing them back in the dustbin where they belong. But I felt like doing this one today. So, in a nutshell, here’s the problem: The problem is that these people seem to think love is equivalent to respect. They reason, “Well, we’re supposed to have compassion for all people and hope they would come to know Jesus. Therefore, we need to listen and have respect for their opinions, even if we disagree.”
Unfortunately, this does not follow. Let me make a quick analogy: You who have children—do you love your children? I should hope you’re crazy about them. Good, now—when your children attempt to do stupid, irrational things, or attempt to harm themselves in some way, or ask you permission for something you must, as a responsible parent, flatly deny… do you respect your children in that moment? I should hope not. If you felt a need to respect every idea your toddler had, how well would that work out for him? If you felt a need to respect every idea your rebellious teenager had, how well would that work out for him? Hint: not well.
This is my point: Some truths are very simple. Some paths plainly lead to destruction. Some ideas are plainly morally monstrous, irrational, or both, and as such do not deserve a place at the table of respectable conversation. But those who have drunk the wrong kind of kool-aid have been somewhat anesthetized to the danger in rhetoric used by the opposing side on certain issues. If you’re surrounded by people mouthing the “I think Democrats have the best ideas for actually preventing abortions” line long enough, you start to wonder if there’s something respectable about voting Democrat. If you’re surrounded by people mouthing the “Gay marriage is a complex issue” line long enough, you start to nod in agreement with them. If you’re surrounded by people intoning importantly that Saving the Planet is just as big a priority as anything else, if not more so, you start to furrow your own brow in worry over Saving the Planet. You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and you want to believe that the people you like must really have done their homework to reach the opinions they have. So you start to soften your own position to allow for “respect” of these positions even if a part of you still resists complete agreement.
Trouble is, when you have a position so convoluted that a person who holds it can vote for Obama and walk out convinced that he’s voted pro-life from womb to grave… there’s no longer any room for respecting that person as a rational thinker or a voter. (To give just one example. I could give other examples that don’t have anything to do with politics. For example, I could give examples of faux “scholarship” that I have nothing but contempt for as scholarship on academic grounds, even apart from their immorality.)
Now, here’s the thing: Perhaps one could respect such a person in some other area. I could name friends of mine whom I respect very much in areas like teaching, academic integrity, sportsmanship, even personal integrity. But there are other areas in which I absolutely don’t respect their opinions. For example, I could respect a professor as a brilliant mathematical mind but quietly note that that same professor holds utterly insane political views. Yet here’s the rub: This meme leaves no room for compartmentalizing our respect in that way. It insists that one must respect the person on those very issues where he’s displaying profound evil, ignorance or foolishness in his choices.
That’s stifling, foolish, and dangerous. It encourages constant timidity and second-guessing about even those things which should be absolutely crystal clear. Let’s face it, Christians wouldn’t say we need to “respect” someone as a moral thinker who thinks Hitler maybe had a point and the Jews really are trying to take over the world, so we should kill them. Neither should we “respect” as a moral thinker someone who supports other moral monstrosities/obscenities. Neither should we respect someone in that way who justifies supporting candidates in favor of said monstrosities/obscenities (like abortion, as just one example). That may be a hard pill to swallow when you’re close to someone who’s so badly informed, so shallow, and/or so misguided that he does exactly that. But it’s a hard pill of truth.
Can you still love them? Absolutely you can. But can you respect them? That is a separate question entirely. Just remember: Love does not equal respect.