Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Informed bigotry versus Ignorant tolerance


Over at "The Reality-Based Community" Mark Kleiman has a post called "Atheistic bigotry" that takes PZ Myers to task for his casual, flippant comment about the "ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed" who surround him. That comment showed up here. To which Kleiman replies:

... if I heard Jerry Falwell claim that all Muslims, without distinction, are "ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed," or heard Osama bin Laden make the same claim about Christians, I'd just nod my head and say, "Yep. Bigots." So I might easily have made the mistake of calling P.Z. Meyers a bigot for saying exactly that about religious believers in general. And that would have hurt his sensitive feelings.

No, it won't hurt PZ's sensitive feelings. If PZ's feelings could be hurt that easily, then PZ would be as easily manipulated as Mark Kleiman into distorted, PC forms of ignorant tolerance.

While I agree with Kleiman that PZ's statement edges itself into being "bigoted," it's a more informed bigotry than Kleiman's tolerance is. If a bigot is just someone who is obstinately devoted to his own opinions, or one who is narrowly or intolerantly devoted to his opinions and prejudices, then the word "bigot" is just a general term that applies to everyone, including Kleiman.

PZ's bigotry is informed because PZ's blog has been documenting the great amounts of ignorance, delusion, wickedness, foolishness and oppression he finds in the news. For example, in just the past few days PZ has posted these items on his blog:

Another liar for Jesus
The great parasite and liar in the sky
Open season on gay men, apparently
Prayer for dummies

Of course, PZ is cherry picking his evidence, just like most of us in the blogosphere, and even PZ's own daughter rebuked us all for getting into this stupid fight. However, we've got more than PZ's cherry picked evidence to go on, we've also got extensive cross-national attitude studies, Gallup Poll data and more. Large groups and majorities believe in a personal God, an afterlife, Bible stories, the Devil, Hell, Heaven and miracles. There is a very low level of scientific literacy about human evolution in America when compared to other developed nations.

So, when Mark Kleiman says:

Religious thought, writing, and speech, at its adult level, is always metaphorical.

He is actually delivering a similar insult to the one PZ does, but this time it's cloaked in the velvet glove of tolerance. Of course, it depends on what "metaphorical" means in this context. Mark Kleiman explains:

"Humans are created in the Image of God," taken literally, is nonsense, if you remember that it is a part of a religious tradition that says that God is an infinite, omniscient, beneficent, immortal being "without parts or passions," which is the opposite of finite, finitely rational, ethically challenged mortal beings with physical bodies and emotional drives.

In other words, Mark Kleiman thinks that people who talk about a literal, personal God are being childish (it's not adult level). This kind of ignorant tolerance is, in some ways, more insulting than informed bigotry because it denies that the "childish beliefs" are of any significance or importance.

7 comments:

The Barefoot Bum said...

"Bigotry" has lost a lot of its rhetorical force; it now seems to signify just "a negative opinion I disagree with."

Kent Kauffman said...

Adults who believe it's all metaphorical aren't really religious, now are they. So, they don't have anything to be upset about.

Nothing solves a xian argument better than the brick testament.

Bob Kowalski said...

I added you to my google reader.

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