You said, “Opinions, actions, beliefs, these are all things which are judged on their own merit.”
I really enjoyed your post (beyond just this highlighted part).
However, I think the phrase “judged on their own merit” demands clarification or further discussion. Given what you have said up to this point, most or all of which is true, how is an opinion, action, or belief to be “judged on its own merit” by various people approaching it from such disparate viewpoints? You actually made a helpful distinction here. To say, “on their own merit” is not to mean the same thing as, “by their own standard or system.” That would clearly be a contradictory, self-defeating standard. What, then, becomes the standard for judging a thing on its own merit? Certainly not any other belief’s system or standard, on it’s own, unchecked by other outside assessment. Can various people from conflicting viewpoints use the same standard in all circumstances? Or any circumstance, for that matter? Does such a standard exist?
This takes me to my next question. How do you distinguish the belief from the person who holds it? Here I should acknowledge that this is at times a dangerous distinction, but at other times it is absolutely necessary. It is never appropriate to remove individual responsibility. You have clearly said as much. However, in conversations like the one you are having with your reader it is also helpful to be able to judge the cogency of the belief itself, apart from the individual holding it. Sometimes that may shed light on the assessment of the individual. As you have said, people may believe right things for wrong reasons and wrong things for otherwise right reasons.
So I ask — How, indeed, are we to judge anything on its own merit? By what universal, objective standard should such judgement be determined? Such a standard would be the only thing that provides a solution to the difficulty you are experiencing and describing. Such a standard would be the only thing that would make such conversations and judgements helpful, effective, or even possible.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I believe classical, orthodox, Biblical, evangelical Christianity is the one universal standard by which all others must be judged. Actually, I don’t believe that. I believe that God and His revealed Word, the Bible, are the universal, unchanging standards by which all others are, must be, and will be judged.
I know, of course, that there are innumerable examples of extremely evil actions and beliefs done or held in the name of God, even Christianity, and argued for on Biblical grounds. I know, too, that I am not immune to that. Hopefully my errors would not be able to be called extremely evil. Even that hope highlights my point, though. Whether on the extreme or merely slight variation, I doubt any belief system is without both good and bad examples. Neither the individual adherents nor the collective representatives are the standard by which to “judge a belief or action on its own merit.”
So then, what?