Are Christians Bigots?

I know this site has mostly focused on climate change and the discussion around it, but that's not it's intended purpose. It's easy to forget the intended purpose of this site is to give me a place to talk about the insanity I see in our world. I honestly believe our world is insane, and I made this site so I could talk about that. I figured it was better to write about it on a blog people could ignore than to pester people with my thoughts in real life.

So in that vein, I'm going to go a bit out of my normal comfort zone. A few hours ago, I saw an article by a guy named Bernard Goldberg. Goldberg is a kind of strange figure in my life. Growing up, I saw him on the news for a while, and I wondered why he suddenly disappeared from it. I didn't think much about it, but years later, I happened upon a book named Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News in a library. The name seemed interesting, so I checked it out. I think I had finished the book before I realized the connection between it and my childhood memories.

Basically, the book is about how the mainstream media in the United States was dominated by a left-wing bias, to the point where many people in the media didn't even realize it. They were so used to their bias they thought it was "normal." Goldberg happened to run against it in just one case, and that was enough to basically get him blacklisted. I thought it was an interesting story.

Anyway, Goldberg recently wrote an article asking, "Why Were We More Bigoted When We Were More Religious?" It notes the curious fact the United States has grown less bigoted over time, and at the same time, it has become less (self-reportedly) religious. He points out it is interesting Christianity preaches love and forgiveness yet seems to have become less popular as acceptance for other people has grown.

It's an interesting post, and whatever your views on the subject, I think it's worth considering. I, of course, have my own views on the subject, so I wrote a comment explaining them. I don't know how many people will read my comment on that website, but I liked what I had to say in it, so I thought I'd copy it here. If you aren't interested, feel free not to read any further. My next post will be about climate change again, so you might find it more interesting.

I don't think Christianity caused or causes bigotry. I think it has just been a convenient excuse to justify views people held for other reasons. For instance, I don't think the Crusades were caused by Christianity encourages people to hate Muslims. I think some people wanted to go to war for their own reasons so they dressed it up as a "religious crusade" to fool/convince people into going to war.

The same seems true for bigotry in general. People who supported slavery found excuses in the bible to justify their beliefs. People who opposed interracial marriage found excuses in the Bible to justify their beliefs. People who, to this day, oppose homosexual marriage find excuses in the Bible to justify their beliefs.

Have any of those excuses been right? Personally, I don't think so. Everyone seems to agree the excuses of the past were misguided. I think in time the same will be true of the current ones. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Christians will keep using the Bible to push against things they'd dislike regardless of whether or not the Bible condemned those things. Rock n' roll, video games, transgenderism, homosexuality, whatever. I think in time Christians will come to embrace all of those as things which are okay rather than immoral. But again, maybe I'm wrong.

But in the meantime, what I know is a lot of people have been turned off of Christianity by the hatred they perceive it to endorse. Christians will be quick to say they don't hate gay people, but trying telling that to a gay person who lives in a Christian community that condemns homosexuality as immoral. They'll disagree.

I don't think that's the major cause of the diminishment in popularity of Christianity though. If I had to guess, I'd say the main reason Christianity has become less popular has nothing to do with the actual beliefs of Christians. I think it's far simpler than that. Just like bigotry was once considered proper, being a "good Christian" used to be considered proper. Many people labeled themselves as Christians because to do otherwise was to look bad. Many people went to Church on Sunday because their neighbors' tongues would wag if they didn't.

Ultimately, I think this whole thing comes down to a simple change: people are becoming more open-minded. That means there is less bigotry, and it also means people feel less need to be "fake" Christians. That means the correlation between religion and bigotry isn't that religion causes bigotry; it's that there has been bigotry against people who aren't of a particular religion.

6 comments

  1. Hey Brandon

    As a warning I am an Atheist, not an anti-theist. I don't believe in any god, but I do see the value of religion.

    I think you are missing one thing in your analysis here. I agree that bigoted people will use whatever motivation they can find to rationalise their bigotry. However having to synthesise the morality of your religion which may be thousands of years old with modern morality is bound to create conflict.

    I think that society in general tends to be less bigoted as people's lives become easier. As people have more freedom in their lives they tend to see how other people should have freedom in their lives. It is only in times of economic/social turmoil that people become more bigoted as being in the "in group" is incredibly helpful in times of uncertainty. However since the scientific revolution, peoples lives in general have become easier and the morality of the societies which have these easier lives have become less bigoted.

    However I think that religion in general, especially religions which codify morality like the abrahamic religions, do make people more bigoted. Once the moral rules are codified, they become inviolate. However the general Zeitgeist around those codified morals change. So believing in the religion makes people more conservative about changing their morality. The codified morality of religion acts as an anchor that keeps people lagging behind the morality of people who are free to choose their own morality based on the people around them.

    Now this isn't inherently bad, however when the morality codifed in your holy book is the morality of a society from 2000 years ago, there is bound to be some conflicts between the codified morality and the morality of society in general. For the truly devout, I imagine this pushes them towards insular communities where these old codified moralities are not challenged. This is a place (not the only place) where people learn bigoted ideas. There is an inherent conflict between a static morality passed down by God and an organic morality which is shaped by society. The basic conflict is their attitudes to change.

  2. Christopher, I don't disagree with most of what you say, but I do disagree with your general thrust to some extent. You say:

    However I think that religion in general, especially religions which codify morality like the abrahamic religions, do make people more bigoted. Once the moral rules are codified, they become inviolate.

