Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, April 09, 2012

My God Can Beat Up Your God (Defining "Tolerance")

(This post is part of the annual Blog Against Theocracy. The twitter hatchtag is #AgainstTheocracy.)

Tolerance is a worthy value, but it's important to recognize that different religious traditions do not share the exact same beliefs (not even under different names), that atheism is not just another faith (as the saying goes, atheism is not a religion any more than "not collecting stamps" is a hobby), and that not everyone believes in, or practices, religious tolerance.

Occasionally, someone (almost always a conservative) will complain that someone else (normally a "liberal") is being 'intolerant of their intolerance.' (For instance, see Kirk Cameron's complaints that his religiously-based anti-gay views are not tolerated by "those who preach tolerance.") At first glance, such situations may seem to reveal a paradox or hypocrisy, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, it just ain't so.

Most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean "privilege." Typically, they do not recognize this, because they view their preferred power structure as the natural order. Theocrats and other religious authoritarians will raise a great hue and cry about their religious freedoms being violated. Most will honestly believe this, but they do not truly seek freedom of religion, which they already possess. What they seek is power and preferential status, the ability to impose their religious beliefs on others. Consequently, to use a shorthand, it's important to recognize the difference between personal beliefs – for instance, an individual's specific religious beliefs or lack thereof, that affect that person – and system beliefs – beliefs about how our overall system should be organized, including whether religious faiths (as well as no faith) should be treated equally and neutrally, or whether a particular faith or faiths should be given precedence. These are not equivalent, and when we discuss "belief" and "tolerance," we must put them in context. Individual, personal beliefs that affect that person primarily are categorically different from shared, public policies that affect everyone. The First Amendment contains both an exercise clause and an establishment clause regarding religion; theocrats consistently ignore the latter (in fact, that's one of the defining characteristic of theocrats). While the law makes a number of accommodations for religious beliefs (and individual communities may make far more), as a rule religious beliefs do not trump the law; a murderer could not successfully argue that prosecuting him was a violation of his First Amendment rights because he belonged to the Cult of Kali. Understanding these distinctions is crucial.

The Local House of Worship

Back in December, I took a family member to a Christmas Eve service. This particular church is not really my crowd, but so what, as long as my family member likes it and is treated nicely by the congregation and church staff? One passage in the sermon really struck me, though (emphasis mine):

We live in a time when people demand that we assign equal value to all religious viewpoints. People bristle at the idea of just "one way to God." Tolerance is a wonderful virtue which we all need, but even tolerance must kneel at the cross of Jesus.

If you believe the New Testament story that God willingly sent his only son to be rejected, spit upon, trampled upon, maimed and mutilated, can you possibly believe that God would have sent his son to this if there had been any other way of salvation? Would you send your child away for such a fate, if it could possibly be avoided? No, to turn away from the cross and say I choose another way is really saying, "God, the sacrifice of your son wasn’t good enough for me. I want another option, I think I have a better alternative."

Is that tolerance, or is it pride?

Someone is very unclear on the concept of "tolerance."

Now, if there is any place where proselytizing is acceptable, clearly it is in a house of worship. Some congregations are more tolerant and inclusive than others, and this will appeal to some potential members. However, when on their own turf, obviously it's that congregation's right to proclaim that theirs is the best faith or the one true faith, that they're right and others are wrong, to cheerlead and trash talk, or even talk seriously about important theological differences. To quote an earlier post:

My assumption is that religious people think their religion is the best. If they grew up with the religion, they've probably heard that it's the best, or just naturally assumed it. Those that reflect on their religion as they grow older and stay with it come to some conclusion that their specific denomination is the best – or else they'd change it. Those that convert to a religion obviously think their new religion or denomination is the best, or else they wouldn't have chosen it. Some may choose to be part of a place of worship more for the community, or convert for a spouse, and may not subscribe to all of a religion's tenets nor that communities' practices. Still, generally speaking, it's not surprising if a religious person thinks his or her religion is the best, and/or the truest path.

At most churches, Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday are the most heavily attended services of the year. This makes sense given those events' centrality to Christian belief, and it would be surprising if a sermon did not touch if not dwell on the core stories of the faith.

