I’m Not a Bigot, but Your Religion Sucks.
We all have one of those friends. You know, the friend that will every so often begin a sentence with “I’m not a racist, but…” to which you respond with a pre-emptive cringe because you know whatever is coming after the fold is going to be atrocious. It’s as if they know that what they are going to say is incredibly racist, but they have the minimal amount of social awareness to realize that they should strive to be egalitarian.
I have been called a bigot, folks. It’s not exactly a recent development, as I’ve actually been called a bigot several times. Apparently, I hate Christians and would throw them to lions if I could (the t-shirt emblazened with “So Many Christians, So Few Lions” comes to mind, but I digress).
As you might expect, such exchanges usually take place on the internet where both men of straw and righteous indignation are ubiquitous. I know that I have strong feelings and somewhat radical views when it comes to religion (radical for America, anyway) – but a bigot? Me?
The point of this post isn’t to defend myself from such charges, as what random people on the internet have to say about my personal character doesn’t faze me (indeed, it should not faze any of us). Alternatively, if someone who knows me personally and whose opinion I respect were to call me a bigot…well, that would give me more than a moment’s pause. When JeZuSrOx420 calls me a bigot, pardon me if I save my tears for another day.
Again, though, that’s not really the point of this post. Such instances dovetail with something that I have been thinking for quite some time. Namely, is it even possible to have critical discussions of religion without stepping on any toes?
To start, I’ll say that I think that there is a sincere and legitimate difference between criticizing a system of thought and criticizing people who subscribe to such a system – especially when you’re talking about something as esoteric as religion and philosophy. That, however, is another subject for another day.
I realize that it is very possible to have such a discussion without resorting to ad hominem attacks on your opponent, but I think that for many people, the act of merely being critical of religion is taken as an ad hominem. I think that’s because people tend to invest a lot of their identity in things that they believe, and so when you attack their beliefs it is understandable that the knee-jerk reaction would be to take it as a personal attack. If you are not careful, the discussion can then balloon into a full-blown flame war with nothing being accomplished accept for bruising some egos.
So with so much identity being tied up in the things that we believe (or, admittedly, in the things that we don’t believe. Atheism, as of late, has sort of become more of a positive movement and a little less like herding cats), is it possible to have no-holds-barred discussions on subjects like this while simultaneously being respectful to the other party?
I think that the answer has been no for most of human history. Traditionally, we have (coq.) implicitly accepted the premise that certain ideas, such as religion, are beyond criticism. I think though, that as we continue to become more scientifically advanced and literate, and as the atheist “movement” continues to cut its teeth, that answer is going to, and should, change.
As for where we are at today – I have no idea. It wasn’t so long ago that writing these words would get me burned alive by the righteous. Now, the worst that I have to fear is that JeZuSrOx420 will call me a bigot. On the whole, I’d say things are getting better.