The Atlantic equates criticism of religion to racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism

October 11, 2011 • 3:31 am

In Sunday’s Atlantic, James Fallows “Just for the record: anti-Mormonism is bigotry, too.

 To be against Mitt Romney (or Jon Huntsman or Harry Reid or Orrin Hatch) because of his religion is just plain bigotry. Exactly as it would have been to oppose Barack Obama because of his race or Joe Lieberman because of his faith or Hillary Clinton or Michele Bachmann because of their gender or Mario Rubio or Nikki Haley because of their ethnicity. . .

But for people to come out and say that they won’t back a candidate because he’s Mormon and therefore a “cult” member is no better than saying “I’d never trust a Jew” or “a black could never do the job” or “women should stay in their place” or “Latinos? Let ’em go back home.” Maybe it makes things more “honest” for people to be open about their anti-Mormonism and discreet about other prejudices. The only two biases people aren’t embarrassed expressing publicly are anti-Southern (the “Bubba factor”) and anti-Mormon. Still, it’s bigotry.

No it’s not.  Doesn’t Fallows realize that someone’s embrace of a superstition like Mormonism is not the same as their being a black, a Latino, or a woman? You have no choice about your ethnicity or gender, but you do have a choice about your religion.  True, saying “never trust a Jew” is bigotry, but when voting for a political candidate, especially in these times when we often seem to be verging on theocracy, we can surely weigh whether or not that candidate embraces untenable and unevidenced views.

And highly religious political candidates are in a particularly dangerous position, for they might be tempted to impose their religious views on the rest of us.  I wasn’t particularly opposed to Francis Collins’s being named as director of the National Institutes of Health (though I was worried about what he might do with stuff like stem-cell research), for it’s hard to impose religious views on science itself.  Politics is a different kettle of fish.

And yes, embracing religion, except, perhaps of the most innocuous form (e.g., the Unitarian Universalists), is a character flaw, and should be weighed before you pull that lever in the voting booth.

h/t: Grania Spingies

93 thoughts on “The Atlantic equates criticism of religion to racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism

  1. Hmm I’m not sure I agree. For someone to say that they would *never* vote for a Mormon does seem like bigotry. What if they had a proven track record of keeping their religion & their politics separate? If, on the other hand, a particular candidate was Mormon & their policies were clearly influenced by their beliefs, then yes that certainly would be reasonable grounds for never voting for them. But to assume that all members of that faith would do likewise? To me that does seem bigoted I’m afraid.

    1. I should concede the point that in this particular case they are talking about one particular candidate, I was commenting more in the context of *never* voting for someone of a particular faith a priori (which wasn’t alluded to directly in the post)

    2. I agree. If you wouldn’t vote for someone just because they label themselves in a certain way (whether “Mormon” or “Atheist”), that would be prejudice. That said, though, being a member of a particular church does indicate that you likely support many of that church’s positions. So it would be a completely fair (and necessary) question to ask a candidate which doctrines and/or values from their religion they support, and how they would influence the decisions he or she will make when in office.

      (By the way, if part of your religion’s doctrine is that all other religions are false religions, you should expect to be questioned about that too.)

      In the end it’s the ideas and values you should judge people on, regardless of where they come from. Their religious identification may be an indicator of what those values are, but it is not a very reliable one.

      1. I agree – by all means find out if that candidate holds views which you find peculiar & use that information to decide whether or not to vote for them!

    3. You can always play the Nazi Card on that one (but it doesn’t seem to be): there are certain beliefs that are too odious and/or dangerous and/or tarnished by history to be admissible in political officials. Being religious are certainly one of those.

      Sure, some of those can keep their beliefs private. But usually they don’t.

      And that is supported by the basic religion which is, after all, evangelical or it wouldn’t survive.

      That is the pickle here, I think.

  2. The real issue is that these candidates themselves promote the view that religious views should be an important factor for electing a candidate.

    Also note that people only complain when people are against a candidate because of their religious beliefs. Nobody ever complains when people like a candidate because of their stance on religion. If the latter is OK, so should the former.

    On the other hand, these candidates do seem aware that they might alienate many voters if they get too specific about what they consider a proper brand of Christianity or not.