All that said, the view expressed above is that we will "tolerate" other religious faiths, but they are inferior. That's not really tolerance; it's advocating social politeness (if we're being charitable). I was also struck by how that passage was delivered with a sense of indignation – 'how dare you reject this wonderful gift?' Technically, I suppose the "if" gives an out, but that was not the tone at all. The preacher was expressing anger at those who do not subscribe to his particular interpretation of Christianity. I want to make it very clear – if I or any individual voluntarily attends a worship service, and we hear something we deem offensive, the proper response is to either speak with the leadership afterwards (if one is a congregant) or not to attend again (more likely if one is a visitor, or "church shopping" or similar). The congregation has every right to say what it wants in its own space.

However, the rules change when it comes to debating public policy; anyone can still say anything, but their views are not given automatic deference just because of religion. To quote a recent post, "of course people of faith have a role in the public square, they just shouldn't have a privileged role. They can propose public policies, but they don't automatically get to have their way by citing their religion. They don't automatically get to win."

I don't really care if a particular house of worship thinks its religion is the best; I expect it. In a sense, I don't care if they don't practice religious tolerance while on their own turf (even if that may turn off some potential congregants). I do care, however, if they don't understand or respect that other people exist with different faiths who also feel their beliefs represent the one and true faith (and that some people reject religion altogether). I do care if, when they enter the public square, they don't understand how tolerance and the establishment clause of the First Amendment work. Such failures have very real, negative consequences.

The Pope and Ms. Lopez

Recently, Susan of Texas wrote a good post on authoritarianism, National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez and Lopez' praise for the Pope's supposed "defense and explanation of the essential nature of religious freedom." If you're not familiar with Lopez, she is an extremely conservative Catholic. According to a Guttmacher Institute study, "Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%)." Lopez opposes both abortion and birth control, putting her far to the right, even among women in her own faith. (Anyone who truly wants fewer abortions shouldn't also oppose birth control, but the agenda is social control.)

In any case, while in Cuba, the Pope gave a homily. Follow the link to read it in full, but much of it is proselytizing:

Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality most deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.

The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27).

I'm not offended that the Pope would proselytize; that's a huge part of his job. Nor am I surprised he thinks his religion is true and the best one. I'm more struck by his lack of diplomacy and lack of understanding of "freedom of religion" elsewhere in the homily (but not truly surprised, given Ratzinger's track record on this front). This paragraph is probably the least obnoxious and most inclusive:

The right to freedom of religion, both in its private and in its public dimension, manifests the unity of the human person, who is at once a citizen and a believer. It also legitimizes the fact that believers have a contribution to make to the building up of society. Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.

This is rah-rah for religion, and doesn't mention non-believers, but okay. The rest of the piece is more problematic in terms of "freedom of religion," as when he says:

Furthermore, the truth which stands above humanity is an unavoidable condition for attaining freedom, since in it we discover the foundation of an ethics on which all can converge and which contains clear and precise indications concerning life and death, duties and rights, marriage, family and society, in short, regarding the inviolable dignity of the human person. This ethical patrimony can bring together different cultures, peoples and religions, authorities and citizens, citizens among themselves, and believers in Christ and non-believers.

Re-read that carefully. Ratzinger apparently believes you can't be truly free unless you're a Christian – and specifically, a conservative Catholic one. His view of religious tolerance is that everyone, including atheists and people who are religious but not Christian, should submit to the true faith, the Catholic Church. He's not just talking about being moral and leading by example, either. He both proselytizes and explicitly endorses proselytizing several times elsewhere in this piece. Again, it's not surprising, but this does confirm that he can be fairly viewed as a religious zealot (if an extremely prominent one) versus a person of tolerance. Religious zealots often seems terribly astounded that other people don't eagerly capitulate to their views and authority. This is not a good sales pitch to non-Catholics he hopes to win over. Ratzinger also says (emphasis mine):

When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, we become more human and our humanity becomes authentic. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechesis and in the schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the fields of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect.

