The Limits of Bigotry 2

Who you are is not the same as what you are.

The first article in this series explained what is and what is not racism and bigotry.  Racism is a blanket condemnation of an entire category of people on the basis of an an inherent trait they did nothing to acquire and can do nothing to change; bigotry is unfairly predjudging someone who is different from you, including but not limited to areas that people do have the power to change.

Fundamentally, what makes the sin of racism particularly insidious is that there is nothing you can do about it if someone is racist against you.  If you're born black, you'll die black.  Some forms of bigotry are this way too: if you're born a man, you'll die one even if you may not look like it since you can't change your genes.

So if you're black, and you encounter someone who is racist against blacks, there's not a lot you can do to persuade them to treat you fairly.  This kneecaps the individual freedom and opportunity that made America great, and is utterly destructive of the principle that anyone should be able to rise to whatever level their own efforts and talents enable them to reach.

Now, the First Amendment right of free speech is even more essential, which is why it is and must remain perfectly legal for an American citizen to believe and express the most rank racism as do the KKK and the Black Panthers.  Everyone else holds them in the contempt they deserve, though, so their influence is almost as limited as we could wish.  And certainly it's deeply wrong for our government to be biased against individual citizens for things they can't help, which is why Jim Crow was so profoundly unAmerican.

It is this great principle of not judging people for inherent characteristics they can't change that drives our anger at the abusive misuse of false accusations of racism and bigotry, because like the boy who cried wolf, they devalue the strength of the words and make it harder to condemn genuine racists.

It's also why we are opposed to diluting the condemnation of racism and bigotry, by extending those words to cover behaviors which can be controlled and changed by individuals, without very good reason.

Now, it may very well be true that there's a genetic component to same-sex attraction, just as there may well genetic markers that increase the tendency to violence, rape, or kleptomania.  Acting on genetic predispositions, though, is another matter.  Nobody is born either heterosexual or homosexual; babies have no sense of sexual attraction.  That comes later.

And when human beings reach the age of sexual maturity, we expect them to have sufficient self control to keep it in their pants.  We may be offended or amused when we see rutting dogs in heat on the lawn, or animals going at it in the zoo, but they're only doing what comes naturally and we understand this.  We feel much differently about human beings behaving the same way.

Why?  Because, unlike the lower animals, human beings have the ability and the responsibility to decide what they should do and not do, and act accordingly.  By the tenets of nearly all religions, homosexuality is a moral sin, just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage, and to roughly the same degree of wrongness.

This is why it is a fallacy to call mere dislike of homosexual acts or those performing them "bigotry."  Each individual involved has the ability to decide whether or not to perform those acts and in doing so makes a moral choice that can be evaluated and condemned according to a moral code.  Indeed, our modern political fetish of promoting the choices of homosexuals over the deeply-felt religious beliefs of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion is the real bigotry of our times.

Furthermore, there are solid factual grounds to dislike the act of homosexuality: homosexuals are enormously more likely to have the deadly disease of AIDS, for example, as well as many other lesser pathologies.  That's why it's simple common sense, not bigotry, to prohibit active homosexuals from donating blood: they are far more likely to have pathogens in their blood which can and do cause deadly infection in whoever is unfortunate enough to need a transfusion.  Removing this restriction can plausibly be expected to lead to more deaths.

But - and here's the vital point - just because people are committing a moral wrong, even one which harms them, does not entitle anyone to put them to death.  Shoplifters are committing a moral wrong and a crime; does this mean we should allow the clerk to chop off a shoplifter's head, or even his hand, with a machete as they do in Muslim lands?  Of course not.

This is why it should be possible for moral people, particularly Americans, to separate the concept of moral offenses from the concept of punishment and evaluate them separately.  Adultery is a moral failing, but it's not the government's job to apply punishment for adultery; that's for God if anyone.

There's a whole list of such moral wrongs that are outside the authority of government, from homosexuality to lying.  What differentiates them from bigotry, and also from crimes, is that each are the subject of a private moral judgment, but not a public one.

We'd never accept the idea that the government should imprison someone who's always telling tall tales (lies).  Equally, we wouldn't hire them as an accountant or (hopefully) vote for them for President.  Is that bigotry?  Of course not - it's based on solid evidence of the person's actions and demonstrated character.

But if some nut whipped out a sword and attacked the guy for his phony big-fish story, hopefully everyone else would assist in defending the liar and the assailant would be speedily brought to justice.  That's hatred, far beyond mere dislike, and might well qualify as bigotry.

This is the same logic that informs our response to the Orlando atrocity: We find the practice of homosexuality distasteful, but it's really none of our business, and certainly not a capital crime.  On the other hand, Muslims are a threat to all of us, not just to homosexuals, and we would gladly help defend the latter from the former.

The Orlando attacks were clearly bigotry: it's fair to say if you slaughter 50 people of a particular group that you don't personally know, you are acting in hatred, not just dislike or from a sense of offended morality.  Equally, it would be accurate to call it a hate crime and a religious crime - obviously, Omar Mateen hated homosexuals (possibly including himself) just as the Koran commands.