  3. You’re right: It is fair to attack a candidate’s embrace of untenable and unevidenced views — especially if there’s any indication that they’d be tempted to impose their religious views on the rest of us.

    But isn’t it is bigoted to attack Romney for his Mormonism, etc., if you don’t equally attack, say, Obama for his belief “in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” and “that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life”?


    1. A fair question!

      [My practical answer would be to go after the worst offenders first. You can’t battle a system without having clout, you can battle offenders while amassing said clout.]

    2. On a fundamental level, of course, Romney’s Mormonism and Obama’s personal version of Christianity are equally unjustifiable; they share the same basic misunderstanding about the nature of the universe. However, I would say: A) Obama’s faith and worldview seems to have some space in it for nonbelievers; Romney’s more conservative theology pretty clearly does not. B) Given that there exists a de facto requirement that any major-party nominee for President evince a Christian (maybe Jewish?) faith, it’s more important to me to consider the specific political positions that emanate from a candidate’s worldview, rather than his or her faith *per se*. I’m far more concerned about Romney’s economic plans, the sort of judges he’d appoint, etc., etc.

  4. Well, for people on the outside who think standard Christianity is just as strange as Mormonism, I agree that it seems bigoted to say “I’d never vote for a Mormon” when the very same people consistently pull the lever for fundie Christians without batting an eye.

    When Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, the fact that he was a Mormon was hardly discussed at all in any serious way. It just never came up in the daily business of governing the state, for what it’s worth. Romney could have been a “standard” Protestant and it would have made zero difference in any of his decision-making as Governor.

    For people who would otherwise agree with his politics to say, “He’s a Mormon, forget it,” I think that fits the definition of bigotry.

    If Romney doesn’t become President, it won’t be because liberal-leaning atheists are nervous about Mormons. They wouldn’t vote for Romney for political reasons anyway, even if he was a Protestant or Catholic.

    It’ll be because right-wing Protestants, who would normally agree with him, will be – because of his Mormonism – unenthusiastic about working hard to get him elected in November, or even voting for him at all rather than staying home. I DO think that’s bigoted.

    1. Actually, I remember quite a bit of discussion of Romney’s Mormonism in Massachusetts. None of it was germane to his work as governor, but it definitely was a campaign issue.

      1. It was brought up during the campaign in certain quarters. But the minute he was elected, the issue basically disappeared. There was nothing about his tenure as Governor which screamed “This guy is a Mormon.”

        1. In MA, Romney was the governor of a very liberal (within an American context anyway) state, with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and a Republican party that, in order to even survive at the margins, has had to be moderate relative to the national party – all this before the post-2008 radicalization of the national GOP. In short, he was a fairly moderate governor.

          Some people believe that Romney’s political, err…flexibility means he’ll be a moderate president as well. But as President, he’ll be the standard-bearer of a very conservative – and very angry – national GOP that had to have its arm twisted pretty hard to trust him in the first place. If he wants a second term – and of course he does – he’ll govern accordingly. Under those circumstances I think you’ll see a lot more things that scream, “This guy is a Mormon” – not necessarily because his true convictions are coming to light (Romney has no true convictions) but because the baseline “Mormon” religious-political matrix (that is, given the hierarchical nature of Mormonism, official church doctrine) is closely aligned with conservative Republican policies.

  5. A question I always ask people who accuse me of bigotry is, “Please answer the following question with a whole number – no denial, no equivocation, no shuck’n’jive (and, they NEVER do) – How many bad experiences am I required to have before you do not write my feelings off as bigotry, prejudice, or bias?” As many people as I have asked that question, not a single one of them has ever given me a number; they ALL give me denial, equivocation, or shuck’n’jive.

    Over thirty years ago, I had a hugely rotten experience with the organized Mormon church, which involved an attempt to frame me for a crime I didn’t commit, plus an attempt at screwing several hundred innocent third parties who had no idea what was going on. Those people are nothing more than a single-minded mob. I would never vote for one of them for anything, and I begrudge them the air they breathe. I didn’t start out feeling that way; it was borne of EXPERIENCE, and the experience wasn’t with one or two, it was with the organization.

