Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm Not A Bigot Against Anyone's Religion, But I'm Not An Idiot, Either

Here's Steve Benen today on the WaPo's false reports that liberals have been bashing Sarah Palin's religion.

For what it's worth, I think there is a difference between bigotry and criticizing a religion (you'll see Steve wrote something about "bigotry" that makes it sound like he thinks any criticism of Palin's religion is inappropriate-- a pretty odd claim, coming from him, a man who has repeatedly demonstrated that he is very proud of his past as an activist for separation of church and state). First of all, if they agree with Gerson's column that Steve wrote about, I think a whole host of Republicans should take a look in the mirror and ask themselves whether and to what extent their myriad criticisms of Islam are bigoted, or are merely valid and fair criticism. Second, I think whether something is religious bigotry or not can depend a lot on the context. Here, Palin isn't walking down the street, just trying to live, and facing harassment from people just for being a member of a certain religion and daring to go around doing the things one normally expects any person to be able to do to live-- to walk around town, to buy groceries, to work, to get a driver's license, to send kids to school, etc. Rather, she's vying to obtain a privilege, and probably one of the most valuable privileges in our society-- the (arguably) second-highest public office in America, something that can affect everybody. I think in those circumstances, it's everyone's right to examine her religion and to talk about it, as long the criticism is not to an extent that is unjustified or irrational considering the known facts about Sarah Palin's religion (Pentecostalism) and her practice of it.

So, I hope Steve's line about so-called "bigotry" and Gerson's column won't discourage anybody from saying what they want about Sarah Palin's religion, and I'm sure that at least 99% of the things we politically-savvy liberals would think of to say about it wouldn't amount to bigotry.

Shorter version of what I just said: If someone's trying to become the VP or President, it's just not so that their religion can't be a relevant thing to take into account when you're trying to predict how they'll perform. And Sarah Palin's religion-- a particularly fervent and strange one-- is a perfect example of that. It's probably one of the closest religions we have in America to radical Islam. And, Sarah Palin has been doing things like forcing women to pay for a $300-$1,200 forensic investigation when they would show up at her municipal police department claiming to have been raped.

There is just something odd about the idea that the concept of religious bigotry means that no religion can be criticized under any circumstances, with the exception of radical Muslims using their religion to justify killing Western, non-combatant civilians. If that's what's up, then I could invent any religion, call it something like New Satanism, and claim that the beliefs of the religion are reasons for government to allow its adherents all sorts of privileges and new rights. That doesn't seem right at all.

When liberals have fought against religious bigotry, the fight has been largely been against things like people trying to subject students in public schools to Bible- study meetings or to daily Christian prayer; when these approaches to promoting religion were explicitly outlawed, the fight became one over things like schools subjecting everyone who attends a high school football game to a spoken prayer over a loudspeaker, or to daily moments of silence in school-- both typically with obvious Christian overtones, especially since most of the establishment and students attending the school were well-known to be fervent, conservative Protestant Christians (and therefore all the non-Protestants of course couldn't help but feel like they were being forced to participate in a Protestant prayer). Another context is where a member of a religion that subjects its members to a modest requirement that they wear a certain unremarkable article of clothing daily (like a hat) finds that a school or a prison bans the religious clothing just to enforce uniformity.

In those contexts, liberals have fought against institutions using their might to subject individuals to religious conformity, either by mandating public praying or taking away a nonobtrusive religious symbol from an individual. These situations are a far cry from saying, "X wants to become President-- is X's church nuts?" and I think all the liberals involved in those previous fights knew that and were never trying to say something like that religion should just never be talked about, or that a religion couldn't motivate people to bad behavior. I mean, let's get real about Palin's religion-- in her church, people "speak in tongues." To anyone who doesn't come from that tradition, speaking in tongues is pretty obviously volitional and non-typical human behavior. It's pretty simple for a person to look at that behavior, and to conclude that the people engaging in it are frauds, are self-deluded attention-seekers, or something in between the two (especially since these people are not primitives, but come from our relatively superstition-free, science-filled society). So Sarah Palin's religion goes above and beyond being the typical religion we don't believe in-- one that believes in something we find implausible-- to being one where fraud is, at least from many people's points of view, obviously practiced and accepted.

I mean, a lot of things the conservatives' activists fight for today are rationalized around the Protestant religion, and liberals criticize those claims all the time because they deny a lot of science.

Trying to make liberals look like hypocrites by using across-the-board, platitudinous statements and characterizations (when everyone intelligent knows the real world doesn't work according to a few across-the-board, black-and-white rules and characterizations, and therefore it's really unfair to assign beliefs and arguments to people based on stuff like that, or to predict people's beliefs and arguments based on stuff like that) is the type of thing Republicans do to try to turn us against one another and gum up the works, so always watch out and be thoughtful when you encounter stuff like that.

Believing politics and governance (or other people's beliefs about them) are easily reducible to a few single-sentence slogans is something for five-year-old kids, not for thoughtful, concerned adults.