Of course he and the Church are claiming special privileges. It's not as if other faiths don't also feel they are serving a higher purpose, or for that matter, that many secular organizations don't feel the same. Members of the Catholic Church can preach all they want in their own churches and on street corners, and they can even be invited to schools and universities, but why should they be given automatic access? Furthermore, "special privileges" is precisely what American Catholic bishops have sought in trying to ban gay adoptions, and trying to ban insurance companies from providing women basic contraceptive coverage. What gives Catholic officials the right to interfere with legitimate medical decisions? Why should their beliefs be given precedence over those of their employees, and over the medical judgment of doctors? (Obviously, the contraception battles form a larger discussion, but likely you've caught some other pieces on it.)

Lopez herself ends with a laughable claim of religious persecution: "we ought to do our utmost to curtail our government’s eroding of our own first freedom." However, it's typical to hear such specious complaints from religious conservatives and authoritarians. More important is Lopez' selection of passages from the Pope (you can read her full post here). She could have just quoted the third paragraph she features about freedom of religion ("The right to freedom of religion..." quoted above). Instead, she says that the Pope offered a "self-consciously Christian statement — but one that highlighted why more than religious believers should care to insist on it..." and then Lopez quotes:

Convinced that it is Christ who is the true measure of man, and knowing that in him we find the strength needed to face every trial, I wish to proclaim openly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In him everyone will find complete freedom, the light to understand reality most deeply and to transform it by the renewing power of love.

The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory...

Wow. More than religious believers should care to insist on it. Like her leader, the Pope, but even more blatantly, Lopez has just argued that atheists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and all other faiths should submit to her specific religion. Apparently to her, this constitutes "religious freedom." (As usual, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean "privilege.")

Now true, K-Lo is a chronically inept writer, so that may be a factor here. But she, like Ross Douthat, really does seem to think that everybody would be better off if they were Catholic and submitted to Catholic authority, and that, deep down, everybody else wants to (or should). Naturally they think their religion is the true one, the bestest ever, and all that. But despite being reasonably educated adults, presumably with some life experience, they still remain utterly flabbergasted by the prospect that other people might see things differently, and not eagerly want to subjugate themselves to K-Lo's own personal deity.

To be clear, once again I fully support the right of the Pope and Lopez to believe whatever they want in terms of religious faith, and proselytize to their hearts' content. However, it's important to note that they do not truly understand or practice religious tolerance, nor do they respect "freedom of religion" as it is commonly understood (certainly not in terms of the First Amendment, not that its approach is unique in the world).

Kirk Cameron

If you missed the Kirk Cameron story, here's a pretty good summary from the New York Daily News (emphasis mine):

Kirk Cameron, who has come under fire for calling homosexuality “unnatural,” says he’s the one who’s a victim of “hate speech.”

The 41-year-old “ Fireproof” actor has been on the defensive since igniting an uproar after saying same-sex marriage was “destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization” during an interview Friday with CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Though he became a break-out star on the 1980s sitcom “Growing Pains,” Cameron has since become an evangelical Christian who is vocal about his religious.

“I spoke as honestly as I could, but some people believe my responses were not loving toward those in the gay community,” he told ABC News in an emailed statement Tuesday. “That is not true. I can assuredly say that it’s my life’s mission to love all people.

“I should be able to express moral views on social issues, especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.”

Cameron added that he has been encouraged by the support of gay friends...

“Saying that gay people are ‘detrimental to civilization’ might be ‘loving’ in Kirk Cameron’s mind, but it’s gay youth and victims of bullying who truly suffer from adults like Cameron who espouse these ideas,” said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD’s Senior Director of Programs and Communications...

“So many Americans, popular celebrities and Christian leaders have stood up and said his views are out of touch. The fundamental dignity of gay people should no longer be a debate in this country.

“Obviously, Cameron has the right to recite his anti-gay talking points, just like fair-minded Americans have the right to tell him that his views are harmful and have no place in modern America.”

John Aravosis had a similar reaction (echoed by many commentators):

First off, if you want to talk about 2,000 year old traditions that were supposedly rooted in the Bible, let's talk slavery. Should we have been tolerant of that, Kirk?