    One’s skin color is not a choice. One’s beliefs are. When I see a connection between bad behavior and the content of someone’s beliefs, and I describe that connection and the logic behind it, that is NOT bigotry. When people deny that connection, it is necessary to point out that if the connection does not in fact exists, then what is the point of having the belief? Religious people want to take credit for anything positive, and deny anything negative, but when I read their scriptures, I don’t have any trouble at all seeing where those bad behaviors come from.

    That is NOT bigotry. It is reason. L

    1. WHOA!!!

      Back the train up about ten thousand miles!

      Just because we may have had x number/s of bad experiences with a member or some of the members of any particular group or individual members of a particular group, that does not “reasonably” justify supporting the type of statement that the psychotic pastor made.

      I think we all need to remember that gross generalizations of that nature demonstrate our own prejudices and bigotry.

      In my 69+ years, I have met very few members of any particular group who believed the exact same thing that the rest of the members of the group did; not when you question them one-on-one face-to-face. Do a majority of them spout the same dogma and doctrine? Usually, but when you address the issues with individuals you most often get down to the variants of that dogma and doctrine.

      Let’s not devolve to calling an entire barrel of apples bad just because we found a few that were not so good.

      1. You are welcome to accuse me of “devolving” all you want. I’m staying away from people who try to frame me for a crime and put me in jail. No, those people don’t get a second chance. Sorry. L

      2. I mostly agree with Linda here. It’s a simple matter of probability/statistics. If in your experience, people having trait X exhibit behavior Y more often than people without that trait, it is justified to have an elevated expectation that any future people with trait X will also exhibit behavior Y, and you can calculate what the likelihood you should expect using statistical methods. I would say that it’s just as irrational to ignore past experience as it is to exaggerate it.

        Regarding Linda’s original question, though, I don’t think you can expect whole number answer, because it’s not the absolute number of events that matters, but the ratio and population size. I.e., how many Mormons did you know, and what percentage knowingly colluded in framing you? It’s not as simple as having, say, 3 bad experiences and writing off a group on that basis alone.

        1. A couple of things –

          Interestingly, it wasn’t biology that turned me into a complete atheist, it was mathematics, specifically statistics.

          And, I’m obviously not looking for a specific “number” as much as I’m looking for an acknowledgement that there is a relationship between experience and conclusions. Asking for a number is a way of getting them to understand that. It always amazes me how glibly religious people accuse me of “bigotry” without any sense at all that my experience matters.

          What happened to me at the hands of the Mormons was that a lie that was told to BYU by a Mormon couple with whom I’d had some unpleasant dealings was spread extensively. As a result, they were not only going after me, they were going after several instructors and all of their students. At no point during all of this did a single one of them as me what my side of it was. The ease with which they were willing to hurt innocent third parties still takes my breath away.

          Since I was the one who uncovered the crime, reported it, asked for an investigation, and discovered during the course of that investigation that I had been a victim, too, I had plenty of outside proof that I hadn’t done anything wrong. But, being young and dumb at the time, I let it drop. I would handle it very differently now.

          When I hear that Mormons don’t lie, the irony is not ever lost on me. L

      3. Let’s not devolve to calling an entire barrel of apples bad just because we found a few that were not so good.

        OTOH, don’t let your ignorance guide your decisions, either.

        go ahead and REALLY look closely at how the Mormon leadership has impacted American politics since you were born.

        you SHOULD be scared of them.


        if you think Romney speaks for the LDS heirarchy, you’re right.

        he is lying for them, just like he was told to.

        1. more:

          On January 6, 2010 the LDS Church issued the following statement on its Newsroom blogsite: “The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.” The claim that it is not “embraced as Church doctrine” does not explain why so many LDS leaders have referred to it. Would these leaders even bother to speak of the prophecy if they really didn’t believe at least portions were true? Words like “doctrine” and “official” have little meaning given the fact that many aspects of Mormonism are believed to be true by members even though a particular teaching may never be described as “binding” or “official.”

          Modern Mormons tend to ignore the more bizarre, apocalyptic language of the White Horse prophecy. The context of the “hang by a thread” phrase has been jettisoned, but the phrase itself has not. How each Mormon politician views his or herself as the fulfillment of this prediction must be judged on a case-to-case basis; however, there can be do denying that to many, Smith’s prediction is taken very seriously and is very much a part of the Mormon political landscape.

          you want to get an idea of how much Mormonism is directly involved in the political landscape?

