Why it’s okay to criticize religion and politics but not gender, race, or disability

Paul Russell, a professor of philosophy at both the University of British Columbia and Gothenberg University, has written a thoughtful piece at Aeon magazine that I commend to your attention: “The limits of tolerance.” Perhaps the thesis is self-evident to many of us—you can choose how tenaciously you hold your politics and religion, but not your gender and ethnicity—but it bears reading by those who zealously call out “Islamophobia” when Islam is criticized, or defend all religions against attack because, after all, it’s religion.

The thesis is based on the idea in this paragraph:

Some claim there is an analogy between the identity politics of religion and the issues that arise with other excluded groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and the like. What is supposed to hold these divergent identities together is that the groups in question have been treated unequally, or do not receive adequate recognition in the existing social and legal system. Religious groups require protection to secure their rights and recognition of their particular interests in practising their religion. Yet, however plausible these claims might be, there is a key distinction that needs to be made between identities that are based on what can be broadly described as ideological or value-laden commitments, and those that do not carry any such baggage. This distinction is essential to understanding the role of (religious) toleration in a liberal, democratic society.

What Russell means by “religious toleration” is not “refraining from criticism of faith”, but respecting the worth and dignity of others, and not demonizing them or depriving them of rights, but rather

.  . . acknowledging and accepting disagreement and ideological conflict. Religious tolerance does not, therefore, involve a commitment to affirming the equal worth and value of all doctrines and practices that fall within the scope and bounds of tolerance itself. With respect to religion, tolerance involves allowing and preserving a space for criticism as well as affirmation.

In other words, criticism of religion is valuable for the same reason the First Amendment is valuable: it allows the airing of all views under the assumption that some kind of socially salubrious consensus will emerge. Indeed, that is the content of America’s First Amendment: it implicitly allows free expression of religious criticism. If criticism of religion is deemed off limits (not by law but by people, as with some elements of the Right and Regressive Left), then it doesn’t disappear, but goes underground. That’s why I’m opposed to laws against “hate speech”: it doesn’t eliminate hate, but prevents it from being countered with better speech.

Russell’s point is not that criticism of race, gender, sexual orientation and so on should be banned, but rather that it can be dismissed as bigotry without the need for discussion.  Being Asian, white, or black,  transgender, gay, or female are not matters of choice, and there is no moral ground for demonizing someone for something they cannot change. This does not mean, though, that ideological positions based on these “non-ideological identities” don’t deserve open discussion, for they do, including matters like affirmative action, third-wave feminism, and so on.

This all rests on a crucial difference between religion and politics on the one hand, and things like gender and ethnicity on the other:

Race, gender and, more recently, sexual orientation are forms of identity that have been especially prominent in politics during the past century. What is striking about these forms of identity is not only that they are generally unchosen, but that they are not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature. Of course, the significance and interpretation of non-ideological identities, the ways in which they can be viewed as threatened or disrespected, is itself an ideological matter; but the identities themselves are not constituted by any ideological content (systems of belief, value, practices, etc), and the groups concerned could vary greatly in the particular ideologies that they endorse or reject.

For this reason, there is no basis for criticising a group (or individual member of it) on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation. It would, for example, be absurd to praise or blame Martin Luther King Jr for being black, or Margaret Thatcher for being a woman. There is no ideological content to their identity to assess or debate – the relevant identity is an inappropriate target for praise or blame, since there are no relevant assessable beliefs, values, practices or institutions to serve as the grounds of such responses. The identity of the group turns on natural qualities and features that cannot be discarded in light of critical scrutiny or reflection of any kind.

With ideological or value-laden identities the situation is different. The most obvious of these identities are political, constituted by doctrines, beliefs and values that have implications for our social and ethical practices and institutions. The crucial question for tolerance, is: where does religion stand in relation to this divide? Religious identities are, I contend, heavily ideological and value-laden and, in this respect, more akin to political identities than to those based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

This difference is not just a matter of religion being subject to choice, as the roots and sources of religious identity are generally more complicated and complex than this. A person’s identity as Christian, Muslim, atheist and so on might, to a great extent, be a product of culture, education, socialisation and even indoctrination of various, overlapping kinds. What really matters is not so much that the person’s particular religious identity is chosen but that it has some relevant ideological content and is, to that extent, sensitive to criticism, reflection, discussion and debate. Religious identities, like political identities, however they might be acquired, can still be discarded or radically amended: they are not natural features that a person is incapable of revising. You might be born into a Catholic family, brought up a Catholic, have spent most of your days among Catholics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at some point discard this religious identity.

This, then, is the distinction between, say, bigotry against Muslims and criticism of Islam—something that many of the Left fail to grasp—or deliberately ignore. In politics as in religion, not all ideologies are equally good or bad, and how do you sort this out without freedom to criticize? (Again, we’re talking about social opprobrium here, not legal strictures.) If that freedom is denied, religious tolerance in fact diminishes, as people are either forced into stifling views they still hold, or are mentally lumped together with genuine bigots, like those on the Right who really are prejudiced against Muslim people.

Russell’s article is long and nuanced, and discusses many issues and caveats that I can’t go into here. One, though, is the matter of “fused” identities: the case of someone having both ideological and nonideological components to their identity, like a practicing Muslim whose identity was based on the country of birth that promoted her faith, or on a common language like Farsi or Arabic. Russell still argues that the main component of a religious identity is ideological, but we have to be careful in how we handle this. With Islam, the label “Islamophobia” is the worst way to do that:

These general considerations concerning fused identities are obviously relevant to the issue of religious tolerance. Among other things, they make clear why labels such as ‘Islamophobia’ – however well-motivated – are problematic and confuse issues that should be carefully distinguished. Terminology of this kind leaves the nature and content of the identity in question unsettled and indeterminate in crucial respects. It encourages the view that criticism of the Muslim religion, as such, should be assimilated to forms of racism and sexism. Until the ‘Muslim’ identity in question is carefully unpacked, the case for grouping any and all such criticism under the heading ‘Islamophobia’ is itself dangerous and intolerant, as it encourages the suppression of reasonable and legitimate debate and discussion about the merits and demerits of Islam.

