Moderate Christianity Does Not Win A Free Pass
This is a post based on a post by Greta Christina entitled “Comedy Does Not Win a Free Pass: Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars” – It’s not a reply so much as it is based on her post.
You can read her piece, but if you read this one first you might just want to skip it. I have generally replaced the words comedy and comedians with religion and believers. I think all the italics are my ‘edits’ as it were.
I am sick to death of the idea that “I’m a moderate Christian” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist.
And I am sick to death of the idea that any transgression of social equality — no matter what that equality is, or why it should exist — means you should be accepted just because you say you’re a moderate Christian.
Someone at The Atlantic said something which can be paraphrased like this:
It shouldn’t be hard to come up with a sensible position on this. Every position, including positions on women’s reproductive rights, homosexuality, teaching the controversy, the power of prayer, thinking the US is a Christian nation, are “OK.” It’s a free country, etc. But that doesn’t mean those positions aren’t hurtful, oppressive, stupid, or dangerous. It doesn’t mean they don’t make the world a worse place. Religion, after all, can be an incredible weapon for social progress, but it can also be regressive: The more we pass off moderate religion, rooted in hate, as normal—as many people do again and again —the longer those stereotypes, bigotry, hate, and their ability to harm people, will be in place.
But I’m realizing … that I do have something else to say. It’s this:
I am sick to death of the idea that “it’s moderate religion” somehow gives you a free pass when you’re saying things that are racist and sexist. And I am sick to death of the idea that bigotry disguised as moderate religion transforms you into an acceptable human.
Yes, religious freedom in society depends on the ability to believe anything, even if it runs counter to science and reason. That’s true of any form of belief. Religion isn’t special in that regard. And yes, of course, religions should have the legal right to say whatever they want (within the obvious limits of libel laws and copyright laws, the Constitution and such).
Does “moderate faith” mean that believers should get a free pass when the things they say and do are screwed-up? Does it mean that moderate Christians — or any “moderate believer” — should be exempt from criticism when the things they say and do dehumanize, trivialize, shame, reinforce harmful stereotypes, support and rationalize the unequal status quo, and otherwise injure entire groups of people? Especially groups of people who have already been hurt a whole hell of a lot, in this exact same way, for centuries?
I think there’s a bad logical fallacy that some believers make. They think that being fundamentalist typically means offending people… and that therefore, if you’re offending people, it somehow automatically makes you a fundamentalist in your thinking. They think that because they’re moderate and not offending people and making them angry, it means they’re perfectly acceptable.
It doesn’t work that way. To be perfectly acceptable, you have to not deny the truth. To be cutting-edge, you have to push cultural boundaries in a way that moves society forward. To be transgressive — at least, to be transgressive in a meaningful way — you have to cross lines and break with the past and learn about the new facts we’ve found for yourself.
And to be acceptable in your beliefs in the 21st century, it’s not enough simply to not offend people with your beliefs. You also have to understand why non-believers think you’re wrong. It’s not enough simply to say your holy text says s0. You have to understand things like everyone else does — and which are also the truth.
The notion, that moderate believers can love the sinner but hate the sin is offensive, that it’s okay to feel fine about other humans being punished forever in hell for the simple lack of belief in a deity which is anything but present or detectable, that homosexuals are deserving of eternal torture, that women should not have control of their own reproductive health, that prayer works, that objective morality exists while you pick and choose which of the morals you adhere to in your holy text, that your holy text is true, and many more, are offensive and destructive and completely contemptuous of your fellow humans.
That’s not breaking the fundamentalist mold. It’s reinforcing it with a new mask. That’s not pushing our culture forward. It’s dragging us backward.
It’s not brilliant.
And it’s not true.
What’s more: I’m sick to death of the notion that, if you critique something a believer or religion says or does for being hurtful and fucked up, you need to “lighten up,” “stop taking things so seriously,” and “quit being militant.”
“Isn’t it possible to have a non-militant and still think your beliefs are corrosive to society?”
This idea that moderate faith gives Christians a free pass on criticism for anything they say, ever… it’s bullshit. It’s a “Shut up, that’s why” argument. It’s a reflexive attempt to shut down any criticism — scientific as well as logical or moral — before it ever starts.
Well, you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to say that moderate faith is an important part of human expression, a valuable contribution to our cultural landscape in which freedom of thought is necessary and paramount… and then say that everyone just needs to lighten up, and what moderate believers say and do isn’t that big a deal, and it’s ridiculous to call them to account for it.
Some social norms are there for a reason. The social pressure to (for instance) not act like a gender bigoted asshole — that’s there for a reason. It’s there because racism is bad. It’s there because, as a society, we are in the process of changing our minds about gender… and exerting social pressure against gender bigotry ideas and behavior is part of how we learn to do that, and teach each other to do it.
And this idea that any criticism of moderate faith makes an atheist militant … it’s childish. It’s adolescent. It’s a cheap, easy way to make yourself feel special and deserving … when you’re actually squarely in the center, reinforcing the very structures you’re pretending to rebel against.