          Take CA’s Proposition 8 as an example, and work your way BACK from there.

    2. I can see your point.

      But 15 years ago, you would’ve been begrudging me the air I breathe.

      Sweeping generalizations don’t work.

      People you don’t know deserve not to be prejudged. They deserve to be treated as a “blank slate,” to wax topical.

      1. See above.

        It’s fine to say what you’re saying in the abstract.

        But, just how badly does one have to be burned before one wises up.

        I’m sure there are individual Mormons who aren’t vicious scumbags. I’m not into looking for them though. L

        1. Linda,

          Saying in the abstract is the point.

          As far as the concrete is concerned, I’ll agree completely that bad behavior from specific individuals or specific groups shouldn’t be tolerated. In those cases they’ve demonstrated their hatefulness.

          But are you suggesting I’d be right to conclude that the young burqa-clad woman in line behind me at Subway is a dreadful person and I shouldn’t give her so much as the time of day? After all, we’ve been burned by Muslims many times before.

          My high-school experience was no fun, thanks to jocks on the football team. I don’t currently hold this against all football fans.

          My point is that your question doesn’t apply in the abstract.

          You would’ve been confident to say, 15 years ago, “oh, that JS1685, he’s just a stupid, awful
          Mormon. He deserves my contempt.” But you wouldn’t have realized, because I didn’t realize it myself at that point, that I was headed in the right direction.

          1. My strategy isn’t contempt so much as it is avoidance.

            Am I right to avoid the burqa-clad woman? Maybe the odds are small that she’s got a body bomb attached under all that cloth. OTOH, the odds are pretty large that she’s letting her husband oppress their daughters. Not someone I want to be around.

            If I had known you fifteen years ago, I most likely would have given you a wide berth. Would you have spread lies about me and tried to frame me for a crime because I’m an atheist? Who knows? Would I have been willing to find out the hard way? Not on your life.

            Sorry. L

      2. People you don’t know deserve not to be prejudged. They deserve to be treated as a “blank slate,” to wax topical.

        always said by people actually IGNORANT of Mormons.

        never said by anyone really familiar with the goals of the organization, and how they go about them.

    3. As your strategy is avoidance, rather than contempt (or intolerance or animosity), then you may defend any accusations of bigotry by saying that you are merely prejudiced.

  6. FALLOWS: “The only two biases people aren’t embarrassed expressing publicly are anti-Southern (the “Bubba factor”) and anti-Mormon. Still, it’s bigotry.”

    Really? What’s Fallow’s position on religiosos’ attitudes toward atheists running for public office?

    Wonder what Fallow’s position is on the Michigan country club owner’s (What’s his name?) refusal to allow Dawkins to cross his threshold?

    1. You beat me to it, Filippo. The first question that crossed my mind was how Fallows would treat the anti-atheist bigotry of that Michigan country club owner.

    2. Stand by. The country club dummy may well have to pay in light of the fact that other public groups were apparently welcome to have their gatherings there. It will be interesting to see how many of those other groups paid a stipend to use the space. It is hard for me to believe that a country club would not charge for the use of the space, but even if it doesn’t, it may still have opened itself to the possibility of some pretty serious litigation.

    3. That statement immediately caught my attention as well.

      What bothers me is that atheism probably never even entered his mind because it is still so very OK to openly express anti-atheist sentiments that most people see nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t even click in their minds that bad-mouthing someone because of their lack of god-belief even *could* be interpreted as bigotry.

  7. While us Unitarian Universalists appreciate being recognized as mostly harmless, I’m sure there’s overlap between the worst UUs and the least odious Mormons.

    And I read Fallows’s piece, and agree with him on this. When someone’s born into a religious community, it is bigotry to hold that affiliation against him, especially when Mormonism is being singled out more than other mass superstitions.

    Think of how JFK was attacked for his Catholicism, and how he responded.

    Judge Romney as you would a Catholic (“Are you willing to support reproductive rights, regardless of what the Pope says?”) or a religious Jew (“Are you willing to press Israel to take meaningful steps towards peace?”). It’s perfectly legit to ask Romney if he would buck Mormon orthodoxy on gay marriage, for example.

    I don’t want to accommodate religious dogma, especially in politics. But let’s evaluate candidates based on their support for secular values, based on evidence, independent of their native religious affiliations.

