There are a lot of words thrown around today in the political arena that simply don't mean what they used to mean; some are more obvious than others. However, the biggest area where this goes on is within the context of religion. Many have talked about how those who preach "tolerance" are often intolerant of those who disagree with them, but that is not the word that I talking about today. I'm talking about respect (insert Aretha Franklin joke here).
First a caveat: I do believe that we should respect other people's beliefs. Not all beliefs are worthy of respect, but most are. Besides, they are human beings, and they have reasons for what they believe. Often times we just have different starting places (or "bliks" as Roger Olson recently said). If you don't respect that they have a right to their opinions, and that there are reasons behind what they are saying, then you are not going to be able to have a serious conversation about truth with them, evangelisic or otherwise.
However, what many mean by respect isn't respect at all. Many times, I have gotten into conversations with someone, and they talk about what they believe, and I either assess what they said, or offer my own opinion on the subject. And then, they turn to me utter that great conversation stopper, "I respect that opinion."
However, they don't. They don't because they ended the conversation, and left it at that. By "respect that opinion" they mean "I am fine with you believing that but I'm not going to think about." That isn't respect. Respect isn't taking what I said, wrapping it up in a little box with a ribbon that says "respect" on it, and then putting it on a shelf to collect dust. Respect is taking what I said seriously.
I don't believe what I believe because it makes my life simpler, easier, or happier. Indeed, it doesn't always. I believe what I believe because I am convinced that it properly describes reality. If I am right, then that belief is as true for you as it is for me.
It seems to me that this "respect" and "tolerance" movement often allows people who don't really want to get involved with thinking about such things to hide their beliefs from criticism. People have taken personal possession of their beliefs: their own little creations that marks who they are, and shows how creative they are. Like those paintings that I made in high school that I still have for some reason, there is this self-gratifying nostalgia looking back at such creations.
However, also like those paintings from high school, many times they're crap! However, the difference is that I am aware that those paintings were crap, but many of these people expect to receive the same level of respect for such opinions as ancient beliefs that have had thousands of persons carefully meditate and consider the implications of for centuries. While being old or organized doesn't make something true, it certainly makes it more worthy of respect than a really cool idea someone came up with while eating pizza and playing Halo.
Respect needs to be earned, and if your idea really is brilliant (and it may be), then demonstrate it by allowing it to stand up against scrutiny. True respect is not only recognizing that someone has good reasons for believing what they believe, but that they could be right, and that therefore what they are saying is worthy of consideration. This is especially true if what they are saying has serious ramifications for your life (like the future of the country, or the eternal state of your soul). These are things to be taken seriously, and not "respected" like I respect that you like Elvis over the Beatles (which I don't understand, but I digress). It needs to be true respect. It needs to be a recognition that this is something worthy of my time.
Here is my advice to you: don't use respect, tolerance, or other political words to ignore important ideas. Really take the time to think things out, and hear what people say. Show people enough respect to take them, and their ideas, seriously. Then maybe, just maybe, we'll become a society of real dialog that has conversations of substance.