And, as we all know, it is the Left and not the Right that has genuinely failed to recognize the nuance here. After all, it is the Huffington Post, not Breitbart, that has a section called “Islamophobia,” a section that regularly labels valid criticism as bigotry. Here are the dangers of that approach:

It is essential that the Left – Old or New, along with whatever particular identities it might want to draw on – carefully distinguish these issues of tolerance and religious identity. As long as the Left continues to conflate and confuse these issues and presents (legitimate) forms of criticism and condemnation of religion as unacceptable forms of bigotry and racism, it will be the enemy of genuine religious tolerance and effectively play into the hands of the real bigots and racists, who are happy to use the language of religious tolerance to conceal their hate-fuelled agendas.

We cannot hold back from criticizing ideologies that we consider objectionable simply because those who hold them are deemed “marginalized”. We know that’s why so many on the Left are happy to say palpably false things like Islam is “empowering for women” or is “the most feminist of all religions”, while at the same time happily go after Republicans, for Republicans don’t adhere to a given ethnic group or gender. (It’s interesting to ponder what the Left would do if most blacks were Republicans, but that’s a non-issue because the nature of the Right and the self-interest of African- Americans prevents such a circumstance.)

But all this still leaves one question unanswered: if religion and politics are both largely ideological in nature, why is religion in general seen as something that shouldn’t be criticized but politics can be? I welcome readers’ answers below.

Anyone who criticizes religion, as have people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins or even a small fish like me, quickly learns that you arouse rancor in many on the Left, and they’ll find lots of irrelevant reasons, like “excessive stridency”, to dismiss your arguments. It’s not okay to say that “Christianity is bunk”, but fine to say that “the Republican platform is bunk.” Yet politics is as much a part of a person’s identity and self-image as is faith, so that can’t explain the difference. I remain stymied.  

But read Russell’s essay; there’s much food for thought.


  1. Phil Rounds
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I would say criticism of gender, race (and i’d include national origin in there), or disability could only consist of generalizations that would also apply outside of those groups….It’s not only insulting and harmful, but useless as well.

    Religions are the belief in something that has no factual evidence on the basis of faith alone. By their very nature religions invite criticism.
    When you add to that the persistence of religions in attempting to gain political power, it makes the questioning of them not only allowable, but indispensable!

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      “…I’d include national origin in there”

      I have mixed feelings on this one. A nation’s culture is a summation of many parts. Most of these, taken individually, are matters of choice and behavior – ie. religion, politics, social custom, etc. While it is unfair to assume that all members of a particular society share all these choices, and easy to mistake race or ethnicity with national identity, I can see nothing surprising about the observation that the majority of citizens of a particular country might share a common, perhaps unique, set of undesirable ideas.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        I agree. National origin is as arbitrary as religion–you may happen to be born into one strain of either or both but there’s no inescapable genetic/developmental determinant of either.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

          National origin is simply a shorthand method of deciding. It’s a statistical frame of reference. It is really each individual or ideological organization that counts.

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:37 am | Permalink

            Indeed. I feel the same way when we in the States talk as if everyone from a given state (or region, as “the South”) holds the same political beliefs, etc. There are usually at least one or more minority groups in every state, and many states casually categorized as red or blue contain nearly equal numbers of each.

    • rom
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      What; I can’t make jokes about Americans?

  2. Ken Phelps
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    “…politics is as much a part of a person’s identity and self-image as is faith.”

    On the American right, I think they have become so intertwined as to be indistinguishable, even in the minds of many (most?) believers.

    • ploubere
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Hard right politics generally combines with evangelical christianity, but there are evangelicals on both political sides, some being liberals along the lines of Jimmy Carter. Also, some conservatives are libertarian and even atheist, although that is rare. The point being simply that politics and religion are not necessarily connected.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        “Also, some conservatives are libertarian and even atheist, although that is rare.”

        Not so sure it’s rare… IIANM there’s a substantial portion of US conservatives who pay little attention to religion except to pander to it when it suits their needs.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          The “loose shoes” conservatives, is what I and some others call ’em, anyway.

          Also the Randian Objectivists (as was their goddess-heroine Ayn).

          • Harrison
            Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

            Rand was an anti-theist with worse things to say about Christianity in particular than even many of the most “strident” atheists today. That she’s been smuggled in as an idol of the economic right betrays deep hypocrisy. I am always too happy to quote a few of her words to unassuming religious conservatives, and it seems to do more good than trying to quote their Bible to them. Many are horrified to learn what this woman thought about their God.

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

            Personally, I miss the Rockefeller Republicans.

            “Loose shoes,” though–I like that. 🙂

  3. phil brown
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I have my doubts about:

    “…politics is as much a part of a person’s identity and self-image as is faith…”

    It can be of course. There are certainly true-believers and die-hard adherents of different political ideologies. But an awful lot of people are not very politically engaged and have little in depth knowledge of current affairs or the details of different political ideologies. And I think it’s a fair bet that most practising Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews etc. would say that their faith was a much bigger part of their identity than their political persuasion.

    But anyway, you’re right that it cannot be the extent to which people see their ideology (whether political or religious) as forming their identity that explains the difference in responses to criticism of those ideologies. We don’t hold ourselves back from strong criticism of fascists, for example, just because fascists tend to see that ideology as a very important part of their identity.

    My view would be that religious identities *seems* more like the non-ideological identities than do political identities. Most religious people inherit their religion from their parents and share it with their community. And of course, whilst this inheritance is unlike the way we inherit our non-religious identities (we are black or gay or a woman just because of the genes we inherit from our parents; there is no gene for Islam) it seems much more similar to a genetic inheritance than a political identity does, because it is an identity which is given to a child at birth (whereas political identity only really properly develops when a person is of sufficient maturity to understand something of politics).

    Of course, political persuasions are somewhat inherited. The children of Democrats are likely to become Democrats themselves. But they would not usually be described as Democrats at birth.

    So religious identities are something of a quasi-non-ideological identity. They seem like something that is directly inherited from one’s parents. You can’t help being born a Christian or a Jew, any more than you can help being born white or straight. Whereas one’s political ideology seems more like something that is voluntarily adopted.

    Anyway, that’s my two-cents.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I cannot separate the political from the religious result. I think you are born into both equally, the religious child and the political child. Both are learned behaviors and both can be changed at a later date. Let us look across the political south and see the bible belt and the republican belt as almost one and the same.

    • Florent
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      But then again, it so happens that many religious persons are so by habit, without really questionning, because it’s what their parents/familly/peers, did.