    1. I was born into a religious community, at least in the sense that I was baptized Catholic without my consent and taken to church as a child. I rejected it though, both the beliefs and the affiliation. We have a choice of our religious beliefs and our religious affiliations. We can evaluate any candidate on those religious beliefs and by the affiliations that he or she chooses to keep.

      1. To some extent, people are dragged into religion without their consent just by being born into it.

        Some of us manage to reject it despite the indoctrination, but a great many do not. Some reject the nastier or crazier parts of it while still holding some affilation, which as someone pointed out is somewhat necessary to get elected in most of the USA.

        However, we can and should expect anyone holding a position of public trust to make his/her decisions based on the law and constitutional principles instead of what their religion (if any) teaches. If they don’t, they are unfit for public office.

      2. The same logic can (and is) used against atheists, as some godless groups have supported reprehensible policies. (I work in genome informatics, and know well the history of eugenics – it wasn’t just Nazis.) A consistent, non-hypocritical approach is to go by support for secular values, human rights, and demonstrated independence from excessive factional loyalty. (In other words, playing well with others.)

        (Which I get some practice in, as an atheist UU.)

        1. Atheism isn’t an institution; it’s a belief, or rather the lack of a belief (depending on how you define things). The LDS Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the PCUSA etc… are institutions. This is a fairly obvious distinction that I shouldn’t even have to point it out. I’m don’t affiliate myself with any simply by being an atheist. You choose to affiliate yourself with the UUs. That’s your choice, and that choice is evaluable by other people. The same is true for anyone else who chooses to affiliate with a religious institution.

          1. Even atheists often have to associate with other atheists to get things done, and regardless of deeper affiliation, we’re all subject to being tarred with other atheists’ mistakes. Let’s show the consideration for others we’d like to receive ourselves, and oppose bigotry based on categories that may be rather loose (atheist) or tied up with family or other aspects of identity (Catholic, Jew, Mormon, manga fan).

            Defending Mormons would be easier if more of them would speak up for, say, marriage equality or reproductive choice. But a few do, apparently (, And as far as I’m concerned, they’re as much Mormons as secular Jews are Jews, and just as undeserving of bigotry.

            All that said, Romney is a double-talking weasel; please beat up on him all you can for his own unique and preciously awful self.

          1. Not playing games; of course most eugenicists were Christians, as most of all Westerners were. But consider Julian Huxley, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells, all atheists or humanists, all supported eugenics to various degrees, Huxley even into the 1960s (albeit “positive eugenics”, but even that is difficult to defend).

    2. In other words, we should judge Romney on how much he isn’t a Mormon? On how much he doesn’t believe in the tenets of his alleged faith? Doesn’t that still mean that we are “bigoted” against Mormonism?

      I agree that we should assess the individual, and not just label them. But if someone asserts that they are Mormon, or Catholic, or Jewish, is it wrong to think that they will adhere to the beliefs they profess to maintain? Shouldn’t we take them at their word that they believe what they claim? And if they assert they don’t believe the odious aspects of their professed creed, then to what extent do they actually hold that creed?

      Shorter version: It is wrong to be biased against those who call themselves Mormons (or Catholics, or Jews, or whatever religion), but it is rational to be biased against the beliefs of those religions, and thus against those who hold those beliefs.

    3. JFK came out and said that his Catholicism wouldn’t affect how he operated as president. Romney (in 2008), took an entirely different tack. He tried to convince evangelicals that he was really not so different from them–same basic crazy beliefs–and that he would govern in accord with these same crazy beliefs, just like an evangelical.

    4. If you bring your religious beliefs into the public sphere, they are fair game. Especially if you profess those beliefs/doctrines as part of your moral frame work.

  8. I agree with both sides to some extent. I guess it depends on your reasoning for not liking them. Yes, it’s a choice, unlike race, but it’s still bigoted if you dislike someone simply for their religion. It’s prejudice if you’re not getting to know the person before making judgements about them.

    However, the problem with bigots on this matter is largely among conservatives. What they’re driving at is that a lot of people on the right wouldn’t vote for Romney simply because he’s a Mormon. It’s bigoted because he is presumably on their side on the issues, and his religion is the only disqualifying factor for them. Now, if they disliked him for being a flip-flopper and panderer, or they simply liked another candidate more, they’d be in the right.

