Who are the victims here?
That’s four for four, unless i’m forgetting one. I wouldn’t've published this (i really intended it for the Editorial Board themselves), but perhaps there’s value in its publication i just don’t see (or perhaps a publisher is ill-advised to pass up any opportunity to let atheists look silly).
I was disgusted by the editorial “GOP candidate E.W. Jackson doesn’t speak for all Virginians of faith.” (24 May 2013) The editorial downplays as “fair enough” some of the most overt bigotry by any recent candidate for Virginia office, as though Jackson’s faith-which reaps him votes-absolves him of wrongdoing and of any expectation of an apology.
Yet it expects him to apologize to other Christians for speaking in their name! Evidently Christians are the true victims of Christian homophobia.
Atheists are routinely accused of paving the way for Stalinism. That’s an absurd accusation, but i certainly don’t mind condemning church-burnings (not to mention mass executions of Christians) when someone imagines i would support them. Nor do i pretend that these acts victimized me or other atheists.
Every decent Christian has the option of leaving the church and renouncing the label if they are unwilling to defend it from this kind of abuse. It’s on them if they do neither.
I kept my own structure for the blog this time, and decided my own title, since the Roanoke Times provided one perhaps best-suited to helping readers miss the point.
So, where did this vitriol come from? I made two basic points, both of which i think have merit but only one of which was necessary:
- Decent people who subscribe to a cultural or ideological identity bear the responsibility for crowding out malicious people who abuse the identity.
- Decent people are not victims of such abuse—at least not in any way comparable to the way that the targets of that abuse are.
The second point is, i think, very clearly illustrated for Christians by the analogy to Stalinism. Had the RT published an editorial calling for a public figure who self-identifies as an atheist and calls for Church-burnings (of course, there exist none) to apologize to atheists for misrepresenting them, Christians (and probably other theists) would be in an uproar over the disgusting apologetics on display.
All the RT would have needed to do to avoid conveying this message is adjust the second and third paragraphs of the editorial as follows (edits in boldface):
Now that Jackson is the Republican Party candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, he sees no reason to temper his views. They reflect religious beliefs that are dear to him, and people can judge his candidacy accordingly.
His political targets aside, however, he also ought to apologize to people of faith who do not share his intolerance. Even among believers who, like Jackson, call themselves Christian, there are those who do not want their beliefs to be associated with his narrow and often hurtful interpretation of the Good News.
The first point is legitimately contentious; i didn’t buy it for a long time.
Perhaps it is most palatable to atheists as a call for moderate religionists to marginalize the extremists who share their identity label (and ostensibly their faith). The same would apply to political affiliations: Reasonable people who feel that the “libertarian” label best captures their approach to politics bear the responsibility for distancing themselves—and, to the extent that they can, movement libertarianism—from free market ideologues and prejudice denialists who adopt the same name. Perhaps contentiously, i’ve conceded that atheists bear this responsibility as well—a responsibility that was most recently and publicly disavowed by Ron Lindsay.
My error—and it certainly was one—was in suggesting that Christianity was nothing more than an arbitrary personal choice, or preference. While it is certainly every person’s responsibility to question, inform, and amend their religious beliefs, we are not born equally equipped to take on this responsibility. Christians are indoctrinated from birth, they are conned into debt and dependence, they are coerced by intolerant communities. The most devout—and many of the most repugnant—Christians are also victims of Christianity. Jackson is very likely among these.
It is also worth acknowledging that i probably “swayed” no Christians with this letter. It was hardly my intention to. Amidst attempts to be compassionate and diplomatic, especially in a region so immersed in Christian ideology as southwest Virginia—which i concede may be, by and large, the most effective—i also see the need for occasional reminders from fringe rationalism that this ridiculous state of affairs persists for purely contingent reasons, the need to pressure reasonable people away from opportunistic concessions, and the need to act “as if” the reasonable take on things is already mainstream—perhaps to give voice to the suppressed rage of those who can’t out themselves publicly, or even only to reassure future chroniclers that not everyone at this time bought into the lie that a religion deserves respect for having infected most of the population.
Now, i suspect that if the sentiment of this letter gets any (non-bigoted) response that it will be of one of two forms: Either i am placing blame on innocent Christians that belongs with despicable Christians like Jackson, or by declaring Christianity a “choice” i am denying Christians’ innate love of God. The former i covered above. The latter, while likenable to the actual problems of indoctrination and desperation, would still convey a crude (and cruel) irony in light of the ongoing Christian assault on GLBTI people’s right to live.
It would be nice to see the issue deepen, with a response (direct or not) that acknowledges Christians’ responsibility and also their religious cultural dependencies. But that seems unlikely.*
* Read my comment there for my reaction.