Volume 16, 2000
Race, Social Identity, and Human Dignity
Responsible Religious Belief
The Limits of Entitlement
This paper argues that, despite the widespread assumption that everyone has an absolute right to hold any religious belief whatever, no matter how bizarre or irrational, there are limits to responsible belief. Epistemic responsibility means that we are not entitled to hold beliefs that, by recognized epistemic methods, have been discredited. The paper distinguishes epistemic responsibility from legal and from moral responsibility. Because our beliefs tend to affect our behavior, epistemically irresponsible beliefs become morally irresponsible when they conduce to discrimination or harm. To insist that scripture and religious doctrine must be believed literally and in every detail is epistemically irresponsible, because they have been shown to be, at many points, inconsistent with well-established scientific and historical knowledge. Such beliefs are morally irresponsible when they encourage racism or discrimination against women, gays and lesbians, ethnic groups, the poor, or any other individual or group.