    The rest of us don’t like him *for his views and opinions.* That’s totally different. Yes, we think Mormonism is bullshit. Yes, we recognize that choosing a belief system like Mormonism generally confers ignorance on important subjects. But if he chose Mormonism but was pro-science, etc., it would be a different matter.

  9. Fallows is wrong, but for the sake of contrast, note the statement released yesterday by the executive director of the Center for Inquiry, Michigan, in reaction to the Richard Dawkins event’s having been cancelled by a Michigan country club: “It’s important to understand that discrimination based on a person’s religion—or lack thereof—is legally equivalent to discriminating against a person because of his or her race,” said Jeff Seaver, executive director of CFI–Michigan. “This action by The Wyndgate illustrates the kind of bias and bigotry that nonbelievers encounter all the time. It’s exactly why organizations like CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation are needed: to help end the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever.”

  10. I look at such drivel as an attempt to hitch religion on to the coattails of the hard-won civil rights concerning race and to shield it from criticism.

    However, if a politician had a track record of keeping his/her religion out of his/her politics, then it’s unfair to focus on the religion. I would much rather have a religious politician who stands up for civil rights and good governance than an unbelieving politician who doesn’t.

  11. I would have no problem voting for a Mormon or a Catholic or a Muslim or somebody of whatever religion.

    I would have a problem voting for somebody who seriously believed that Jesus did a missionary stint in the Americas after his peritoneum had been perforated, or that a magic spell can turn stale crackers and cheap wine into zombie flesh and vampire blood which should be consumed, or that an old man who married an eight-year-old girl was rewarded for his wisdom by getting a flying horse ride into the sunset.

    All such beliefs demonstrate a serious lack of critical thinking skills. And insincere public professions of such “faith-based” positions would demonstrate a level of hypocrisy dangerous even for a politician.

    But somebody who just fills out forms by consistently putting the name of one particular religion on the indicated line, who semi-regularly participates in the associated services, and who doesn’t give it a further thought? In our society, that wouldn’t make the person unfit for office. I would, of course, prefer candidates to be entirely woo-free, but casual church membership is no worse than a devout loyalty to a particular sporting team or other such idiosyncrasies.



    1. In other words, someone who says they are Catholic or Mormon or Muslim, but doesn’t really believe any of that stuff.

      1. Cultural jews. I know lots of cultural jews that even celebrate Jewish holidays. But they don’t believe in god.

        I know cultural catholics as well. They go to church on Easter and Christmas. They don’t believe, but the like the big holidays and participate.

        I used to do the same thing. Didn’t believe any of it, but liked church… Especially the holidays.

  12. Look at their beliefs/practices individually. Remember in the US, successful national politicians have to avow a religion and to do a major switch in religion could have repercussions. One can certainly question them when it applies to the job.

    1. Completely agree. The empirical thing to do is observe whether they behave in an irrational manner when “on the job.” If so, that’s a good reason not to elect them. If not, judging them on how they spend ther spare time leans more towards bigotry.

      In this respect Romney is no different than Kennedy, who famously got the same sorts of questions thrown at him.

      I don’t ask for ideological purity in a candidate. Or 24/7 rationality. What I ask for is that they keep their personal hobbies separate from their day job. If they can competently do that, I’m probably not going to base my vote on my opinion of said hobby.

  13. “You have no choice about your ethnicity or gender, but you do have a choice about your religion”

    [Citation Needed]

    There’s not a chance in hell (pun intended) I could be anything other than atheist, I can’t believe that codswallop.

    Maybe it’s just not a choice between belief / not belief, in which case there is some choice in religion, but it may be limited depending on the degree of the belief.

    1. What is Zeus appeared and performed a series of otherwise inexplicable miracles? I would believe in Zeus if that happened. My beliefs are provisional and responsive to evidence.

    2. I too am troubled by the common ‘choice’ as the defining characteristic of what can be criticized. Your atheist example is valid, as well, I believe, the person who feels compelled to be religious.

      People are predisposed to alcoholism, is that a choice? What about pedophilia?

      Being emotionally unstable may not be a choice but it’s still a damned good reason to not vote for them.

