Respecting the Faithful vs. Respecting the Faith

During the pope's recent Mideast visit, the media reported that he has "deep respect for Islam." That exact phrase appeared in the Associated Press, AFP, BBC, Jerusalem Post, Washington Times, and Al-Jazeera.

Yet he said no such thing; instead, he mentioned his "deep respect for the Muslim community." There's a world of difference between respecting a religious group and respecting their religion, and the pontiff knows this.

As a Christian -- indeed, as pope -- by evoking his "deep respect" for Muslims, Benedict probably meant that Muslims, who believe in one God, pray, fast, and follow a strict set of moral principles, are, from a religious perspective, worthy of "deep respect," certainly in comparison to the many godless of the secular West.

The latter also uphold this position. In fact, that is what makes the secular West unique: the right to follow any (or no) religion is guaranteed, is "respected."

Due to this, however, a subtle conflation has come to dominate our way of thinking: respect for people's right to believe any religion has somewhere along the line -- and thanks to political correctness -- morphed into respect for the religion itself (excluding, of course, cheek-turning Christianity, the secular West's "punching bag"). It was therefore only natural for the (increasingly sloppy) media to portray Benedict's respect for Muslims as respect for Islam.

But is this logical? Does respecting a person's right to believe necessarily lead to respecting what they believe?

Consider: billions of non-Muslims adhere to other religions or are simply atheistic; by default, this means they do not believe in the veracity of Islam. A Christian following Christian doctrine, such as the Trinity, cannot also believe that the Koran, which fiercely denounces the Trinity, is the word of God, while an atheist believes all religions and their scriptures are not divinely inspired (i.e., all euphemisms aside, are built on lies).

At the same time, however, Christians and atheists cannot "empirically" prove their position; faith is required -- even for the atheist (it's called the Big Bang theory for a reason). As such, it is only logical that non-Muslims should respect Muslims' right to believe what they will -- and, ideally, vice versa.