      When you scrath a bit, their religious identity is as hazy as their political one…

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      In addition to the idea that religion is an identity because it can be “inherited” like race, is the idea that religion is an identity because it is “chosen” like a therapy, personal philosophy, or commitment to follow a great value (like the highest form of love or the meaning of life.) Faith is supposed to reflect identity. You believe X because of the kind of person you ARE.

      Religion then presents special problems when it comes to factual claims. The person of faith can’t change their mind without it being framed as a fundamental loss of identity. The people I run into who criticize “Islamophobia” also criticize atheists who argue in general. The real crime is debate, which is equated with proselytizing. Faith is supposed to be non intellectual. Criticism of religion thus ends up in the same category of “imposition ” as colonialism or threats of damnation.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Yes, indeed. My cousin, the Latter Day Saint, is exactly as you describe. Any notion of criticism is turned aside politely as if I just asked her to join an assassination squad. I think she feels she’d have to become someone else to even consider the idea that Joseph Smith just might be a blithering fraud.

        • Sastra
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          And yet Mormons believe strongly in the value of being missionaries who spreadMormonism. Thinking it’s fine to persuade others but shutting down others who try to persuade you is … suspiciously convenient.

  4. wildpomegranates
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Hotel Denouement and commented:
    This. Politics may not be on par with religion on terms of a person’s identity and self-image, but “social psychologist” Arlie Hochschild discusses in Strangers In Their Own Lands about the importance of emotional self-interest in politics. – Soon to be updated –

  5. BJ
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I largely agree with the author of this article, but I feel something needs to be brought up which the author overlooks: many of the identities of which criticism could normally be dismissed as simple bigotry have been successfully politicized by the regressive left, and now carry their own political baggage in many circles. For example, the regressive left has decided that if one is a woman or man, or black, or Jewish, etc., one’s politics must stay within certain very strict and proscribed (by them) boundaries, and going beyond these boundaries means being ostracized from one’s own community in many places such as college campuses where they hold sway, or in other places where one’s community leans heavily left and is influenced by the regressive left. Over and over, we have seen men who stray from these politics labeled “toxic,” women labeled “gender traitors,” black people labeled “race traitors” and worse, Muslims labelled “Islamophobic,” Jews labeled “oppressors,” and so on. This should not be acceptable.

    I think this is something that must be fought. Nobody should be ostracized from their own ethnic/religious/etc. community or group because their politics do not fall within the very strict boundaries modern identity politics has set for them.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I see this often, and it worries me too. Allowing real freedom of speech etc is something the right are often better at than the left these days.

      The article though is excellent. I hope it gets plenty of attention, on both the right and the left because while we acknowledge the left are the worst transgressors here, there’s an issue on the right too. The idea that “it’s not bigotry if it’s my religion” is common on the right. (The left are in denial that the bigotry even exists amongst those they support, but have no problem identifying it when it comes from the right.)

      • BJ
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        The article is quite excellent. I have definitely met too many people who adhere to the “it’s not bigotry if it’s my religion” argument.

  6. John Crisp
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Well, Jerry, I would like to ask you a personal question. You come across as somebody who is intellectually uncompromising and combative, but at the same time, I suspect, quite gentle and kind. I would like to know which of those two aspects of your personality come out when talking to someone you like and care about who has strong religious beliefs (by which I mean, someone who is not a “religious warrior”, but simply takes their faith for granted). I ask because in my responses I am aware of the sensitivity of such relationships: religious and personal identity seem to be so closely interwoven that it is hard to question on without questioning the other.

    • Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      If I like and care about them, I never bring up the subject unless they do.(I wouldn’t argue with religious people anyway unless they start talking about it or publish an article about their beliefs.

      If one of my friends brings up the topic and wants to talk about it, as opposed to telling me that they went to church that day, I will usually ask questions about their faith and that leads to pointing out incongruities like “how can you be so sure that your faith is right as opposed to another one?” That said, nearly all my friends are nonbelievers (or never mention religion at all).

      One of my good friends was a liberal religionist, and we had discussions like this over a decade or so. Eventually he became an atheist.

      I prefer to write in public about my religion than arguing anyway, for the same reason I tend to avoid personal or public debates about evolution: I like the quietude of thought and contemplation, both for me and my readers.

  7. Fernando
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    That’s a great idea: without freedom to criticize religion you don’t actually have freedom of religion.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Nice & succinct!

  8. Christopher Bonds
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    You wrote:

    Yet politics is as much a part of a person’s identity and self-image as is faith.”

    To me the matter is rather simple. One should not identify with any ideology or belief, either political or religious, or anything else, but only by how one comes to those beliefs. Race, gender, disability are attributes of your physical circumstances. They have nothing to do with the quality of one’s thinking. We can’t change those things, but we can change our thinking.

    Suppose A happens to be black. A also chooses to identify with some aspects of what he considers black culture. In doing so, he separates part of his identity from something he might call white culture. A might be an investment banker, a doctor, a professor, a tailor, or anything else. But he would be aware of his skin color and ancestry, as well as how whites might be likely to view him. Whatever strategies he uses to make his way in the world will be shaped partly by his expectations of how others view him. A can’t control what others think about him, but he can control how he responds to them.

    If A is a critical thinker, he will be his own person and not at the mercy of others. But if he identifies with some ideology, he is avoiding personal responsibility for his beliefs, in effect letting others do his thinking for him.

  9. phil brown
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Another thought is that religion can be thought of as a private matter, whereas politics is by its very nature public.

    People of different religions can agree to tolerate each other in a way that that people of different political persuasions cannot quite agree to do so.

    I can of course accept and tolerate anyone’s right to have a political opinion different to my own. But I cannot accept that his (to my eyes misguided) ideas go unchallenged, because, if implemented, I believe things will go worse for the country. And I can accept my opponents right to challenge my political ideas, on the same grounds. We accept political criticism of ourselves because we reserve the right to criticize others.

    However, in the case of religion, so long as it remains a private matter, it may seem that there is no need to challenge it if it has no, or only a very limited, negative effect on me. And if there is no need to challenge it, then it might seem out of place and disrespectful to challenge it.

    (I’m not defending the view that religion is purely private, just putting forward the view that it might be seen as such, whereas politics cannot be.)

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      That’s all fine and dandy; but in practice the dominant variety of religion in any given society will try to impose itself throughout that society, wherever it can get a foothold.

