On Deeply Held Beliefs | Vol. 4 / No. 3.2

No, your beliefs don’t get a free pass because you believe them. That’s not how it works.

So a few days ago, on the book of faces, we were having a “laughter of the oppressed” moment at all the people sending donations to Planned Parenthood in the name of Christian extremist Mike Pence. This is funny, you see, because Mike Pence is the kind of person who’d be offended by doing a nice thing like donating money in his name to an organization that helps women stay healthy. And someone responded in the threat that it was “not cool” to mock someone’s deeply held religious beliefs like this. And I had to respond.

Because, you see, it is not only “very cool” to mock someone’s deeply held religious beliefs — at least when they are a dangerous extremist who doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state and who regularly tries to enact policies so that everyone has to live according to their Christian fundamentalist version of Shariah Law — but it is also a moral imperative. Here’s what I wrote:

“Hey, so, let’s step back for a moment and just clarify something: just because something is a “deeply held belief” doesn’t mean I should respect it. A lot of people “deeply hold” beliefs that are morally repugnant, and [the fact that] they have convictions about them — religious or not — has literally zero bearing on the situation. If your belief can’t stand up to scrutiny — especially to logic, reason, and evidence, and *very especially* if your belief harms others — then I’m going to shout from the hilltops that you’re wrong about your beliefs, and that anyone who believes like you is wrong too. This includes if your belief is religious in nature. Explicitly so.”

Mike Pence deeply believes that homosexuality is immoral. This is despite all evidence to the contrary, that in fact it’s a normal part of basically every species on the pale blue dot. He also believes in the power of “conversion therapy,” a barbaric practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual preferences, usually by psychologically (and sometimes even physically) violent means. He believes in this despite the overwhelming consensus from mental health professionals that it is ineffective and harmful.

Among the numerous professional associations that have come out against the practice are the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and more. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said in 2012 that “Clinicians should be aware that there is no evidence that sexual orientation can be altered through therapy, and that attempts to do so may be harmful. There is no empirical evidence adult homosexuality can be prevented if gender nonconforming children are influenced to be more gender conforming. Indeed, there is no medically valid basis for attempting to prevent homosexuality, which is not an illness. On the contrary, such efforts may encourage family rejection and undermine self-esteem, connectedness and caring, important protective factors against suicidal ideation and attempts.”

(If you want a great little rundown of all the people who think it’s a scientifically bankrupt idea, you could always check out the California law that bans the practice.)

But Mike Pence believes it deeply. It’s a part of his religious faith.

And no sane person should respect that.

In a world that’s just you, on a desert island with only yourself and the coconuts and a soccer ball named Wilson to talk to, you can believe whatever you like without having a negative impact on anyone else. They’re your business and nobody else’s.

But if you live in a society, you have to accept limitations. One of those limitations is that your beliefs, once they start to affect others, become their business. If your beliefs require you to say hurtful things to your gay nephew, you’re going to have to live with the fact that he’s going to refer to you as “uncle bigoted f**kface” for the next foreseeable future. If your beliefs require you to try to “convert” gay people into straight people, you’re going to have to live with the fact that it’s not possible and trying to do so is provably harmfulIf your beliefs require you to lead a witch hunt against an organization that — along with providing women with basic healthcare, cancer screenings, and medical help with preventing pregnancies that might otherwise need to be hundreds of thousands of abortions a year — provides abortions (not using federal funding to do so because the Hatch Act prevents that), then you need to be prepared for thousands of people across the country to donate to Planned Parenthood so that you get a sweet-as-pie thank you note in the mail for helping women have just the kind of bodily autonomy Christian fundamentalists hate.

The TL;DR is this: the only thing that your beliefs being “deeply held” means is that it demonstrates your conviction to that belief. It doesn’t make the belief right. It doesn’t make the belief sane. And it certainly doesn’t make the belief worthy of protection.

Beliefs don’t deserve protection. You’re thinking of people.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.