Friday, June 12, 2009

Tolerance and contempt

I think most people would not find it odd that I have complete contempt for racism and racists. My contempt is not eliminationist: I don't want racists to die, but I do demand that they change. My contempt is complete not in that I think racists are completely bad, but that I'm simply unwilling to accept, tolerate or accommodate any excuses whatsoever. Were you raised from birth to be a racist? Damn tough for you to change, I get it, but too bad: you have to change, and it's your fundamentally responsibility to find a way. What am I supposed to say? "Oh, you were raised by fucked up white supremacists, so it's okay for you to hate black people." Hardly.

My contempt for religion is on a par with my contempt for racism. Religion is just as wrong as racism, and for the same sorts of reasons: religion, like racism, depends on false assertions about the world of objective reality, and religion, like racism, is fundamentally harmful to others. I realize we live in a religious culture, just as people a hundred years ago lived in a racist culture, but that doesn't make religion any more acceptable or tolerable now than it made racism tolerable then. I realize that it's hard for some people to adopt a skeptical, realistic attitude towards the world, but too bad: you have to change, and it's your responsibility to change.

No one ever changed his views because those views were tolerated or accommodated by his community, society and culture. The only way I can even try to influence your views is by expressing my contempt for some and my approval of others. It's not very effective on an individual level, but when the contempt starts to permeate the entire society, things do change. We haven't eliminated racism, misogyny, anti-semitism and other such evils of opinion, but we have definitely made them far less socially acceptable and far more marginalized. And we have done so not by accommodating these views, but by expressing our contempt, disdain and ridicule, and by refusing excuses or evasions.

Religion is like racism a choice, a choice driven not by honest intellectual or scientific study, not by personal talent and inclination, but entirely by moral and ethical opinion. If you can move around in the world, you can think skeptically and scientifically, to the extent that you choose to do so. If you do not, in one area of thought or many, the failure is not of ability to be corrected by education, but rather a moral failure, to be corrected by contempt.

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