      A free society should be able to tolerate religious evangelising, as long as it is aimed at aware and responsible adults. But the strike rate for that is pretty low. So the evangelists prefer to go for the children, taking advantage of the fact that most kids trust adults and believe what they tell them. Religious indoctrination is not just an abuse of that trust: it actively undermines the development of proper thinking by asserting that it is OK – indeed, it is a virtue – to believe things without evidence.

      Religion should, at most, be an activity for consenting adults in private. I personally look forward to the day when religious participation becomes nothing more than a hobby, like birdwatching or Morris dancing.

      • Posted August 5, 2017 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        “So the evangelists prefer to go for the children, taking advantage of the fact that most kids trust adults and believe what they tell them.”

        I don’t see how this is any different from you taking advantage of their trusting you when, as an evangelical atheist, you tell them that they shouldn’t believe anything for which they have no evidence. A more generous view might be that parents, believers or otherwise, have values that give their lives meaning and that they therefore want to share with their children. Personally, I’m grateful that I was “indoctrinated” as a Catholic, because it gave me boundaries growing up, walls to push against when I got older and, eventually, to knock down. I simply don’t buy the notion that we should or can keep children floating in some value-neutral state until they’re old enough decide the important questions for themselves. It’s an agnostic’s wet dream.

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:47 am | Permalink

          And why do you assume atheist parents are “value-neutral?”

          • BJ
            Posted August 6, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

            I don’t think that’s what mirandaga was saying. S/he was saying that Steve Pollard is advocating raising children in a value-neutral manner, but even the imbuing of an atheistic or critical thinking stance is not value-neutral, and raising a child in such a manner is a pipe dream. Ultimately, the values of the parents, be they evidence-based thinking leading to atheism or religious faith, are passed on to children, and there is nothing particularly nefarious or perhaps even entirely purposeful about this.

          • Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            “And why do you assume atheist parents are ‘value-neutral?’”

            I don’t, Diane. As BJ so accurately notes, that’s exactly my point—that it’s naive to think that just because kids aren’t indoctrinated with religion that they’re they’re not indoctrinated and so are going to end up value-neutral until they’re old enough to decide things for themselves. If the parent’s care about their kids, they’re going to inculcate values in them, whether those values are secular or religious.

            My bone of contention with Steve Pollard was that he seemed to be saying that inculcation of religious values is an abuse of children’s trust whereas inculcation of atheist values is not. My larger point was that neither, if done with love, is an abuse of trust, though there’s bound to be a degree of inconsistency in secular indoctrination—e.g., parents saying to their five-year-old: “It’s wrong to believe things without evidence, son—take our word for it.”

            • rickflick
              Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

              “It’s wrong to believe things without evidence, son—take our word for it.”

              That’s a contradiction isn’t it. I think, if I understand you correctly, you equate an attempt to raise children to think for themselves as equivalent to raising them to have no intellectual independence. That seems counter intuitive to me. Certainly, values cannot be completely withheld from a child to produce a “value-neutral” environment, but does that mean we can’t raise children to think rather than simply react? Or is thinking merely another of any number of values?
              “Look kid, feel free. You can be a Mormon, a Baptist, a Catholic, a freethinker, a Muslim,…”

              • Posted August 6, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                “. . .does that mean we can’t raise children to think rather than simply react?”

                Not at all. I’m all in favor of raising children to think for themselves and have tried to do so.

                An anecdote: when my son, Nicolas, was 12 we came across a book that bore the dedication: “In memory of my father, who taught me to think for myself.” I said to Nicolas, “If you should ever write a book and include a dedication like that, I’d be very proud.” Nicolas said, “Actually, Papa, you’d be dead.”

                How’d I do?

              • Diane G.
                Posted August 6, 2017 at 11:35 pm | Permalink


                That’s hilarious! 😀

              • rickflick
                Posted August 6, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

                Excellent! 😎

  10. GM
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    where did this notion that it is OK to criticize religion come from?

    It is true for some religions, but not for all of them…

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Where, if not from the religions themselves?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      The Enlightenment might be a good place to start lookin’.

      • GM
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 3:41 am | Permalink

        I don’t think you got what I was saying — in a modern Western society it is OK to criticize Christianity. Islam? Not so much, at least for one half of the political spectrum, if anything, it is as protected as gender and race.

    • ploubere
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      It’s always been okay to criticize others’ religions.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, those with the most to fear are often those who criticize their own religions

      • Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Until the modern spread of Islam.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      I think the modern idea that it’s okay to challenge religion primarily grew out of Greek philosophy and the way it valued a competition of minds over social harmony and agreement. Dangerous questions were considered good questions. That was a dangerous idea, and it took root only where and when conditions allowed it to grow. The default seems to be either status quo or nostalgia.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        That makes sense. Socrates would have been one who adopted this dangerous approach. He ended up exceeding the local level of tolerance and payed with his life.

        • Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          However, the cornerstone of Socrates’ defense was his claim that an oracle allegedly pronounced him the smartest of men to someone who was dead at the time of the trial, and that his behavior was blameless because his personal demon told him so.

  11. Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    ‘If religion and politics are both largely ideological in nature, why is religion in general seen as something that shouldn’t be criticized but politics can be?’

  12. Historian
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    “if religion and politics are both largely ideological in nature, why is religion in general seen as something that shouldn’t be criticized but politics can be?”

    This is a very good question and probably requires more thought than my answer presents. My off-the-cuff response is that people who don’t think religion should be criticized are those who don’t particularly take the content of religious belief seriously. People who fall into this group include some non-believers, but also those who profess to be believers, but don’t accept or have in-depth knowledge why their particularly faith is any more “true” than other faiths. For the latter, all that counts is a belief in some sort of deity, the nature of which is non-important. They would no more consider it appropriate to criticize the religion of other people as it would be to criticize their eye color. In other words, for those of the faithful who consider criticizing religion as wrong are psychologically non-ideological in this respect. Non-believers who counsel against criticizing religion do so because they don’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest. They view themselves as a scorned minority, afraid of retribution from the religious majority, and as long as they keep their mouths shut, they can survive in a religious society.

    People who take the content of the teachings of their faith seriously do take criticism of other religions as appropriate, but perhaps not in public. It is almost axiomatic, for example, that a Catholic priest considers some things “wrong” in the beliefs of an evangelical ministers. But, depending on the political environment, the priest may very well keep his views to himself or a limited number of trusted associates.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      I wonder if it is not (in a much simplified summary) a case that ‘applied religion’ is about how you apply your morals to circumstances and applied politics is about how you apply pragmatism to your circumstances?

