12 April 2009

Why are they the villains?

Stupid Evil Bastard has posted an interesting challenge. He's been corresponding with a Christian minister who is "genuinely puzzled as to why humanists in general or gays in particular would associ-ate Christianity with bigotry and prejudice. " Excerpts from the minister's e-mails actually seem more concerned with rebutting accusations of "hate" than with seeking to understand why his opponents think of him that way, but nevertheless, the question is genuine, and SEB throws it open to his commenters to answer: "Really, Christians are the bad guys? How did that happen? Aren’t Christians, by definition, the good guys? Can anyone explain? He’s all yours, folks. He wants to know. Can you help him understand?"

Here's my own response:

Interesting question. I do think he throws his own understanding off the scent by focusing so much on the question of whether he “hates” or not. The reason we associate Christianity with bigotry and prejudice and consider Christian fundamentalism the “bad guy” is not so much a matter of their own internal mental state (which in the final analysis is unknowable to anyone but themselves) as the behavior which results from their beliefs.

Who are the people who are agitating to take away women’s right to abortion? Who are the most obsessive and agitated opponents of gay marriage? Who are the people who constantly scold other people for harmless but unconventional sexual behavior or relationships? It’s almost always the religious. We associate them with bigotry and prejudice because they are the active proponents of bigotry and prejudice. Whether they are motivated by “hate” or by some other complex of emotions is barely relevant. The point is, they’re a threat to the rights and happiness of the broader community.

We similarly strive to limit and defeat epidemics, not because we attribute “hate” to viruses, but because they harm people.

That being said, the visible evidence is that fundamentalist Christianity is pervaded by a kind of petty viciousness and mean-spiritedness, in the sense that it always seems to be obsessed with shunning and excluding disfavored groups. They get publicly upset about gays being allowed to marry or gay parents being invited to the White House Easter-egg roll and so forth, because these things are signs of gays being accepted as full members of society on the same level with everyone else, and they can’t stand that. They struggle to defend the right of photographers, fertility-treatment providers, and so forth to refuse service to gay people, of religious groups to refuse to hire them or recognize their relationships, etc. It is all about shunning and excluding. This certainly looks a lot like the mentality which, in an earlier era, fought to keep the rules under which blacks could not drink from the same water fountains as whites — not because they feared there wouldn’t be enough water left for white people, but because it was a symbolic way of saying “you’re lower than us, you’re not as good as us.”* Trying to enhance one’s own sense of self-worth by lowering someone else’s is common human behavior, but not very admirable.

So that would be my answer. Conservative Christians today are trying to make the whole society conform to their taboos in a way that threatens other people’s freedom of action, and they come across as mean, insecure, spiteful people obsessed with shunning and denigrating certain groups, specifically homo-sexuals. That’s why they are viewed as bigots, and that’s why they’re the bad guys.

*In hindsight I could have expressed this point better by saying it's a symbolic way of stigmatizing the outgroup as tainted and "unclean", unworthy to associate with the pure. I think there's a strong element of that feeling in the Christian obsession with exclusion of gays from institutions like marriage, too.


Anonymous NickM said...

Been over to Cats recently?

12 April, 2009 12:37  
Blogger VAMP said...

You know what's scary? Take out "Conservative Christian" and insert "Hitler"...wow, sorry.

I'm sick...so my thought process maybe askewed.

12 April, 2009 15:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick M: just visited.

Vamp: Well, considering that Mein Kampf -- sorry, I mean Leviticus -- says it's an "abomination" and they must be "put to death", I wouldn't want to find out what some of these people would do if they were in power.

12 April, 2009 15:45  
Anonymous rita said...

I thought your response was very good. You are so right. It is the shunning & excluding that manifests the behavior or is evidence of the attitude of "exclusive" religious groups.

12 April, 2009 16:19  

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