Left: Mr Natural by R. Crumb
It's difficult to talk about religious bigotry without discussing religion itself. What exactly is religious bigotry? I've been mulling over this question during these last weeks of presidential primaries. I was discussing the Bob Jones endorsement of Mitt Romney with a moderate Republican of my acquaintance. We both chuckled about how strange and unexpected it was. And then, she brought me up short, announcing: "I could never vote for anyone who wears ritual underwear!" and rolled her eyes in derision. I was taken aback. I dislike Mitt Romney, but not for that.
I knew this was The Real McCoy, the authentic article, religious bigotry, directed at Romney for being a Mormon. But what do we call derision directed at religious folk by those who loudly claim all religion is a dangerous delusion? Atheists are often just as nasty toward believers, but we don't usually call that religious bigotry. Is it only religious bigotry if the perpetrator is from another religion? Can religious bigotry occur between two people of the same faith? (Is the ferreting out of heretics, itself, a form of bigotry towards those who act on religious impulses in an unpopular or minority fashion?)
What about 'justified anger' at particularly oppressive or fundamentalist religions? Can that be separated from anger at individuals perceived as representatives of those religions?
Charles Krauthammer once wrote an interesting piece for TIME magazine about being asked his "religious preference" on hospital paperwork:
Of course, the only reason hospital folk bother to ask about religion at all is prudence, not theological curiosity. In case they accidentally kill you or you otherwise expire on their watch, they want to be sure they send up the right clergy to usher you to the next level, as it were. We're not talking belief here. We're talking liability protection.Is that really true? I'd like to say it isn't, but it often feels that way. And I believe this phenomenon has everything to do with Mike Huckabee's recent political ascent, and Mitt Romney's failure to shore up the conservative base of the Republican party. The irony is that fundamentalists who feel persecuted as deeply religious, have just harshly penalized another candidate on account of his religion.
According to Chesterton, tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything. Chesterton meant that as a critique of tolerance. But it captures nicely the upside of unbelief: where religion is trivialized, one is unlikely to find persecution. When it is believed that on your religion hangs the fate of your immortal soul, the Inquisition follows easily; when it is believed that religion is a breezy consumer preference, religious tolerance flourishes easily. After all, we don't persecute people for their taste in cars. Why for their taste in gods?
Oddly, though, in our thoroughly secularized culture, there is one form of religious intolerance that does survive. And that is the disdain bordering on contempt of the culture makers for the deeply religious, i.e., those for whom religion is not a preference but a conviction.
What is your personal definition of religious bigotry?