      A politician (or yourself) changing political views might be news but it isn’t going against the ‘natural order’ of the religious world.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that people who take religion very seriously indeed don’t allow its criticism either because its truths are seen as self-evident. The facts are known to be true and just. Critics then are just playing a game of pretend: their real agenda is insult, manipulation, destruction, and evil. Outspoken infidelity is a deliberate attack on cosmic truth and cosmic justice.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    “Religious tolerance” means that everyone is entitled to practice his or her religion free from interference, and that no one should be denied generally applicable rights or privileges or opportunities because of his or her religion. It by no means means religious ideology should be immune from criticism.

    One of the least coherent areas of American constitutional law concerns the extent to which the government may (or must) accommodate religious practices that contravene laws of general applicability. (For example: Should Native American rituals involving peyote be exempt from drug laws, or Santeria practices from laws regarding animal slaughter? Should someone who’s been fired for refusing to work on their Sabbath be entitled to unemployment compensation? etc.)

    Personally, I favor a thick wall of separation and as little accommodation of (or entanglement between) religion and the State as is practicable. But, as I say, this is a legal topic flush with conflict and confusion.

    • Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think a people’s religious beliefs should ever exempt them from the law. Where could you draw the line? OTH, I don’t think anyone should be fired for refusing to work on their Sabbath. It should be easy to accommodate them.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        OTOH, if the job demands work on a specific day, the employer should have legal grounds to not hire a given person in the first place if s/he cannot comply. Sometimes accommodating one person’s religion puts a burden on the other employees.

        • Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          So you would allow employers to discriminate in hiring according to the job candidate’s religion? Seems like a slippery slope.

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

            No, it has nothing to do with religion, only the requirements of the job. If a Quaker won’t carry a gun, should s/he be allowed to join the police? (In the US, anyway. Maybe OK in England.) If a doctor won’t give a blood transfusion? If a pharmacist won’t issue certain prescriptions? Etc.

            • Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

              The requirements in the examples you describe are essential to the nature of the jobs and are not possible to accommodate. None would constitute religious discrimination. Refusing to hire jews because they have holy days in September which are inconvenient to the employer is another matter.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                You two getting a sense of why this area of the law is so nettlesome? There are many, many permutations the problem can take. And it’s tough to draw consistent lines; the cases are all over the place.

              • Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

                My point is that they needn’t be so nettlesome if we are willing to allow for *reasonable* accommodations. Breaking the law or not doing an essential part of your job is not reasonable.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

                Not so easy: Would you exempt Catholics’ use of sacramental wine from Sunday dry laws? Would you apply the same standard to Santeria animal sacrifice?

                What if a public hospital voluntarily lets staff opt out of elective abortions (as many hospitals do), but doesn’t offer a similar accommodation for Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions? Would you force the hospital to do both, to do neither, or leave it to the hospital’s discretion?

                What about the use of public funds to support non-proselytizing programs in parochial schools? How about if the funds are limited to health and safety functions?

              • Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

                No and yes. If the law is unreasonable, change the law.

                If employers are willing to accommodate an employee, who am I to object? But they would need compelling reasons to treat employees of different religions differently.

                I don’t have an opinion on your last questions, except that there can be no religious content whatever, not just proselytizing.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

                So it would be illegal to fire a Jew for absenteeism in September or October, but lawful to arrest a Catholic for taking communion?

                Large religions usually have the clout to be given accommodations by political officeholders; small sects don’t.

                My point is that bright lines and facile answers tend to be ephemeral here.

              • Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                Tolerating absenteeism and making reasonable accommodation are not the same thing.

                I would expect the Catholic church to respect the laws of the community and not serve alcohol.

                Yes, the world is not always fair.

                Pragmatism does not have bright lines. I do not think the answers I suggest are facile. I imagine they might be quite difficult.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

                I’ll withdraw “facile answers”; but I think you’re imagining that the lines may be more readily discernible than what they are. If we were to play this out Socratically, we’d eventually arrive at a place where virtually indistinguishable fact patterns point in different directions.

                That’s why the cases are all over the place — and why US Free Exercise jurisprudence (particularly in SCOTUS) doesn’t break down along the usual conservative/liberal lines.

              • Craw
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

                You talk about “simple” but you also think the standard should be what is “reasonable”. These are conflicting demands. There is no simple definition of reasonable. We resort to the idea of “reasonable” precisely when simple rules don’t work.

              • Posted August 5, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry, where did I say simple?

              • Diane G.
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

                And your original question specified “working on their Sabbath,” which IME usually occurs once a week. If the employer needs someone to work those days, s/he should be able to dismiss an applicant who can’t/won’t.

              • Diane G.
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

                My reply above (re Sabbaths, if this doesn’t appear directly under it) was a specific reply to darwinwins “…[r]efusing to hire jews because they have holy days in September which are inconvenient to the employer is another matter.” That’s moving the goalposts.

  14. Diane G.
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Great article but I’ve never understood why this concept isn’t just blindingly obvious to everyone.

  15. Chad
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    The assertion that “race, gender etc” are things you cannot change, but “religious and political beliefs” are things that you can, seems to be unsupported. Care to take a stab at it? The evidence I’m aware of suggests you are far, far off base.

    But just as a hypothetical, lets imagine that you are wrong and I am right. What if your political leanings are just as much “hard wired” as your sexual preferences? Then what? What does this do to the “point” that you think these philosophers are trying to make?

    • Posted August 5, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      You are the one more likely to be “far, far off base”, because I’ve seen someone change their politics and their religion after the environmental influence of discussion or reading. I’ve never seen anybody talked out of their biological sex or race. That’s my stab at it. Tell me what you can read that will turn you from an Asian into a Caucasion or vice versa, or from an XY male to an XX female.

      You need to be a bit more civil in discussing stuff here; please read the Roolz.

      • Zach
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

        Chad was less than perfectly civil, but he did touch on a point that I wanted to bring up—the fact that political leanings seem to be significantly heritable.

