Monday, February 11, 2008

On Religious Bigotry

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.

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.
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.

What is your personal definition of religious bigotry?


Deoridhe said...

I call atheists being nasty to religious people religious bigotry, personally. Also, atheists can be religious, but that's a pedantic point.

I personally think one can be very religious and polytheistic and thus tolerant of other peoples' gods, but being polytheistic I have a bias to believe that we are systemically more tolerant. In practice, a lot of it seems to be in the hands of the political powers that be more than religion itself.

sillygeuse said...

I heard a quote the other day that seems to me fits in with this nicely. To paraphrase "Why is it that Christians are the first to stone a fellow Christian for sinning. Shouldn't we be lifting up that sinner?" Why yes, yes you should. Is it not bigoted to turn your back on someone who has sinned when you have not? Yes, choosing your political candidate based on his undergarment preferences is a bit bigoted.

I mean this in no disrespect of Christianity. The same can be said for any faith. The quote was on a Christian radio station. Don't die of the shock, Daisy, I was listening by choice. I try to remain openminded. I try.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I had a very strange conversation with an acquaintance who was massively het up about Romney a while back. Her way of putting it was "He's in a cult. Doesn't him being in a cult make you less likely to vote for him?"

Now, mind, my response to that is, "I'm from Massachusetts. There's no force on earth that can make me less likely to vote for Romney."

And while I have some sympathy for the way her knee is jerking -- she was badly hurt by a crazy pagan cult -- the level of religious bigotry there was distressing to me. She also objected to politicians showing any expression of religious belief, as "that should be kept private", y'know. Certainly shouldn't affect their positions. Everyone should be able to segregate and compartmentalise their lives, and the divine doesn't need a whole person engaged with it, after all.

And I sit here and go, y'know, I can't afford to hold out for someone whose theology lines up with mine. The odds of me hearing of a politician who shares my religious beliefs are miniscule; being able to vote for one even smaller. I can't afford to reject politicians on the basis of their religions; I'd have to move to an ice floe.

I instead treat the religious question in politics the other way around: I try to judge who will be bigoted against me. If someone's personal declaration of faith as an important thing in their life is just that -- personal -- then it's about them. If someone's personal declaration of faith is something they want to throw in my face as someone who doesn't share it, then I go all "Houston, we have a problem." If someone thinks I'm a delusional idiot for having my particular religion -- or any religion -- that's not going to make them friends with me, to say the least.

And someone whose personal declaration of faith is tied to policies I find abominable I will not support -- but not because of the faith, because of the policies. Because it's not about the religion -- even if that's part of the backup for the policies. It's about the public sphere, and what they intend to do about it.

I'm sort of rambling off your subject, I'm afraid.

ArrogantWorm said...

Now see, aside from those Mormon's chasing me down that one time, I don't have a problem with that religion. I think they just might've been overzealious at what they saw as a possible convert, cuz I'm horrible at putting nice people off their track. Rude people I'm fine with, but honest-to-God-friendly-people? Can't do it. (I just dislike people, irregardless of who they are, running to me across a parking lot for a conversation and then not taking the so-not-subtle message that I was late). I think athiests are capable of religious bigotry, because the bigotry is strongly based on religion or the concept of it.

"What about 'justified anger' at particularly oppressive or fundamentalist religions? Can that be separated from anger at individuals perceived as representatives of those religions?"

Ye-es ....but it's going to take a bit of time to separate the knee-jerk reactions to a perceived until proven otherwise threat (the whole deal with drawing on past experiences and the common idealogue that I find is in all-so-far-unfortunately of the churches I've been in) and what the person themselves actually represents. In my experience it also takes a while to work through ones own ideas and beliefs about religion (still doing it in fact, and what muddy waters these be!) and practice, especially if they were raised in a faith.

ArrogantWorm said...

Wish there was an edit button, I prolly could've explained that better.

"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.Is that really true? I'd like to say it isn't, but it often feels that way."

