I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Militant Idealism

I got into a very interesting discussion on Facebook this morning that started in homosexuality and quickly turned into a discussion about religion, and it got me thinking about religion specifically, but more generally the 'us vs. them' mentality that pervades human thinking.

The discussion started after a comment decrying the use of spirituality to justify bigotry towards homosexuals. Another commenter chimed in saying that it came directly from the bible, and that since the bible had been used to justify bigotry, all scripture should be trashed.

To me, condemning all Christians who put stock in interpretation of scripture is bigotry, just as Christians condemning people who don't fit with their perception of the world is bigotry.

Tam said in a recent post, "Man isn't the rational animal, he's the rationalizing animal." This of course applies to far more than just loss prevention and asset forfeiture. I like to think that most people want to be good, or at least don't want to be bad. The trouble is how easy it is to convince yourself that you aren't being bad. The Christian camp that condemns homosexuals based on a selective reading of Leviticus are not using their acts to do the work of god, they are using the bible to justify their acts. Similarly, the condemnatory atheists are not using their acts to promote peace and equality for everyone, they are using a selective idealism to justify their acts. Both are guilty of hypocrisy, and both are entirely convinced that they are in the right.

This is not to say that it is wrong to judge people in life. In the preceding paragraph, I handed down judgement to two groups of people who engage in certain acts. Avoiding someone you don't get along with, calling out bad behaviors in people and other things are entirely natural and proper. Even a certain degree of prejudice is necessary in life. Situational awareness depends on it. When you see the guy who's followed you for the last three blocks hiding his face in a hoody* with a lump in his pocket at 2AM, it would be irresponsible to yourself to not seek help or avoid the person.

The real problems are twofold. The first is when you allow prejudice to continue past contrary evidence. If the suspicious character catches up to you, tells you you dropped your wallet a couple blocks back and returns it, yet you still treat them as an immediate threat, that is improperly judgmental. Similarly, when you take the actions and causes of judgment against an individual and paint an entire group who share some characteristic with the same judgment, you are doing an injustice to the rest of the group.

Among the worst offenders in this are people with political motivations on both sides of the aisle. Many liberals paint all conservatives as heartless, bitter, uneducated cynics clinging to guns and religion. Many conservatives paint all liberals as unintelligent, greedy, incompetent right stealers spending their lives in a pot cloud. There are people who fit both stereotypes. In my experience though, most of both parties are fundamentally good, intelligent people who have different primary motivations and philosophical foundations.

It is a different thing though to judge or decry those who personally do these things. One can look at Obama's or Romney's record and dislike him for it. One can look at Westboro Baptist and say that what they do is wrong. One can take issue with GLSEN's pamphlets. One is justified in perforating the guy in the hoodie who pulls a knife on you and threatens your life.

People are not always going to get along. It's pretty much a given. The die hard bigots are going to stay bigots. People are going to be judgmental and prejudiced. However, it's important to remember how very easy it is to fall into the same trap. While group x, a subset of group y, may do things that are legitimately bad, if group z acts against group y, they are likewise problematic.

There's one other theme that runs through this. To me, legitimate cause of judgment is always about action. People can believe whatever they want personally. The problem always comes when they ACT badly on whatever justification they have created. Similarly, actions of others are the foundation for legitimate condemnation. You can disagree with someone's core beliefs all you want, but until they attempt to impose on others, there is no case for condemnation.

It is very hard to overcome preconceived notions. Many of them are hardwired. People are programmed to stick to their own group, however that is defined. The strange or different on a gut level is uncomfortable. Acting on them in modern society is still wrong. It's a conscious effort. If the suppression is successful, then I cannot fault someone for having these notions. To quote Albus Dumbledore, "It is our choices, Harry, that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities." All that matters is if you choose to act on your preconceptions.

This got a touch more rambly than expected, which happens whenever I spend more than one session on a post, so my apologies for that.

*I really don't want to hear anything about Trayvon Martin over this comment. Please.

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