I know I've written about this before, the two posts (of what was meant to be a four-part series) that I've actually published can be found here and here. I would recommend reading these, yet I am going to be repeating a lot of the same points here. Because it would seem that these ideas need repeating.
I get a bit annoyed about these ideas that beliefs should be given automatic respect or the rather strange idea that my mother seems to have (yes, this post is a bit personal) that beliefs should not be given automatic respect but, for some unclear reason, still shouldn't be challenged ("confronted" was the word she used). The impression I got from my mother was that her reasoning is that they should only be challenged if the people holding beliefs try to force their beliefs on me.
That really begs the question of what, exactly, it means for someone to "force" their beliefs on me. I imagine what she means is people who try to convince me to believe the same as they do. This is horribly short-sighted.
In that first post, I had presented a slightly absurd belief of "I believe I am a better driver while intoxicated." We could change this to be a bit more realistic to say "I believe I am a capable driver while intoxicated." Certainly there are people out in the world who convince themselves of that. (Or, at the very least, "I believe I am not so intoxicated at the moment that I will be capable of driving" when this is not true.) Shouldn't we still just leave these people believe what they want to believe? No, and we don't. At the time I began drafting this post, a local radio station had what seems to be becoming an annual event where the DJ's get drunk on the air with a police officer in the studio to routinely measure their BAL (blood-alcohol level). The idea is to demonstrate, as best they can, how quickly and how little it takes to become inebriated. And the message, of course, is that, if you choose to drink, then you should not drive.
The next question, to get more on point, is are the people who drive drunk forcing their beliefs on other people? This gets back to that main question of what, exactly, do we mean by "force"? If a drunk driver hits me, I would say he/she has quite literally forced his/her belief on me!!! The other question, to go with this, is it OK for them to believe what they do as long as they don't hit anyone??? That, to me, sounds like a risky endeavor. Going back to the previous paragraph, the reality is that we as a society say this is not OK. People get arrested for drunk driving regardless of whether or not they hit someone.
This then brings me to the topic that started this latest conversation — the homophobia of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Is he forcing his beliefs on me? Well, no. I'm not homosexual. But is he then forcing his beliefs on homosexuals? I would say he most certainly is, to some extent! If, say, a vote to legalize (or perhaps a vote to ban) gay marriage would come up on the Louisiana ballot, how do we suppose he would vote (assuming that he does)? I'd put money on it that he'd vote against gay marriage. And, seeing how gay marriage really isn't all that crucial of an issue to the LGBT community, he'd probably likewise vote against other gay rights — or vote for the type of politicians who oppose gay rights.
The point of all of this is that beliefs don't exist in a vacuum. People tend to act out on their beliefs and, if they have horrible beliefs, they are going to be more likely to act in horrible ways. It's more complex than this, of course, but I do find that, if we wish to reduce bad actions, we need to reduce bad beliefs.
The challenge, then, gets to be determining what is and what is not a bad belief. This can be a long, complex process. However, it's hard to start such a process with people either telling you that you must automatically respect a belief or that you're not allowed to even challenge beliefs — even when the other person agrees that a belief is bad!
Extra reading: I found this excellent post in regards to religion and violence in my search for a link to the phrase "exist in a vacuum."