Monday, January 24, 2011

Bias Against Believers

As far as being biased against theists goes, I most certainly am.  I have every right to be.  I have had decades of observing them and suffering from their vile stupidity, meanness, hatred and intolerance.  I have tried very hard to get along with them, and I have discovered that the only atheist they can really tolerate is one that is completely in the closet.

I know that some non-believers say this is not true, but it has been my experience that it is.  We each have unique experiences and lead unique lives.  Perhaps even more important than our unique experiences is our unique perceptions of them.  I do not know how some non-believers have come to see religion and religious people as benign.  I suspect these non-believers are in denial or have simply structured their lives in a way that protects them and then use a combination of denial and accommodation to "get along".  In some cases, I think they have simply resigned themselves to repeated abuse. 

Having an open mind is a virtue only if you haven't seen the evidence.  After that, it becomes synonymous with having an empty head.  I know that some religious people are better than the others, but I have learned that the only way to protect myself is to assume that they are every bit as crazy as they seem to be and, worse, claim to be.

As Bill Maher pointed out in one of his comedy routines critical of Islam:  This is not prejudice.   Prejudice is pre-judging, which is to say judging before seeing the evidence.  It is unfair because it doesn't give the object of the prejudice a chance to stand or fall on his or her own merits.  Judging, on the other hand, occurs after one has seen the evidence.  It is something we all do and it is, at times, a moral necessity.  It is also, at times, a practical necessity--necessary for self-defense.

Usually these days, when one hears the term "prejudice" one thinks of racial or sex based prejudice.  That is because of the historically recent struggles to overcome such prejudices.  That sort of prejudice is always a bad thing in large part because it is based on congenital and superficial characteristics.  A person is born with a certain gender and skin color and cannot change it without extensive medical intervention.  Furthermore, such things are superficial--in the case of skin color, literally so.  The person's character is not determined by those particular characteristics.  (Admittedly, his or her character may be deeply affected by those things as he or she grows and matures, but that is a result of the prejudice of others as much as anything else and is not a fair basis for any prejudice--only an awareness that the person may have had negative experiences in the past.)

Religions, however, are not superficial or immutable.  Although childhood brainwashing may doom many people to a lifetime of slavishly following their parents' religion, it is possible for a person to reject such religion--without any medical procedures.  If a person's character is such that he finds the religion he was raised in to be objectionable, he can simply leave it.  He can choose another set of beliefs--beliefs more suited to his character.  (This may not be true all over the world, but it is true in civilized countries.)

In addition, religion affects a person's entire worldview--everything from his choice of which clothes to wear to his choice of morals is affected by his religion.  The religion a person chooses (even if it is just a choice to remain with his or her parents' religion) tells the world something about how that person thinks and the content of his or her character.  It is not prejudice to assume that a person who has chosen a particular all-pervasive worldview as his own will, in fact, have the sort of character that is inherent in that worldview.

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