Don’t Impose Your Beliefs on Others?

Don't impose your beliefs on others?

A common modern sentiment, especially among the youth of today, is that people should be free to believe whatever they want just as long as they keep those beliefs to themselves. The loud uproar echoes through the halls of modernity – don’t impose your beliefs on other!

I was once having a conversation with someone about religion. A firestorm began when I stated that Christianity is the only true religion, that Jesus was God incarnate, and that this God said that no one comes to the Father (God) except through Him. A second later I found myself under a barrage of lightly coated insults and fallacious rhetoric this person thought were actual rebuttals. This person said the following trying to best come up with a concession that didn’t result in his retreat from the discussion:

There are too many religions! There are too many views in the world! How can you say yours is the only true one? Just Google things, and you will see that there are so many different views! Look, you can believe whatever you want to believe, as long as you keep it to yourself and don’t impose those beliefs on others.

The sentiment is an interesting one. It is at once a very non-threatening bottle cap used to enclose any possible conflict and also a somewhat cowardly and unreasonable rhetorical device that stifles reasonable discourse. But even more so, the demand that people should privatize their views is bizarre for numerous reasons.

‘Don’t Impose Your Beliefs’ is Hypocritical

First of all, the regulation of the discussion and the demand to keep your beliefs to yourself is ultimately hypocritical. If people are merely “allowed” the privilege to have a certain attitude about beliefs so long as they don’t share them, why then is the objector insisting that the person with whom he disagrees should keep his beliefs private? Is his aggressive command to keep me quiet not an expression of his inner convictions, which he himself should keep quiet based on his own haphazardly launched orders?

‘Don’t Impose Your Beliefs’ is Self-Serving

To make matters worse, demanding that people believe whatever they wish as long as they keep it to themselves is self-serving, fallacious and ultimately dangerous. People usually make such demands because they see that there is a plurality of views on all topics (pluralism) and for the sake of ‘getting along’ we should just accept all points of view. Well, as it relates to ‘getting along,’ we should certainly allow people to be themselves and be kind to one another. But views about the nature of reality should always be allowed to be discussed. Ideas matter and consequences follow inevitably. We should always be striving to have a better understanding of the world and our own lives. How would we accomplish such a thing if people are silenced to express their views?

‘Don’t Impose Your Beliefs’ is Foolish

Imagine if we applied that rule all the time,

Look, Mr. Physics professor, I realize you have views on physics, and that’s fine. You may hold whatever views you have, but just keep them to yourself. Don’t teach them and most importantly don’t impose your view on others.

A foolish charge with an almost as foolish bravado! The Physics professor who is teaching physics is relaying the nature of physical reality external to us all. Therefore, it applies to us all.

Some views are mere preferences or opinions, in which case, genuinely tolerant people would freely grant the freedoms for people to voice them. Other personal views are views about the nature of the external world, such as the existence of God. And for these views also, exemplifying true tolerance requires us to allow people to communicate those ideas and to have a reasonable discussion about the legitimacy of those views, not to immediately gag them.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. - Aristotle Click To Tweet

To demand that people should just be quiet is ultimately unproductive, intolerant and it demonstrates the ones making the demand to be afraid of the consequences of those discussions.

What? You disagree with me, and you want to tell me why? No, be quiet!

What if people with whom we disagree are correct? Should we not have the luxury of adjusting our own views?

We should certainly all do our own part to get along, but the truth is important. Reality is important. While we should refrain from insults in public discourse, we should never have to gag the truth. If truth is an imposition, then maybe it is one well worth the discomfort. If one is inclined to be illogical because of the discomfort they may feel, then perhaps the pain is sorely needed. Reasonable creatures adjust their beliefs about reality by examining reality and thinking critically about matters. They do not attempt to silence opposition, create personal bubbles in which to feel comfortable about their views and conform reality to their personal whims. And they certainly don’t demand that others be silent about matters with which they feel uncomfortable or disagree. To demand that people believe whatever they wish as long as they keep it to themselves is not only most intolerant, but it’s also ultimately a way to avoid having to grapple with difficult issues, perhaps for fear that they may not be as true as we believe them to be.

What about you? Have you made such statements that you can believe what you wish as long as you keep them to yourself? How has your view changed? Yes, I’m asking for your opinion – you are free to voice them. No, I will not be asking you to keep your thoughts to yourself.

Image Credit: Aaron Williamson Flickr, 2008, Shut Up. CC-BY-SA