    I think this is true, but I don't think it is limited to moral codes as created by religious texts. What you describe would be true of beliefs in general. Once people come to believe something, it is difficult to get them to change their beliefs. I think that's much the same reason Max Planck said, "Science advances one funeral at a time" (I think that's the right wording). It's not that the cause of the belief affects things. It's just that once people come to believe something, they're unlikely to stop believing it. So when you say:

    So believing in the religion makes people more conservative about changing their morality. The codified morality of religion acts as an anchor that keeps people lagging behind the morality of people who are free to choose their own morality based on the people around them.

    I do largely agree, but I don't think this effect is limited to Christianity. Any form of "religion" will suffice for the same purposes. Even if it isn't religious, you can still fill the same void with basically any sort of belief. That's why things like antisemitism can still be popular in some crowds. It's not that religion, in and of itself, is important. It's just that people can find some excuse to justify continuing to believe what they believe.

    Now this isn’t inherently bad, however when the morality codifed in your holy book is the morality of a society from 2000 years ago, there is bound to be some conflicts between the codified morality and the morality of society in general. For the truly devout, I imagine this pushes them towards insular communities where these old codified moralities are not challenged.

    For the longest time, I disliked Christianity because I thought it was kind of evil. I was raised a Lutheran, but I couldn't justify the idea of things like making people suffer for eternity simply because they didn't bow down and worship some god they might not even know. Over time, however, I did research on the Bible and what Christianity actually requires. As I did, I realized much of modern Christianity isn't based in the Bible. For instance, I don't think the Bible actually condemns homosexuality. I don't think it preaches the idea of eternal torment either. I suspect the idea of eternal suffering in hell is a fiction created by humans in early times as a way of exerting control over the uneducated masses, and I think people have just failed to reexamine their beliefs.

    I think if you actually look into it, the Bible does a good job of being timeless. It doesn't set a lot of strict rules (most of the famous ones were set in the Old Testament and are part of the Holy Code, not intended for every person to use). Those rules it does set are ones which should be accepted in any time. Basically, treat people as you want to be treated, love your neighbor, and junk like that.

    But that's not really important. The basic point I'm making is I agree religion can be an anchor for one's beliefs, but so can anything else. Once people come to accept a belief system, it is hard to get them to reject or even alter it. I just don't see a difference between religious belief systems and any other.

  3. Brandon

    At a relatively young age* I observed that throughout history, except for short periods of persecution, the standard of living of the average rank and file 'priest' is higher than that of the average parishioner

    Surprisingly I found myself unpopular as much with those whose 'taxes' provide the livelihood as those who depend upon organised religion for their livelihood!

    It seems that cognitive bias is not limited to climastrologists!

    * I was drummed out of the 'Brownies' (actually Synagogue), at age 13, when I challenged the Rabbinic hierarchy as above

  4. Gras Albert, I know what you mean. I was never good with he religious sect, largely because they didn't seem to be any different from anyone else. If you viewed being a priest/pastor/whatever as a job, they basically seemed to be the same as anyone else. I was raised Lutheran, and I went to a private school for a few years, but there just didn't seem to be anything special about having a religious job. I've met some people who truly seem to devote themselves to the pursuit of their religion, but mostly, it has just seemed to be something you do to get by.

    And that's not limited to just religious positions. I've experienced the same with climatologists. There are some climate scientists I've met who seem to genuinely pursue their field due to an honest belief. I understand why they might believe what they believe, but I can't agree with their conclusions. It's a kind of strange thing.

    Of course, I routinely find myself disagreeing with "unbelievers" as well. For instance, on Twitter in the last 24 hours, I've had a bunch of people act like I'm an alarmist. And I disagree with people like Neal deGrasse Tysone for their idiotic statements about religion. It's not that I find religion to have any real merit. I just happen to be able to recognize that not all religions require a "god."

    *I think I was in sixth grade when I challenged what my Lutheran school told me about God. Strangely, none of my disagreements were about important things. Basically, I just said, "Does God really hate people of X group?" And some people insisted he did.

  5. Hi Brandon

    I basically agree with you.

    I suppose religion is just the oldest and most popular belief system which creates a moral code. However there are plenty of modern examples of non-religious systems which do the same. I suppose I would say that having any dogmatic belief in morality is more likely to lead to bigotry. I don't want to advocate total moral relativism though, as with many things, it is the extremity of belief which leads to issues.

    In your original post I felt like you were saying that bigots only use religion as an excuse for their bigotry. Basically that there is nothing in religion which can cause people to become bigoted. I think it is a two way street. Bigots will indeed point to any rational to justify their belief, however religion (or other dogmatic moral systems) do also play a role in fostering bigoted ideas.

    I have never thought of religion (or Christianity) as evil. I agree with you on the bible being timeless in a way, although I think it may have something to do with how the bible has actually shaped our society. It is hardly surprising that a book which has been used as a guide for the last 2000 years of western thought should still have relevance today. I wonder how relevant the bible would be if it had not had such a hold over western consciousness over the last couple of millenia.

  6. I think dogmatism, by definition, always leads to bigotry or something closely resembling it. Dogmatic belief in a scientific theory can cause violent disagreement where people hate each other as much as religious bigots do. That's why I don't see religion itself as the problem. Religions which are dogmatic will lead to similar problems, but there is nothing about religion which requires it be dogmatic.

    Actually, dogmatic may not be the best word. I think dogmatic just means believing something to be true without question. That's true of some religions which do not encourage hatred. I'm not sure what word to use instead though. People can definitely be dogmatic and hateful, but there are plenty of counterexamples. There are people who are absolutely certain their religion is right but hold no ill will toward people who don't share their beliefs.

    Anyway, religion can definitely encourage bigotry. It's just not an inherent thing. And some religions, such as Christianity, actively preach against bigotry. At least in theory. Christians have been rather bad at following the messages of love and kindness found in their religious texts.

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