First and foremost, though, it's a general attack against our American liberties, even the liberties that our fellow Americans use to do things we might disapprove of, and it's time to stand together in defense.

America seems to have a serious difficulty confronting this existential threat, though, because Islam is a religion, and we've been taught that discriminating against religious beliefs is unacceptable bigotry.

Immutable, Invisible

But - hold on a second!  Unlike being black, or being a woman, or being disabled, each of us is perfectly free to change our religion at any time.  Religion doesn't even have the possible genetic basis of homosexuality.  Indeed, most Americans do change religion at least once over the course of our lives, if not more.

Obviously, your choice of religion is just that: a choice.  But our American traditional liberties lay a heavy emphasis on freedom of speech and belief; we use the term "bigotry," not merely as a synonym for racism, but for hatred of opposing views and other characteristics that aren't race.

Again, bigotry requires hatred, not just dislike.  Your humble correspondent does not care for Hare Krishnas as they used to be, annoying unwitting passengers at airports.  Their beliefs haven't changed - they're still just as nutty - but now they operate politely in the mainstream of society, so there's no reason to mind them.  And they never deserved hatred or violent assault - that would be bigotry.

Perhaps you find Mormon missionaries or Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on your door to be an annoyance.  That doesn't make you a bigot, it just makes you normal.  If you're taking potshots out the window at them with your rifle because of their religion, though, now that's bigotry.

Because of the deep American reverence for religion, our country will make exceptions from general laws to accommodate religious dictates when it doesn't affect anyone else.  During the Prohibition years, alcoholic beverages were illegal throughout the United States, but Catholic priests could still legally obtain Communion wine and serve it to their congregations in accordance with their conscience.  Today, mind-altering drugs are illegal or tightly controlled, but the aboriginal American Peyote Church is permitted to use what would otherwise be illegal drugs because their religion requires it.

Does this mean that any religious practice is acceptable in America?  It most certainly does not.  Nobody disputes that cannibalism is a fundamental element to certain tribal religions, but we don't tolerate it here no matter what.

Sometimes we'll restrict an unpleasant religions practice for health reasons, while not banning it entirely.  The Supreme Court ruled it unConstitutional to ban a voodoo temple from performing the chicken sacrifices associated with that religion, and Jewish ritual slaughter has long been acceptable, but you can't just do it out on the street.

The underlying rationale behind this treatment of religion is the philosophy of John Stuart Mill:

...The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. [emphasis added]

Taking drugs may well harm you, but you're only harming yourself, which is why we don't feel that government should have the right to forbid them.  Drinking alcohol also only harms you, but the moment you start beating your wife or endangering everyone's lives by driving under the influence, then the government has the authority to make you wish you hadn't.

Similarly, many religious people believe that homosexual acts condemn you to Hell.  That's as may be, and presumably we'll all find out eventually, but on this planet, a homosexual harms nobody else by his actions as a consenting adult.  Indeed, there'd be a stronger argument for government penalties for adultery: the wronged spouse is obviously harmed by the philanderer.

If we could leave things there - if we ran our government by Mill's principle, and only allowed government intervention when innocent nonparticipants were being harmed even for things that we, personally don't like - we'd all be better off.

So how can we logically decide what should be illegal and what should be ignored?  We'll examine this question in the next article in this series.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

"By the tenets of nearly all religions, homosexuality is a moral sin"

This statement is correct as stated. The problem is that, having used this as a jumping off point, all the paragraphs that come after it falsely assume that that form of morality (based on whichever religion) is correct.

Conservatives and libertarians who really believe in small limited government don't get worked about homosexuality, whatever their own personal preferences are, because they understand that church and state should be kept entirely separate. They also understand that everyone does things that others dislike. That's the whole point of our style of society.

The analogy to adultery is interesting. If a club of adulterers was blown up by Muslims, the reaction by Christian conservatives would have been significantly different. Or a club of any other type of sinners, which of course could be anyone. After all, Romans 3:23.

Also interesting to note is that the original sins of Sodom was not homosexuality foremost. If you read the Hebrew, the sins of Sodom were (in this order) arrogance, gluttony, indifference to the poor and needy, haughtiness, and "detestable" things. One might project homosexuality onto that last part, but notice that it's tucked allllll the way in the back.

June 29, 2016 7:29 PM

Jude puts it differently:

Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Jude 1:8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.

June 30, 2016 10:01 AM

No mention of homosexuality there. Why are Ezekial and Jude so reluctant to say it if that's was it actually was?

Some scholars believe that Sodom's sins were mostly incest and bestiality which is why Biblical accounts talk about defiling the flesh and "strange" flesh and why God resorted to genocide to fix his creation before it got too carried away.

As an aside, New Testament writers should be trusted much less with their account of Old Testament history than the writers who were closer to the event. Jude was written some 700 years after Ezekial. Of course, both men wrote about the event thousands of years after it took place based on stories passed along by word of mouth.

Which brings us full circle as to why morality based on word-of-mouth allegories is not a good idea.

June 30, 2016 11:05 AM
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