Second, speaking honestly doesn't preclude you from being a hateful bigot.

As for your right to free speech, what about our right to free speech? You have every right in America to be a bigot, and a loud spoken one at that. No one is taking that right away from you. But we have the right to call you on your bigotry.

As for your supposed gay friends who are supporting you in this, name one.

The slavery comparison is very apt, because Cameron isn't just expressing a personal belief that affects his own personal religious life; he's expressing a system belief about how society should be organized. He's seeking to impose a power dynamic and control other people's lives. His personal beliefs cannot override their personal beliefs without their consent. He is not automatically allowed to dictate to others how they should live. He can certainly state his opinion, and proselytize all he wants, but his claims of persecution reveal his ideological narcissism; he is discounting others' beliefs, and saying his trump theirs. He is not simply saying "I'm right and you're wrong," which is common enough in debates. That's to be expected. He's saying (even if he doesn't realize it) that gay people are lesser beings who do not deserve equal footing with him. When discussing "tolerance," power dynamics and the actual consequences of "beliefs," the system aspect, should not be ignored.

These discussions can play out something like this:

Tolerance Advocate: I believe we should all have equal rights.

Intolerant Person: No, you're a second-class citizen.

Tolerance Advocate: Go to hell.

Intolerant Person: Why are you so rude and intolerant?

Civility Troll: Yes, why are you so rude?

Cameron's First Amendment rights have not been violated. The government has not banned him from speaking, and he can practice his religion all he wants – up to the point when it conflicts with the law and public policy. For instance, it's legal to be a bigot in terms of thoughts and speech, but not legal to racially discriminate in hiring practices. Cameron's personal beliefs are unfettered, but his system beliefs about how the overall system should work, including his rude, intolerant notions about gays being second-class citizens, do not need to be given any respect. They can and should be challenged.

A System of Tolerance

It's worth taking a step back to consider the big picture on tolerance, as we've looked at before (in "The Social Tolerance Charts" and "The Religion-in-Society Charts," among other posts; I'll be using graphics from both of them here). Within the context of the law, a tolerant person says, "I will live my life the way I like, and you can live your life the way you like." An intolerant person will say, "I will live my life the way I like, but you must also live your life the way I want you to." These are not equivalent. It is absolutely essential to recognize this and point it out whenever this distinction is obscured (as it is often). Talking about different individual beliefs, and tolerance for them, is crucially different from discussions about the overall system and whether it is tolerant or not. Political discourse often ignores power dynamics, or assumes that a dominant culture is the norm. A tolerant system looks something like this:

(Click any graphics for a larger view. These aren't drawn to scale, naturally.) A tolerant system allows room for both the personally tolerant and the personally intolerant. Since there can be competing intolerant groups, we can further picture the system like this:

In contrast, what intolerant people want (this would include theocrats) is to set up a hierarchy with themselves at the top:

Needless to say, this is a lousy system for "everybody else."

Because freedom of religion means that the government is neutral when it comes to matters of faith and no faith at all, America has something like this, with the religious, non-religious and anti-religious all equal when it comes to the law:

If we want to contrast a religiously tolerant society with a theocratic one, it would look something like this:

Finally, since I do know nice religious folks who feel a bit persecuted, I offer this slightly exaggerated and tongue-in-cheek graphic:

Change the terms slightly if you wish. (This version substitutes "authoritarian" for theocrat[ic].) "Liberal" is, as noted, liberal in the Enlightenment sense, which would include tolerant small "c" conservatives and the like, anyone who is committed in general to basic social equality. As for "smug hipster asshole," basically, if a religious person or anyone else feels, say, Bill Maher is an asshole, that's perfectly fine. It's fine for them to condemn Maher or others for being obnoxious to them, or personally "intolerant," as the term is commonly used. However, Maher does not support locking people up for their religious beliefs (unless I've missed something). He supports a legal system of tolerance, no matter how obnoxious he may be personally. Meanwhile, there are "friendly but misguided theocrats," religious authoritarians who may be fairly nice on the interpersonal level, but truly believe the country would be better if it was a theocracy. There's nothing wrong per se with hanging out with them socially, but any theocratic measures they take politically should be opposed. (The same goes for theocratic assholes, obviously, and they tend to be a very nasty bunch.)