        I wanted to bring it up, though, mainly to cast it aside. Why? Because, in the words of the article, “there is [still] a key distinction that needs to be made between identities that are based on what can be broadly described as ideological or value-laden commitments, and those that do not carry any such baggage.” That word, baggage, is important. It implies a capacity for affecting the lives of others, which is precisely what value-laden identities end up doing (for how could they not?).

        And this involves a crucially relevant point: most values—that is, those beyond the most basic biological imperatives, like valuing one’s progeny or valuing food in one’s stomach—involve beliefs about the state of the world. Sam Harris spent the entire 2nd chapter of The End of Faith discussing this point, because it is so important. Namely, beliefs matter because the beliefs a person holds influence their actions in a given circumstance in a way that nothing else about them does. Indeed, one’s circumstance is often largely determined by their beliefs themselves. (As an example, consider the melodramatic phrase, “My life is over.” Now, you need not necessarily have a terminal illness to say such a thing; you could just be severely depressed. But if you really believe that your has drawn to a close, it just might for real. Sorry to get so dark…)

        Conversely, there is nothing about someone’s being [insert congenital trait] that determines their actions in a given circumstance. Even if that trait is psychological and largely heritable. Conscientiousness, for example, can manifest itself in many different ways. It can mean the difference between being a Jain priest or being a Muslsim imam. One cares about balancing karma; the other cares about obeying God’s will. Their actions will subsequently differ too, even if their psychological profiles are similar. One need only marvel at the acrimony between India and Pakistan in order to appreciate the power of beliefs. They really do affect lives in a way that skin color does not.

        So no, the fact that someone’s psychology is largely heritable does not mean that their beliefs cannot change. It simply means that their beliefs might be difficult to change. I, personally, accept this point in a positive light. I think it stresses the importance of having patience with those who disagree with us. At the same time, it lays the basis for mutual respect between disagreeing parties, so long as their disagreements aren’t strictly zero-sum. My personal favorite, pertaining to religion: I can respect someone’s fear of death, and subsequent belief in an afterlife, while simultaneously maintaining that their fear is unfounded and that their belief mistaken. Heck, I can even hold out some hope that one day they will transcend their fear and abandon their belief. I need not consider them a simple idiot in the meantime though, just because they disagree with me.

        • Zach
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:19 am | Permalink

          Missing words in phrases:

          “that your life has drawn to a close”


          “that their belief is mistaken”

          Those line breaks always get me…

        • Chad
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:21 am | Permalink


          Interesting point. Let me try to put your words in my own words, and see if you agree with an implication I would draw from what you are saying.

          It seems that you are saying that, while it is true that political beliefs are (at least partly) based on genetics and environment, they are still theoretically changeable, even if that is difficult.

          I’d agree with that. They are, in theory, changeable. But would you also agree that all of the “protected” categories we are discussing are similarly, in theory, changeable? One could, with enough persuasion, change their sexual identity, their gender, and even their race. We know because we’ve seen it. Sure, those people may be “passing” or “living a lie” but thats special pleading. We dont know that that isnt true about our religious or political converts as well. Perhaps the Christian who converts to atheism was born an atheist and, in reality, simply “came out of the closet.”

          But the real implication of your post, which I do find pretty interesting, is the idea that the main difference isnt in how easy it would be to change these characteristics, but in our MOTIVATION to change them. So it isnt that being black is harder to change than being conservative, but rather that your being black doesnt impact my life, while your being conservative does, and so therefore I have more JUSTIFICATION in trying to change your conservatism. Is that an accurate re-statement? I think its a good and fair point, but I think you fall into the trap of black/white thinking a little bit here. Surely you could imagine SOME scenario in which your being straight, or male, or Asian, could impact my life, therefore giving me the correct justification to criticize it?

          • Chad
            Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink


            Just as an addendum, if I’m accurately understanding your position, that is exactly the crucial point that I was trying to get at. Human reasoning is usually post hoc, motivated reasoning, and that seems like what is going on in this general discussion. We dislike religion and bad political beliefs and we want to criticize them, so we need to make up a reason. Err uhh ummm lets see…Oh I’ve got it, those are CHANGEABLE beliefs, THATS why its ok to criticize them. It is analogous to the argument, widely popular for decades among gay rights activists, that homosexuality was ok because “They were born that way, they cant help it.” This is an extremely flawed position, though, right? Homosexuality was ok because it was ok, not because “they couldnt help it.” People were latching on to a convenient, easy argument that was unlikely to be proven false in their lifetime, rather than using an actually GOOD argument.

            I think that is similar to what is happening here. The reason it is ok to criticize religious and political beliefs but not gender and sexual orientation and race isnt because of “choice” or “heritability.” Its because there is nothing WRONG with being black or gay or a woman, but there may be something WRONG with being a racist.

            But that pushes the argument back to having to justify that some beliefs are simply wrong, which is tough to do, and especially tough to do for certain types of moral relativist, sometimes found on atheist boards!

            • Zach
              Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

              But that pushes the argument back to having to justify that some beliefs are simply wrong, which is tough to do, and especially tough to do for certain types of moral relativist, sometimes found on atheist boards!

              Well, that’s a problem for moral relativists. I don’t count myself among them, and have no problem criticizing beliefs I think are pernicious.

              Besides that, yes, you accurately summarized by comment. As for this:

              Surely you could imagine SOME scenario in which your being straight, or male, or Asian, could impact my life, therefore giving me the correct justification to criticize it?

              I can imagine a scenario in which you didn’t want me near you if I was straight/male—like, if you were a woman changing in a locker room. That wouldn’t be the same as criticizing my maleness though—it would just be setting boundaries.

              I’m not denying that things can get tricky though. I think that’s what the author was talking about with the fused identities. Still though, we should try to delineate the ideological from the congenital whenever we can, and consider the former ripe for criticism.

      • Chad
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        Which part was uncivil? The part where I challenged your unstated, and unsupported, assertions? I didnt insult you, I didnt use foul language, I didnt shout.

        Your anecdotes do provide some evidence, thats true, but its unlikely to be compelling to someone who doesnt already agree with you. I’ve seen someone who was born white who became black, I’ve seen LOTS of people who were born gay, but acted as though they were straight for many years, and then “came out of the closet” and “became” gay. Are these evidence that sexual orientation and race are ALSO changeable attributes? I dont think we really even need to have a discussion about the number of people that started out male and became female, right?

