Prejudice

Here’s a reflexively smarmy, condescending pat on the head to the members of a maligned minority group:

I once stayed in a black person’s house when I went to another place for a few days. It was interesting experience to go to an African American’s house because the black person housed us, fed us, treated us very well, talked with us, and made sure our stay was very comfortable. These are basic values that any person has around the world.

For most of us, white values represent love, peace, humility, kindness, forgiveness. This same person, in his early years in the villages, was hit by a snowball by a student and very angrily talked to the parent of the student but eventually forgave the person for hitting him with the snowball.

I could swear by the black person’s actions that he had white values.

Even without white values, the basic premise of being a good person was written all over him. This guy did not drink, get violent, treated his wife and child well.

We have many whites in our villages. I know many whites who were the biggest drinkers and did many despicable and immoral acts while they were drunk. We still have many white people that pray in the morning, pray in the evening, and get drunk on weekends. I could swear that these people are acting the way a black person should act.

The black person’s child turned out to be just like his parents as far as easygoing, career-oriented, and so on.

Our white people who drink regularly are creating kids who are starting to act the way their parents act. The kids are white per se but they are destructive in the way they act.

While the black person’s kid respects people around him, does well in school, the white’s kids are not doing good in school, stay out late without parent supervision, do not respect authority.

It’s hard to conclude what I have put down and can only hope the whites who lead their kids the wrong way can see the light and maybe, the black person can teach us something valuable after all.

Maybe God uses even the black person to teach us a lesson.

As you likely guessed, this was not really written about blacks and whites but about atheists and believers and I just swapped out the words for atheists with words for black people, words for Christians with words for white people, and substituted “white values” for God where in actuality he talked about God “representing” humility, love, kindness, etc. The point of this familiar sort of exercise should be clear and should be made clear to all those Christians who, in their tremendous religious privilege, think the adherents of their religion are, or at least if the world were right would be, morally superior to everyone else.  Here’s the original piece which I doctored.  Go read it with the experiment in switched terms in mind.

I know the standard Christian replies are that they do not have a prejudice but only an abstract theological belief that only through Christ people can be righteous, that they themselves are sinners too and it’s only by the grace of Christ that they are, er, better than the rest of us now (?), and that they are not motivated by any personal ill will.  But buying into an unjustified belief by faith does not excuse the baseless and bigoted conclusions that your beliefs lead you to.

You are responsible for what you believe.  Take a look around at the people outside your church.  If all you see or expect to see is their depravity, then ask yourself whether or not these religious dogmas are actually making you see the truth about the people around you or encouraging you to look at those outside your group as inherently “lost” when, for all intents and purposes in terms of observable facts, they are just as decent and admirable and flawed as anyone within your church.  Ask yourself whether all the difference in morality can really hinge on belief in your version of your faith when surely you can note clear counter-examples in your life of some people allegedly redeemed by Christ, and allegedly therefore given special grace by him to do good works, who, despite this alleged salvation, wind up morally inferior to other, non-believing, people whom you also know, who you think do not have that grace which you theologically are committed to saying is necessary for being a good person.

In other words, your faith predicts a certain outcome that if you are honest you can see repeatedly fails to happen.  This is serious counter-evidence that should not be dismissed lightly.   And it especially should not be dismissed lightly since it counter-evidence to a prejudiced belief that leads, if not you, your fellow Christians to unfairly belittle the moral decency of good people and, whether this is theologically correct or not, to, as a matter of fact, feel personally superior to non-Christians and, inevitably as a result, to act superior to non-Christians.  I was once a devout Christian, I know how this happens despite the best of intentions.  If you can ditch the unfounded, daily contradicted belief which encourages it, it can make you a more properly respectful, appreciative, and genuinely loving person.  And, by the way, those are not “Christian virtues”—they’re just virtues.

And, of course, we atheists need always to remember that even if we are as right about religion as we think we are, that being right about religion is only one way to be good.  And any one of us could very well be far worse a person than any given religious person.  That’s why you and I should always remember that while we can generalize about the flaws in distinctly religious patterns of thinking and while we can point out the very real, very observable bad habits of thought, attitude, and practice which religion by its nature or specific religions in their historical instantiations are more prone to exacerbate, we must nonetheless also scrupulously stop short of using “religious people” or “Christians” or “Muslims” or the name of any other group of religious adherents as an unqualified shorthand for “bad people” or “stupid people”.  Because that only makes us rightly subject to the same game of switch the group name we just played above.  And that’s intolerable.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://facebook.com AJ

    Interesting article. Think I might have to share this one. Just woke up so I won’t have much of a reply for now. LOL

  • http://atheists-and-christians.blogspot.com/ Mike aka MonolithTMA

    It’s always interesting to me to see prejudice viewed from different viewpoints. If someone’s eyes can be opened by a retelling of a story involving prejudice it’s a good thing. It reminds me of one of the final scenes in A Time To Kill that I can’t watch and can’t even talk about without getting choked up, getting a little teary eyed just writing this.

    Jake Tyler Brigance: [in his summation, talking about Tonya Hailey] “I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please. This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on. First one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they’ve killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. They start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones. Then they urinate on her. Now comes the hanging. They have a rope. They tie a noose. Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding jerk she’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking. They don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.”

    I found the scene so emotional and horrifying because I can’t imagine why her being white would make a difference. Just like I can’t imagine, now, why being an atheist or Christian or black or white would make a difference on whether or not someone was hospitable or charitable, but I know that makes a difference to some.

  • Daniel Fincke

    That was a great scene in that film.

  • http://www.socialiqlady.com Andrea Griffith

    Loved your article. Not much more to add as you put it all so beautifully!

  • http://www.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    What an arrogant, nauseating piece of tripe. I’m sick to death of people who think their chosen religious lifestyle automatically makes them morally superior to everyone else.


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