  14. Beyond the fact that beliefs are changeable, they are also rationally and empirically evaluable. Beliefs can be false. We have no idea which Mormon doctrines Romney believes or doesn’t believe since he is loathe to talk about it publicly, but he still chooses to affiliate himself with a religion that professes myriad false beliefs, such as that the Native Americans are descended from ancient Israelites. Other candidates such as Perry, Cain, Santorum, and Bachmann, are all too willing to display their false beliefs to the world. All of this is evaluable, and to do so is rational inquiry not bigotry.

    1. One of the more ridiculous aspects of this entire enterprise is that one group of religious nutballs is criticizing another group of religious nutballs for not being mainstream enough.

      Every belief set of a given religious group is more or less wacky, but some are really outside the bell-curve. Membership in these groups is overwhelmingly voluntary (at least referring to adults). If a person is a voluntary member of a group, it’s perfectly fair to make conclusions about what that membership means, and whether the membership is predictive of action.

      1. My uncle (who is, perhaps ironically, a civil rights attorney) likes to say that the only difference between a cult and a mainstream religious is how old it is. Mormonism is still on the cusp.

  15. It’ll depend on how benign his mormonism is. I guess the problem with any religion/superstition is that it sets up an alternate model for reality to those that hold them. So if his mormonism is really benign then on most issues, his way of assessing situations hopefully overlaps with actual reality. lol.

    1. My religion asserts that James Fallows is an alien demon sent from the planet Zaldon to steal our souls. Don’t you dare be biased against me!

    2. Another question I ask religious people to which I’ve never received a straight answer: Why is it that when someone does it to you it’s discrimination, but when you do it to someone else it’s exercising your religious freedom? L

  16. “Doesn’t Fallows realize that someone’s embrace of a superstition like Mormonism is not the same as their being a black, a Latino, or a woman? You have no choice about your ethnicity or gender, but you do have a choice about your religion. “

    Well, given that you don’t believe in free will, is that really true? 🙂

    Even so, religion is only a choice to a certain degree because it is something we mostly get from our parents. And early inculcation is very resistant to change. So I’m rather reluctant to bandy about the idea that it is a choice as a defense against criticism of religion. Whether it is a choice is irrelevant to whether one can criticize it. I can criticize a murderer as being dangerous, for instance, regardless of whether such a person is created through nature or nurture.

  17. I wasn’t particularly opposed to Francis Collins’s being named as director of the National Institutes of Health (though I was worried about what he might do with stuff like stem-cell research), for it’s hard to impose religious views on science itself.

    What? Don’t back off now, Jerry, you pretty much were leading the campaign against the guy! I don’t remember much about “his science will be fine, he has a long record of doing good science and not letting his faith interfere with it” coming from you — statements like those are what Collins’s supporters, like Ayala and (IIRC) Shermer said, and which you criticized.

    1. I’ve been chewing over what I think of Obama’s picking Francis Collins as head of the National Institutes of Health. (See the New York Times piece here, which includes some reactions by other scientists.) I guess my first reaction would be to give the guy a break, and take a wait-and-see attitude towards his stewardship of the NIH. After all, he doesn’t seem to have let his superstition get in the way of his other administrative tasks, and he doesn’t seem to be the vindictive type, either. (I do have an NIH grant!) I won’t grouse too much about this, but do want to emphasize again that the guy is deeply, deeply superstitious, to the point where, on his website BioLogos and his book The Language of God, he lets his faith contaminate his scientific views. So I can’t help but be a bit worried.


      Jerry’s evaluation clearly changed after evaluating the evidence of his appointment. So, yes, Jerry very clearly from day 1 proclaimed that he wasn’t opposed to the nomination and that Collins should get the benefit of the doubt. Yet, the fact that Jerry wasn’t opposed to the appointment doesn’t mean that Jerry couldn’t strongly criticize Collins’ performance. I’m not seeing any scintilla of a contradiction here. Do you still see one after reviewing the history?

  18. I think it quite possible that Fallows will backtrack a bit. While I may be projecting here, I think he was objecting more to the “bigotry” of religious people who won’t consider candidates of other faiths simply because they belong to other faiths. Like everyone here, I’m not sure that this qualifies as bigotry per se, but I certainly do think it is necessary to criticize dogmatic opposition to other faiths. Our opposition to faith is reasoned, not dogmatic (naturally). I would oppose dogmatic pronouncements on any topic, even if they happened to agree with my own conclusions. How we arrive an answer is at least as important as what the answer is.