As I've written in previous posts, I have some sympathy for nice people who are religious and wind up in a situation where they feel someone is degrading all people of faith as idiots or zealots. (I've spoken up for them in some cases.) However, the solution to such situations is social in nature, not legal. When it comes to politics, I'm much more concerned about theocrats and others who don't support a system of tolerance. Unfortunately, these two types of "tolerance" are often conflated, and this makes for needlessly poor discussions.

Yet again, most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean "privilege." Anyone is free to bring his or her religious beliefs into the public sphere, but when it comes to public policy and debate, those beliefs don't automatically "win" because they're religiously-based. Last year's post explored this in more depth, but a world of difference exists between bringing in religion into the public sphere in an authoritarian way – "We must help the poor because God commands it" – and having faith inform one's beliefs, or even citing scripture, to invoke a greater, shared principle that is not dependent on specific religious beliefs, like so:

COLBERT: I like talking about people who don't have any power. And this seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don't have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave. And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, these seem like the least of our brothers, right now. And I know that a lot of people are the least of my brothers because the economy is so hard, and I don't want to take anyone's hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that, but migrant workers suffer, and they have no rights.

Stephen Colbert cites scripture obliquely here, but this is not a theocratic argument; he's invoking a greater principle of compassion which does not depend on specific religious beliefs. (However, such beliefs may be a given individual's way of coming to compassion and understanding it. Meanwhile, let's also note that religious authoritarians rarely concern themselves much with the poor.)

Privilege, Not Equality

The difference between privilege and equality deserves more discussion, particularly the fact that theocrats seek the former, not the latter. Bob Altemeyer's book The Authoritarians (2006) is extremely helpful for explaining how authoritarians (and specifically, religious authoritarians or theocrats) think regarding freedom of religion, personal conduct and public policy. Chapter 4, "Authoritarian Followers and Religious Fundamentalism," is particularly relevant. Consider this extended passage:

“In the United States [Mark Noll] writes, it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual.” “Modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life.”

I have found nothing in my research that disagrees with this assessment. Indeed almost all of the findings in the last chapter about the authoritarian follower’s penchants for illogical thinking, compartmentalized minds, double standards, hypocrisy and dogmatism apply to religious fundamentalists as well. For example, David Winter at the University of Michigan recently found that fundamentalist students, when evaluating the war in Iraq, rejected a series of statements that were based on the Sermon on the Mount--which is arguably the core of Jesus’ teachings. Fundamentalists may believe they follow Jesus more than anyone else does, but it turns out to depend a lot on where Jesus said we should go. And we can augment such findings by considering the thinking behind three of the fundamentalist’s favorite issues: school prayer, opposition to evolution, and the infallibility of the Bible.

A. School Prayer: Majority Rights, Unless... Suppose a law were passed requiring the strenuous teaching of religion in public schools. Beginning in kindergarten, all children would be taught to believe in God, pray together in school several times each day, memorize the Ten Commandments and other parts of the Bible, learn the principles of Christian morality, and eventually be encouraged to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. How would you react to such a law?

The great majority of people in my samples who answered this question, including most of the Christians, said this would be a bad law. But most fundamentalists liked the idea, for this is exactly the kind of education they would like to see public schools give to everyone’s children. When I asked fundamentalists about the morality of imposing this learning on the children of Hindus, Jews, atheists, etcetera, they responded along the lines of, “This is a Christian country, and the majority rules. If others don’t like it, they can pay for private education or leave.” (As I said, most people do not favor this proposal, but since the days of the “Moral Majority” fundamentalists have tended to overestimate their numbers in society.)

What do you think happened when I asked people to respond to this parallel scenario?