That's true enough, sure. The thing is with conviction, though, is that some types of people try and shove it off on others with dire consequences if it isn't accepted wholeheartedly, while the rest of the belief-people tacitly support that force feeding. O'course, a lot of those people ignore their own convictions and force-feeding on subjects, the difference there is the number of people in each group. I think there'd be less of a problem with the concept of deep-convictions if there were more beliefs and faiths represented. It doesn't say much for developing possible tolerance when the faiths aren't really separate to the untrained eye (which is what everyone has when they're born, since religion is a full-time, often viewable event) and there's usually no getting-along to look at, especially in the media, just squabbles with groups that seem an awful lot like each other.

ArrogantWorm said...

"It doesn't say much for developing possible tolerance when the faiths aren't really separate to the untrained eye (which is what everyone has when they're born, since religion is a full-time, often viewable event) "

.....Yes, posting again. Sowwy. There should be several qualifiers in there, as I live in a small town and was mainly raised in one. The only buildings we have around here are Christian churches, the closest mosque or temple isn't in the area. Put it this way, I can take two hours and walk across three towns, it isn't exactly large. So the 'no other visible faiths' came from that, not that there aren't people of those faiths here, they're just not normally public about it.

ArrogantWorm said...

...Me again, please don't shoot me. I just did a Google search to double check on other religious buildings in the area and it did claim there was a mosque and a synagogue here, sort of, but it didn't mention ~where~, which is suspicious since it's a mountain area n'it could be off in the middle o'nowhere. But then it also claimed Binghampton and Scranton as 'close', which they ain't, takes an hour or more by car to get there, let alone on a bike which I've never done. So the buildings might be on the outskirts, since I haven't run into them. Turns out there is a multi-faith temple in the hospital though, with copies of both the Koran and Christian bible.

ArrogantWorm said...


Just wanted to point out that my day-to-day interactions, there's not many people willing to go "Hey, others can believe what they wish" without adding an "You're going to go to ~Hell~, though, and here's why" after it. Running into the people that honestly work towards tolerance and acceptance instead of just wagging their tongues in lipservice is rare, I think, no matter what side of a religious fence someone is on.

ArrogantWorm said...

*youhaveavery interestingtopic.

(was cut off, teach me to do runon sentences)

ArrogantWorm said...

Alright, after this I promise I'll be fairly quiet. Really. Cross m'heart. I'd just forgotten to say that instead of the 'you're going to hell' snipes from the athiests, it's switched with the 'you're delusional' bits. Seems to be the same type of condenscension for believed idiocy about a thing, though

B said...

I do not believe in a god who is concerned or involved in any way with my life or the life on our planet. This god is somehow responsible for the Big Bang and is now on to other things.

If I say that organized religions are simply mythology and superstitions, I am considered a religious bigot for not giving their beliefs proper respect. However, when some one within organized religion says that secular humanists are responsible for all the failures in our society and they can have no morals without god's word, no one accuses them of religious bigotry. I have been told I was going to hell, which offended no one, (not even me) but if I tell them they will rot in the ground with no afterlife, I offend all sorts of people.

It is not a two way street.

Daisy said...

B, why isn't it a two-way street? Mutual respect is mutual respect. The only way that doesn't work is if you decide a particular person isn't entitled to your respect because they are too stupid to respect. i.e., you have decided they are stupid/deluded for having XYZ belief. It's like what AW said, it's really no different saying "You are stupid for believing that" and "You are going to hell for believing that"... and if so, how is it any different?

Did you click the link about how I was attacked on an liberal atheist blog? As a "nipple rubbing herbalist"? (no way I could make that one up) What did those class-oriented insults have to do with religion, or religious belief? Obviously, only low-class people believe in God, is what it meant; a southerner, a LOW CLASS, STUPID person who lives in Dogpatch. The person who called me that signs his name "Logician"--and considers himself scientifically-minded.

The whole exchange left me rather dumbfounded. I'm still stunned. I thought about blogging over the incident and instead, just blogged half-assed without mentioning religion--I knew they'd consider that proof of my inferiority or religious fanaticism. So, I just blogged about the insults themselves. Without mentioning religion as the reason for the insults, they are pretty shocking, no? Now that I tell you those insults are related to religious belief, are they justifiable, as far as you are concerned?

(AW, now you know you can talk all you want to on my blog!--kisss)

La Lubu said...