        I’ll concede then that race and gender and sexual orientation are, perhaps, LESS changeable than political beliefs and religious beliefs. But none of those categories are NEVER changeable, and none of them are FREELY changeable. Your political beliefs are at least 50% genetic, and the rest is primarily your environment. Your political beliefs are not some “freely chosen, easily changeable” personal characteristic. In theory, they CAN be changed, in practice it is rare for them to change, just as it is rare for your sexual identity to change, or your race to change, or your gender to change.

        • Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          You’ve just admitted that race and sex are less malleable than politics. Is the person who was born white and became black Rachel Dolezal, because that doesn’t count, nor do cases of transgender people, who are usually members of one biological sex or the other and then identify with the other gender. If you omit those, then the “exceptions” you cite to show the malleability of sex and race are vanishingly rare.

          Your first paragraph shows your incivility; shouting is not required, nor is cursing; I ask for civility, and you continue not to show it, especially because my assertions are not unsupported, as you yourself admit. And remember that even if political beliefs are 50% heritable. race and gender are 100% determined by genes.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I think the divide regarding choice rests on claims of fact being different than claims of identity. Religious and political disagreements can ultimately be categorized as intellectual or rational disputes. If you became convinced that the the background facts are different than you think they are, then you’d change your mind and join the other side. You’re not changing your identity: you’re changing your conclusion.

      Matters of identity are much more inherently subjective.

  16. aljones909
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m always puzzled by the idea that we can be critical of Islam but should not criticise believers in Islam. Islam wouldn’t be a problem without believers.

    • finknottle
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      If their private superstitions aren’t invasive to civil society, there’s no basis to criticize them as individuals. The global outlook they identify with is another matter

    • Posted September 21, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      + 1

  17. Charles Sawicki
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Why is discussion of religion such a touchy subject? It is both insecurely rooted in irrationality and bound up in the existential fears of humans.

  18. finknottle
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Anyone else ever get a little weird with the noun “atheist”? My outlook is completely atheistic, and my politics are liberal [both are adjectives], so I’m weird using the noun Democrat too.
    Those are chosen attributes that characterize me, but don’t identify me like being male or white or American(it’s on the passport; not something I chose).
    Know it’s convenient to use nouns, but it just doesn’t feel right somehow. Seems like nouns ought to be for the immutable; adjectives for the mutable. That’s why nouns for both ir/religion and politics feel so lamentably like forced-branding.

    • Craw
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      So tinker, tailor, soldier, sailer cannot be nouns?

      • finknottle
        Posted August 5, 2017 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

        Roles? Are outlooks/worldviews roles?

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:49 am | Permalink

        Non sequitur much?

        • finknottle
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:09 am | Permalink

          Sequiter on occasion. Thoughts shall command social roles/nouns/brands then?

          • Diane G.
            Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:15 am | Permalink

            Hope you realized my comment (snark, I’m afraid) was in response to Craw?

            • finknottle
              Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:23 am | Permalink

              Nope. Oops; thanks?

        • Craw
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:31 am | Permalink

          How is it a non sequitur? He suggested nouns should only refer to immutable things about a person. Can you become a soldier and then stop being a soldier? I think you can. Is soldier a noun?

          • Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:42 am | Permalink

            Oy. It wasn’t clear that choices meant world views — open to deliberation? Not transient roles like tinkers. Pedant here?

            • Craw
              Posted August 6, 2017 at 8:32 am | Permalink

              Careful and accurate. I disagree with your limited claim, but you made a much broader claim that was wrong. We agree now it’s wrong? Then we can move on to the narrower claim. How about “dualist”? I know people who were dualists, believing in a soul, but now are not. Isn’t dualist the natural way to describe them?

              And there are other common nouns. Do you use the words bigot or nazi or Muslim (rather than Islamic)? How about “douchebag”? There was a famous GOP activist, I forget the name now, who repented his dirty tricks and came clean. He was a douchebag and then he wasn’t. (That’s not a role either.)

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      I feel the same way. Much happier describing myself as simply atheist–no “an” in front– a word which can in fact be an adjective, though many prefer to fancy it up into “atheistic.”

      Also prefer to call myself liberal* or progressive rather that “a liberal,” etc.

      • Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:32 am | Permalink

        Just saw this, Diane. So pleased that someone else notices the nuance of the whole thing

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

          Likewise. Craw, if you’re still listening, I don’t think this is a matter or right or wrong, just of opinion. Finknottle & I just see it differently than you do.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Part of the religious response to criticism where I live is based in a feeling of historical privilege, but mostly they see it as an attack on their own person. I often hear the question/claim “and you must think we are dumb”, which I seldom hear from political ideologues.

    As for Russell, the distinction between ideological and non-ideological identities may be useful. My baseline claim is that human rights freedoms are to be tolerated, while respect is to be earned. But I can see the value in elevating non-ideological identities, which may have more biological/circumstantial constraint than an individual’s choice of ideology and is not as plastic. (Try change your skin color by changing behavior.)

    … it doesn’t disappear, but goes underground. That’s why I’m opposed to laws against “hate speech”: it doesn’t eliminate hate, but prevents it from being countered with better speech. That’s why I’m opposed to laws against “hate speech”: it doesn’t eliminate hate, but prevents it from being countered with better speech.

    I think the jury is still out on this? The virulent hate speech does not need better speech as response, nor does speech seem to matter. The idea with hate speech laws seems to be to suppress violence. But again I see no statistics that tells me it works even though I note US is more violent (which I assume derives from many sources such as inequalities and lack of gun suppression).

    Maybe it does not matter either way. (In which case a useless law should be removed.)

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I find it an interesting exercise to try to imagine an extreme example of “hate speech” which isn’t an incitement to violence, but might still merit some legal involvement. Telling the depressed that they’re better off dead and here’s how to do it (like the recent case on texting encouragement to someone who is suicidal)? Encouraging people to shun, mock, or hinder the handicapped? In general– or by name?

      If we can mentally fix on a place where okay, we ought to draw a line, then it at least brings both sides onto a common ground.

  20. Fernando
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    why is religion in general seen as something that shouldn’t be criticized but politics can be?

    Maybe in human societies there is a realm of replication and a realm of mutation. Traditions, dogmas, habits, norms, folkways, belong to the former. Ideas, maybe, are always mutations.

    • Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      It’s not universal that politics can be criticized. Try criticizing the dictator in countries like North Korea, the Stalin-era Soviet Union or Nazi-era Germany. It’s mainly in liberal democracies that the notion that no party is in possession of the sole truth and that politics must be constantly renegotiated, is deeply anchored.
      Like dictators, many religions regard their doctrine as the unassailable truth, and therefore resent criticism. It’s conceivable to have a society where each religion is treated as one of many valid ways of organizing belief in the divine (and organizing the community, which is often an important function as well), but that is probably not a stable system and may collapse if an interant religion spreads (just like democracies are inherently unstable and must be constantly defended).

  21. Craw
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    We do though discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual preference: pedophiles, and sadists like Charles Ng for instance. Bestiality. Necrophilia. Are there people who are excited by and only by rape? We’d be harsh to them too.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Those sexual preferences all involve lack of consent. That’s where the problem lies.

      It would be interesting if necrophilia somehow avoided the claim that it is retroactively non consensual by someone actually putting into their will their desire that their loved one be allowed to pleasure themselves by having sex with their corpse. I don’t know if the law would apply under those circumstances, or not.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        I think it was Lawrence Krauss who used consensual incest between siblings(using birth control) as an example of something most people react negatively to but that doesn’t have any negative consequences. Only consequences have consequences.

  22. Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    I, and my sibling, grew up in an evangelical christian family with a Republican mother and Democrat father. If I’d lived according to my mother’s standards, i would have had no Catholic, Democrat or brown/black friends.
    I broke all those rules. As a adult, I became a Democrat and an atheist with friends of all colors, religions, sexual orientations and politics. My sibling is a Republican evangelical christian with, apparently, the biases so prevalent in certain parts of our country (US). He lives in the “heartland” and thoroughly objects to being classified as a “deplorable”.

    We had the same parents and the same religious training for roughly the same amount of time.
    We went in different directions. None of this is cast in stone.

    • finknottle
      Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      How did you break the rules and find the PCC site?

      • Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:53 am | Permalink

        It came about in a long process called “life” during which I constantly read, learned, met new and diverse people, frequently reevaluated my “knowledge”,traveled, went to school, wrote poetry, married, raised a family, worked, etc. I am so grateful to people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, Michael Shermer who’ve had an impact on my thinking. And, being permitted to interact with the exceptional, thoughtful and knowledgable, commenters on this site. An old dog can learn new tricks.

        • finknottle
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 1:15 am | Permalink

          See below

        • rickflick
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 6:26 am | Permalink

          “A Long Process Called Life”. Sounds like a book title to me. Then maybe a movie deal. 😉

    • Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      As usual, please forgive the typos. The message was accidentally sent before I finished editing and before I’d finished writing.

      “Being Asian, white, or black, transgender, gay, or female are not matters of choice, and there is no moral ground for demonizing someone for something they cannot change.”

      Choices are still possible within the realm of racial and sexual identity. Who do you hang out with? Who do you marry? How do you dress? How do you talk? How do you perceive yourself? How important is any of this to you?

      There will always be people with biases that must be avoided or contended with. How you handle the genetic roll of the dice and the aspects of yourself you value most are up to you. You pay as you go.

      • finknottle
        Posted August 6, 2017 at 1:05 am | Permalink

        Choices become difficult when you share your openness, but two closeted gay friends never share their truth.
        Then the adopted younger sister from Vietnam stops trusting your white color — just about the time she married a black Haitian from Montreal – who happens to think you hate him because you supposedly hate the Habs, because you happen to be from “racist” Boston.
        Identity/tribal junk negates my choice to pay or not

        • finknottle
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 1:12 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the nice reply above – while I went into a low self-spiral. Ugh
          Thank you

  23. finknottle
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Wonder if our host PCC might agree that using nouns for ir/religion or politics contributes to a built-in role/brand antagonism.
    Maybe the “none” option has been beneficial for collecting data

  24. Tim
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    It’s unfortunate that “ignorant” has come to be regarded as an insult. It’s been that way all of my life, so perhaps we should accept that the language has evolved and instead say “lack of knowledge” or “lack of understanding”.

  25. Posted August 6, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Criticizing people or animals or rocks for what they are is unfounded and always useless. Imagine criticizing tall people because they are so tall (remember Randy Newman’s “Short People”). Criticizing people for what they do and what they believe that motivates what they do should always be open season.

    Lumping people together and painting individuals with characteristics the group tends to have is a survival mechanism we need to get over (unless there is a real threat involved, and not just a socially constructed one such as the current fear of Black men as being inherently criminal).

  26. Posted August 31, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    People do criticize disabled people. It’s bizarre because people feel like my health is their business. They assume that I am on government aid and therefore they have the right to see if I really deserve it. Am I a “bad cripple” because I don’t want random people in the ladies room asking me how I pee? Am I an “angry cripple” because I won’t explain gimpy sexual practices to some random person in the grocery store? Most assume that I am “sad cripple” and my life is terrible. They pat me on the head and say to themselves that they could never be in the same position because Jesus loves them more than me. Or maybe they see me do something mundane like grocery shopping and declare me a “good cripple”. It’s as if they think they are at a freak show and I owe it to them to answer whatever sparks their curiosity. Trust me, we are criticized.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      “People do criticize disabled people.”

      Of course they do. And also old people, people with the “wrong” skin color, the LGBT community, etc. But that’s just because there are far too many assholes in society that couldn’t give a damn for compassion or understanding or tolerance.

      I’m so sorry you have to live with that.

      (Saying some criticism isn’t “okay” doesn’t mean it never happens, of course; just that decent, caring people recognize that some conditions are beyond our control. And in some cases may be just one unlucky step away for any of us!)

  27. auslamophobia
    Posted September 11, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    [JAC edit: This comment links to a website where the writer is anonymous. As I’ve stated before, I do not publicize readers’ websites if that reader is unwilling to give their real name. Therefore I have removed the link to the website.]

    This is such an interesting post! I completely agree with the idea of “fused” identities. My own story is of growing up in a Muslim household and accepting and understanding the faith for myself. It is a rather non-ideological component for me in that it is an essential part of my familial identity. I think that politics is seen as a topic more subject to critique as it is considered less sacred. Though both are ideologies and can be “fused”, politics plays a really strong role in the governing of the country whereas religion is more of a private affair, at least in the west. As for gender, race and disability, yes they are largely uncontrollable features but oftentimes religion and politics are too. However, you can control the mental better than the physical. Check out more of my thoughts on my blog.

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