Simon Blackburn begins his essay “Religion and Respect” by recalling the time he was invited to a Jewish colleague’s house for dinner:
“during the course of the meal, some kind of observance was put in train, and it turned out I was expected to play along–put on a hat, or some such. I demurred, saying that I felt uncomfortable doing something that might be the expression of some belief that I do not hold, or of joining a ‘fellowship’ with which I felt no special community and with which I would not have any particular fellow-feeling beyond whatever I feel for human beings in general. I was assured that what it would signify, if I went through with the observance, was not that I shared the world views or beliefs of my host, or wished myself to identify uniquely with some particular small subset of humanity, but only that I respected his beliefs, or perhaps his stance. I replied that in that case, equally, I could not in conscience, do what was required.
“The evening was strained after that. But, I argued to myself, why should I ‘respect’ belief systems that I do not share? I would not be expected to respect the beliefs of flat-Earthers or those of the people who believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was a recycling facility for dead Californians and killed themselves in order to join it.” (“Religion and Respect,” in Philosophers without Gods, 179).
Blackburn seems quite proud of himself here. I, on the other hand, am appalled.
To put it bluntly, Blackburn’s proud little stance is based on nothing more than contempt for his hosts. And if you have such contempt for a host that you cannot respect their requests (to the extent that those requests do not violate your moral beliefs or require extraordinary effort), then you shouldn’t accept their invitation in the first place.
In this case Blackburn’s hosts asked him to “put on a hat, or some such”, a request that provided no violation of his moral beliefs and no extraordinary effort. His refusal to comply exhibited contempt for his hosts.
Even worse, Blackburn then spins his contempt as a moral stance against religious beliefs. That is nothing more than self-delusion.
Consider another norm of many homes: the removal of outdoor shoes.
In the United States people commonly wear their outdoor shoes within their homes. The norm is quite different in many Canadian homes where the expectation is to leave outdoor shoes at the door. And it is definitely different in homes of east Asian ethnicity. So imagine, for a moment, that Simon Blackburn is visiting the home of a Japanese family and as he strides through the front door the hosts ask him to remove his shoes and put on a pair of slippers. Blackburn refuses, insisting that his shoes are comfortable and perfectly clean. And he doesn’t want to convey respect of cultural norms different from the ones he holds.
Would he be a hero in that case? Not in my view. On the contrary, he would be exhibiting that contempt for his hosts which I find reprehensible. As I said, if you can’t abide by the non-extraordinary, non-moral requests of your hosts, then don’t accept the invitation. That principle applies whether those requests are rooted in cultural, religious, or familial beliefs and/or practices, or some combination thereof.