  19. “You have no choice about your ethnicity or gender, but you do have a choice about your religion.”

    Would this choice then be an example of free will?

  20. Does it really make a difference whether or not one’s religion is a choice? To me, the crucial point is that someone who seriously believes in Mormonism is in a way insane (or pathologically gullible if you prefer). Is it bigoted not to want insane people to become President of the Unites States?

  21. It is irrational for someone to refuse to vote for a candidate on the basis of a characteristic that could have no effect on the candidate’s performance in office (even where the characteristic is itself irrational, as in religious belief). But should every stray prejudice earn one the epithet “bigot”? I would reserve that label — with its strongly pejorative connotation – for irrational prejudices toward immutable characteristics, i.e., those that are genetically determined or for which there is a strong genetic predisposition — race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation.

    There are a large number of other characteristics that, while they bear a strong correlation for parent and child (some then lasting unto the child’s adulthood) but which are not genetically determined or even predisposed. These characteristics run a broad gamut, from dietary preferences to favorite sports teams to political party affiliation to religion. (In the case of religion, there appears to be, at most, a possible genetic predisposition toward religiosity/non-religiosity; there is no genetic link to particular religious beliefs.) Such characteristics are, instead, learned — passed along during childhood acculturation, strongly woven into the family dynamic, usually beginning before a child’s critical-thinking faculties have been developed.

    Again, where these characteristics would have no bearing at all on an office holder’s job performance, basing a voting preference on them would appear to be irrational (though query, in the case of religious beliefs or other ideologies, whether some tenets of belief might so clearly require an abandonment of reason so as never to be completely irrelevant to the consideration of a person’s fitness for public office). Shall we ipso facto label as a bigot anyone raising concerns over the fitness for office of a Moonie or Scientologist? How about an astrologer or voodoo priestess? Apparently so, if your name is James Fallows.

  22. “You have no choice about your ethnicity or gender, but you do have a choice about your religion. ”

    I’ve seen this argument before, and I think it misses the mark a bit. If you could pick your skin color, so what if you did pick black? Most people didn’t choose their religion either; they have the religion they were raised with and indoctrinated in. Biggest determining factors in determining an individual’s religion: Who their parents are and where they were born.

    They key is that if someone is black or a woman, that doesn’t really tell us anything about them, their world view or what they may believe in, and thus we have no real ability to make conclusions about that person based on their ethnicity or gender. If someone professes to be of a certain religion, we can infer certain beliefs and moral values that person likely has. In the case of ethnicity and gender, you’d be pre-judging those people in the absence of facts, but in the case of the person of religious confession, information has been provided to you by that person, as in they are Catholic, and thus likely to be opposed to abortion.

    (I’m being lazy and not reading all the comments first, so apologies if this has already been covered.)

  23. “It is irrational for someone to refuse to vote for a candidate on the basis of a characteristic that could have no effect on the candidate’s performance in office”

    How on earth is it irrational? Could? It Could also have an effect. If I think someone doesn’t think straight because they believe incredibly nonsensical things, I think that’s a damn good reason not to vote for them.

  24. I think the major difference between opposing a candidate based on his religion and opposing him based on his ethnicity/gender is not that a person can change the former but not the latter — for instance, consider a candidate who is mentally handicapped or seriously ill. These are not things he can change, but they are still relevant to his job performance. The reason opposing a candidate for his ethnicity/gender is bigotry is because those factors are irrelevant to the job. On the other hand, a person’s beliefs — religious beliefs included — are very relevant.

    I’ve written more about this here.

  25. Another take: blame the disease (religion), not the infected (its members)… unless they’re like Typhoid Mary, spreading the mental toxins far and wide. (Like Romney, in his current incarnation.)

  26. I believe any prejudice based on some kind of arbitrarily allocated trait should be considered as bigotry. (After all, there are so many reasons to dislike people on an individual basis.)

    I also get so aggravated at how people treat Mormons. How much more “out there” is the Mormon faith from other faiths?

    Also, this country guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. What is more concerning to me is how many candidates (and voters) seem to think faith should be central to our government.

Leave a Reply