Argument ad reverentiam, Lat. reverentia “respectful fear’.

Respect is a feeling projected by authorities, whatever or whoever they may be. If organizations and individuals are legally invested with due authority in order to carry out a mission, then, in this role, they claim respect, whatever one’s private opinion may be about their relevance or efficiency.

The claim to respect is in principle distinct from the claim to obedience; one can be constrained to obey by the use of lawful violence; showing respect is essentially a supplement to compliance. This means that interactions with common authorities are ruled by specific conventions of politeness, such as the concluding formula “Yours respectfully”, used to convey this due conventional respect to the authority addressed in a formal letter.

As an inner sentiment, respect has to be earned. Nonetheless, a behavior, intentional or not, can be felt as disrespectful, and, if a public servant or a police officer is involved, it might be qualified as an insult and punished as such. The argument from respect is basically used to justify a sanction for a lack of respect. S. Authority; Modesty.

Any person who is in a position of authority and feeling that his prerogatives are not respected might invoke the argument from respect. The problem arises when this claim to authority is not recognized, or is considered to be oppressive, as may be the case of religious authorities. At a more abstract level, the right to respect is claimed for all beliefs in general, and for one’s own beliefs in particular. Disrespect is qualified as a provocation, a scandal, a blasphemy that gravely hurts the believer’s feelings, and a complaint can be filed in court to uphold the right to respect.

“Odious profanation of a Christ on the cross”

An argumentative situation involving an argument from respect developed around a photographic work by the American artist Andres Serrano, entitled Immersion Piss Christ. The work features a crucifix dipped in the artist’s urine. It was vandalized on Sunday, April 17, 2011, at the Yvon Lambert contemporary art collection in Avignon, France.

The Archbishop of Avignon issued a statement protesting the exhibition of this work, and so justifying the destruction. The argument of (lack of) respect is invoked in the following passage:

Are not the local authorities, among other things, under the obligation to ensure respect for the faith of believers of every religion? Yet such a work remains a desecration which, on the eve of Good Friday, when we remember Christ who gave his life for us while dying on the Cross, touches us deeply in our hearts.

The argument is then repeated and amplified (our emphasis):

— The odious profanation of a Christ on the cross (Title)
— Can art be in such bad taste for no other reason than to serve as an insult?
— I have to react to this odious picture which flouts the image of Christ on the cross, the heart of our Christian faith. Any attack on our faith hurts us, any believer is affected deep within his faith.
— Given the gravity of such an affront
— For me, as a Bishop, as for every Christian and every believer, this is a provocation, a profanation that hurts us at the very heart of our faith!

— Did the Lambert collection not perceive that these pictures seriously wounded all those for whom the Cross of Christ is the heart of their faith? Or did they want to provoke believers by flouting what for them is at the heart of their lives.
— A serious desecration, a scandal affecting the faith of these believers.
— [These pictures] seriously harm the faith of Christians.
— A behavior that hurts us at the heart of our faith.
Infocatho, [Odious Profanation of a Christ on the Cross], 2011[1]

In some countries, blasphemy laws punish what they qualify as contempt and disrespect towards the State’s religion; blasphemy is punished as any other crime. Campaigns against blasphemy laws develop a counter-discourse positing that such laws are medieval and obscurantist; that they are incompatible with the basic democratic principle of freedom of expression; and that they make all philosophical and historical inquiry about religious belief impossible.

Some other countries have laws prohibiting hate speech or discriminatory speech, especially intended as guarantees of the equality of rights for minority communities, religious or others.

The argument of (a lack of) respect was at the heart of the case concerning the cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad published in 2005 in a Danish satirical weekly journal. This case culminated in the 2015 terrorist attack on the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, resulting in the shooting of 11 journalists and collaborators by two Islamist terrorists.

[1] “Odieuse Profanation d’un Christ en Croix”, Infocatho. 09-20-2013