Suppose you were living in a modern Arab democracy, whose constitution stated there could be NO state religion--even though the vast majority of the people were Muslims. Then a fundamentalist Islamic movement was elected to power, and passed a law requiring the strenuous teaching of religion in public schools. Beginning in kindergarten, all children would be taught to believe in Allah, pray together facing Mecca several times each day, memorize important parts of the Koran, learn the principles of Islamic morality, and eventually be encouraged to declare their allegiance to Muhammad and become a Muslim. How would you react to such a law?

Again, a great majority of my samples thought this would be quite wrong, but this time so did a solid majority of Christian fundamentalists. When you asked them why, they said that obviously this would be unfair to people who help pay for public schools but who want their children raised in some other religion. If you ask them if the majority in an Arab country has a right to have its religion taught in public schools, they say no, that the minority has rights too that must be respected. Nobody’s kids should have another religion forced upon them in the classroom, they say.

So do fundamentalists believe in majority rights or minority rights? The answer is, apparently, neither. They’ll pull whichever argument suits them out of its file when necessary, but basically they are unprincipled on the issue of school prayer. They have a big double standard that basically says, “Whatever I want is right.” The rest is rationalization, and as flexible and multi-directional as a reed blowing in the wind.


Incidentally, Altremeyer found that atheists overwhelmingly opposed laws:

...requiring strenuous teaching in public schools against belief in God and religion…

Atheists typically hold that religious beliefs/practice have no place in public schools, and that includes their own point of view. No double standard there.

[p. 117]

I still remember reading this chapter for the first time, because it (and another passage) answered some questions for me about theocrats. I wanted to assume, charitably, that some religious authoritarians were merely cloistered and unreflective, and had not really thought through the logical consequences of their positions. (Similarly, I'd say that a deep understanding of civics is severely lacking in America.) The what-if-you-lived-in-a-Muslim-country question is fairly obvious. (I've posed a similar question in the past, as have many other writers.) Clearly some theocrat leaders were acting in bad faith (no pun intended, although it works), but perhaps that did not apply to all of their followers. However, the studies indicated otherwise. True, religious authoritarian followers are not a reflective bunch, but apparently, even when starkly confronted with the choice between equality and privilege, they choose privilege.

The Threat of Theocracy

Apologies for the occasional repetitiveness of this post; I may be beating a dead horse, but I find myself frustrated by the seemingly constant complaints from social conservatives that others are 'intolerant of their intolerance.' (Sometimes they say this almost verbatim.) It's a ridiculous argument if one adds a little thought and nuance to the notion of "tolerance," and points out the role that power dynamics play, or the difference between "personal" and "system" beliefs (pick other terminology if you like). Alas, thought and nuance seem to be very rare when dealing with social conservatives and authoritarians, religious or otherwise. They have a sense of aggrievement, but little command of history, and no commitment to a fair system.

The ultimate point is that theocrats already possess freedom, but they are pushing for more – privilege and power over others that infringes on others' freedoms. They may be sincere, and some may even be nice on the individual level, but they are also dangerous and dead wrong about how society and the government should be organized. If their personal practices are wonderful, there is nothing to prevent them from saying so and winning converts. But their preferred power structure is inherently unfair, and historically, has lead to horrible abuses. Truly upholding freedom of religion necessitates opposing theocracy.

(Revised slightly for clarity. For more on the notion of tolerance, see the paradox of tolerance, John Rawls on tolerance, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry. For more VS posts on this general subject, see the categories for Blog Against Theocracy, Religion and the Religious Right. The most pertinent posts may be "The Social Tolerance Charts," "The Religion-in-Society Charts," "The Conservative Brain Trust Takes On: Freedom of Religion!" "You Damned Kids Get Into My Church" and "I'll See Your Jesus and Raise You 10,000 Buddhas.")


Unknown said...

What a great post. I love that "coexist" thing. I bought a t-shirt with that on the front.

doc said...

A lot going on in this piece.
It is taking me a while to process and respond. At this point I will simply say you put a ton of effort into articulating a cogent view of tolerance, freedom and privilege vis-a-vis religious belief. Well done.

Comrade Physioprof said...

I wanted to assume, charitably, that some religious authoritarians were merely cloistered and unreflective, and had not really thought through the logical consequences of their positions.