My personal definition of religious bigotry? Besides rudeness, contempt, a superiority complex, and a my-way-or-the-highway attitude? I'd add a distinct unwillingness to learn anything about the belief system one is disparaging. Oh, and an assumption about what those beliefs are. As well as the assumption that there is no variance in the beliefs or practices of various people within a religion, such as the assumption that holding religious beliefs = fundamentalism.

Deoridhe said...

In my experience, people do harmful, hurtful, often life threatening (if not life-removing) in the name of all sorts of things - religion included. Hel, my religion CURRENTLY has people doing things I wish they wouldn't in the name of my religion.

Usually, in these situations, if you look at the reasoning it either has nothing to do with or oppenly violates the actual written mores and values of the entity that is the target of "in the name of". From people using Evolution as a reason why we should decrease variations in the human genome (read: eugenics), to people killing in the name of Jesus, to people creating tyrannies using Marx's words, the commonality is rigidity and fear, not the thing being used as the excuse for the rigidity and fear.

Call it patriarchy, authoritarianism, or facism - the elements remain largely consistant once you take of the (vital, valuable, beautiful) costume of culture and objects of reverence.

B said...


The point I was trying to make is that while some atheists did treat you unfairly and did not give your views due respect (and Logician is an ass), the religious of the world are not above treating the non-religious unfairly and without due respect. That is the two way street I'm looking for. Mutual respect is mutual respect and I'm all for that but I don't think most religious people really give respect to the non-religious. The non-religious person is generally viewed by the religious as the reason we have strife and sin in the world.

I do not go around telling religious people their beliefs are just superstitions. That would not be respectful. I would like people to realize that when it is said that without religion people can have no morals, that is deeply insulting and very bigoted towards those of us who do not hold with an involved or caring deity. I will admit this isn't a new problem. I can point to a library right down the street which has George Washington quoted, in stone over their doorway, saying man must have religion to be moral. Washington is wrong. Conscience can come from introspection as well as god's written instruction.

I love discussions about religion; any religion and religion as an abstract concept. I find it one of the more curious things about humans. How did we get so many religions? Why so many sects when they are all reading the same text? Highly intelligent people believe unprovable things. I want to understand that better. Some people are strong enough in their faith that they can join me on the topic without feeling threatened; some don't. I try very hard to be sure I only discuss religion with folks who can do so with becoming defensive. I don't want to insult; I don't mean to insult. I want to understand how they came to their belief, how they hold on to them.

I appreciate that you encouraged me to share, even though clearly some one of my ilk has been less than respectful to you.

Daisy said...

B, I don't know the 'spiritual' answer to most of your questions, even though I can recite the history. I've taken a quickie-course in Canon Law, and I can parrot the basics. I'm sure you can, too. I do not delude myself that morality only exists among those who share my unique combination of mainstream and esoteric beliefs. (One of the great things about syncretic religion is that you can't easily subscribe to that kind of thing.)

As for me, I started here,
and I'm working on it.

It's a lifelong project.

angryyoungwoman said...

B, I would call anyone who blamed moral decay on the unreligious/secular humanists/or any one group in particular, actually, a bigot--and I'm religious. I'll say, though, that sometimes some religious people make it hard to stand up for them.

Second, I'm really thankful for this post because it addresses some stuff I've seen in the internets lately. Of course there's always the blatant hatred of/disdain for Islam that people show, but lately it even showed up in some supposedly feminist and leftist blogs--there was even one promoting the "Barack Obama is a Muslim and wants to further Sharia law" myth. Then, of course, Mitt Romney ran and there was all this Mormon stuff up (which hit home, since I am Mormon) and suddenly people who, if they knew anything about me would know that I'm pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-universal healthcare, anti-war, started accusing me of being some kind of conservative freak nutjob (I can still insult the conservatives, right?) because of what they'd read about Mormons on the internet. My neighbor told me I was going to Hell. People picketed my church (though I actually thought that was a bit exciting), Alternet (one of my former favorite sites) posted an anti-Mormon video made by an Evangelical group. People started saying things about my underwear (really, seriously, when is it appropriate to talk about a woman's underwear?). It was pretty crazy for a while. I'm just hoping Mitt can fade into the background and everyone will forget about this.

angryyoungwoman said...

wow, that was really long. I'm sorry about that. If it makes no sense, it's 6.22 here, and I've been up all night.