Rant: Sometimes it’s not religious, it’s just insane.
Basically what I’d like to know is this: Why are we expected to respect beliefs that are clearly outlandish and completely divorced from reality simply because those beliefs happen to be the foundation of one faith or another? The simple answer, of course, is that as a society we’ve decided that certain kinds of crazy aren’t crazy at all, and that there’s sanity in numbers. You can get away with just about any kind of behavior that would otherwise be considered unacceptable in civilized society as long as you’re doing it in the name of your god and absolutely if your god happens to be one of the three or four most popular gods on the planet, the ones who won a few rounds of the Mr. Universe Pageant a couple of millennia ago.
A man about a year ago made the news for getting on a plane covered in plastic. He was an ultra-orthodox Jewish rabbi who covered himself head-to-toe in clear plastic during a recent commercial flight and apparently remained that way for the entire trip. Speculation is that the self plastic-wrapping was done to uphold the orthodox tenet requiring men to keep themselves completely separated from women or because the plane was going to be flying over a cemetery.
The very simple response to the image of a man sitting on a crowded airplane, covered entirely in transparent plastic? “Respect his beliefs.”
Now I want you to join me in a little experiment. I want you to imagine that the guy under the plastic isn’t dressed in the familiar vestures of an orthodox Jew but is instead wearing soiled, beat-up jeans and a dirty shirt while sporting a ratty, unkempt beard and long hair. In other words, what if the man on the plane hadn’t been expressing an extremist religious belief but was just, well, insane? Would anyone really be cavalierly demanding that people, particularly the people stuck next to this guy on the plane, “respect his beliefs” and not regard him as a run-of-the-mill whack-job? How much of a difference is there between the man who puts aluminum foil on his head to prevent his gods from talking to him and the man who wraps himself in Saran-Wrap to avoid offending his god?
So let me offer this concept for a change? Maybe it’s not necessary at all. Mind you, I’m not arguing that we disrespect one another. However, even some self-professed nonbelievers, maintain that we, the general public, must show respect and deference to the thought processes that would lead a man to wrap himself in plastic, presumably to avoid offending God? How about this for a change: It’s not. It’s not necessary at all.
With the exception of those who allow their faith to lead them to do despicable things — those whose behavior isn’t simply eccentric but dangerous — I do my best to respect people who claim to be religious. I respect the people themselves. That doesn’t mean I respect their beliefs, because I don’t. I don’t feel the need to show one ounce of deference to the beliefs of someone who thinks that God listens to his entreaties any more than I would feel the need to show deference to the beliefs of a guy talking to a telephone pole on a street corner who thinks the same thing. Neither of the two has evidence to back up his claims and the only difference between them, really, is that one probably has a roof over his head and isn’t considered crazy by most of society.
The fact is that when you peel away the culturally sanctioned rationale for not eating meat on a Friday, or sitting on a box and covering the mirrors after someone dies, or making sure that a woman’s body is clothed almost completely, what you’re left with is just plain old crazy. And I have to ask: why am I supposed to respect your crazy because it’s “religious” but because I’m grounded enough not to blame a diety or my God for my insanity, I’m the crazy one?