The issue isn't inattention or unreflectiveness. Religious authoritarian followers and other sorts of right-wing authoritarian followers have a cognitive makeup in which there simply is no such thing as objective reality--whether logical or empirical--that demands any sort of consistency whatsoever. It is hard for people whose minds aren't warped in that particular way to grasp, but the notion that an assertion of fact has to be true or false simply doesn't exist for them. When you are operating in such a cognitive regime, what normal decent people see as denial, hypocrisy, inconsistency, petulant demands for special privileges, and lying are indistinguishable from their opposites.

It was like John Kyl and his "that was not intended as a factual statement". When *nothing* is intended as a factual statement, there can be no such things as hypocrisy, inconsistency, or lying. And this is what makes genuine religious belief so utterly toxic.

Kertco2 said...

Bravo! I truly appreciate this post and agree with your argument of "freedom" vs "privilege." I anticipate bringing it up in the next "discussion" I will ultimately have with one of the many "Amurrikan" K-Lo's & Christians that I am smothered with in this little, sheltered town of mine.

tideliar said...

Brilliant post, and one that has certainly clarified some issues and thoughts I had on the subject.

This provides, not so much "ammo" in arguments I have/will have, but a clarity of thought to replace a complex dissonance I felt when considering the actions/beliefs of authoritarian theocrats.

HT Comrade PhysioProffe for linking to this post.

Batocchio said...

Well said, Comrade, and perhaps I should have said "Christians agitating on these issues" or "stirring up crap" versus "religious authoritarians," since that designation is really the conclusion. (Give 'em a chance and let 'em confirm their true nature.) I'm still interested in any impassioned-but-wrong people who can still be reached, but alas, their numbers are small, and they're normally operationally indistinguishable from full-blown authoritarians, who simply don't care about reality, logic, fairness or more objective standards of right and wrong (as you describe nicely). I appreciate Altemeyer's work for providing confirmation and valuable details about the authoritarian mindset.

I'm sure you've read it already, but Ron Suskind's 2004 piece "Faith and Certainty" remains one of my favorites on this stuff ("reality-based community"). Meanwhile, John Kyl's "Not intended as a factual statement" line is one of my all-time favorite admissions of bullshitting (the favored mode of discourse for authoritarians and scumbags). It's a fitting legacy for him, although I'll never forget or forgive him and his pal Lindsey Graham lying to the Supreme Court to try to deny someone due process.

The Monkey said...

An outstanding article. Thanks for putting in the effort! It has really helped me look at the issue of tolerance vs privilege (and some of the fundagelical arguments) in a new way.

Neo Tuxedo said...

Here via driftglass linking to a post which links to this one.

So do fundamentalists believe in majority rights or minority rights? The answer is, apparently, neither. [...] They have a big double standard that basically says, “Whatever I want is right.” The rest is rationalization[...]

True, religious authoritarian followers are not a reflective bunch, but apparently, even when starkly confronted with the choice between equality and privilege, they choose privilege.

Maybe it just wasn't stark enough. Maybe if Altemeyer had phrased his remarks in terms of somebody saying "This is a [Muslim] country, and the majority rules. If others don't like it, they can pay for private education or leave", the point would've been made in a way they couldn't ignore without a specific effort. Of course, judging by the good people of my current town of residence (Chambersburg, PA), they'd have made the effort anyway, or found it no effort at all.

I was going to say that they are in fact unreflective, but I thought about it and realized that they're actually anti-reflective. Reflection, after all, leads to difficult questions about the Bible, and difficult questions about the Bible lead to finding out, from personal experience, exactly how hot Hell really is.

"What was required in a Party member was an outlook similar to that of the ancient Hebrew who knew, without knowing much else, that all nations other than his own worshipped 'false gods'. He did not need to know that these gods were called Baal, Osiris, Moloch, Ashtaroth, and the like: probably the less he knew about them the better for his orthodoxy. He knew Jehovah and the commandments of Jehovah: he knew, therefore, that all gods with other names or other attributes were false gods." -- Principles of Newspeak