This is my experience, it is subjective

Regarding intolerant religious people, Richard Heck writes:

Are we entirely sure that religious people do tend to be kinder and more compassionate than secular people? And are we sure of this, especially, when we do not set aside the notable exceptions [WA: e.g. homosexuals]?

I know its The Correct Thing To Say that religious people are intolerant and they are especially towards certain groups. This is the objective social fact of the matter and of course there’s the conclusive proof set out by that bumper sticker: hate isn’t a family value.

Having grown up in a place where the people are moderately religious ((Five churches in a town of 1400 people.)) and then living most of my adult life amongst secular liberal types, my experience, though, is that the latter are relatively more intolerant especially when it comes to the former. At Berkeley, I was washed clean of all my conservative values which in retrospect weren’t any worse than those liberal values that replaced them. Just different.

I wonder if there’s any data on this? I prefer the “revealed preference” kind, though. Secular liberal types tend to put a premium on calling themselves tolerant thus biasing survey answers.

9 thoughts on “This is my experience, it is subjective”

  1. Can you detail your idea of conservatism? I’ve always thought of the liberal/conservative structure as a spectrum without actual content in it. Same thing with tolerance. There’s the “I disagree with you on principle” intolerance and there’s “Your kind should be scoured from the Earth” intolerance. I don’t think the two are equivalent.

    What do Berkeley liberals think about Hindus? Buddhists? Jews? Muslims? Do they hate them outright, or do they point to specific practices (respectively, caste system, subjugation of women, Israeli policies, subjugation of women) that they disagree with?

    Does it work to reverse the question? Why do the overwhelming majority of cross burners (and their ilk) appear to come from religious backgrounds? I could be mistaken, but I’ve never read about a group of gay grad students getting together and dragging a cowboy to death behind their Yugo. I’ve never heard of a group of Atheists burning a, uh, Spongebob effigy in the lawn of a Catholic family.

  2. You’re not claiming those activities correspond to the average behavior of religious types, right? We’re talking about behavior at the center of the distribution not extremes.

    In my home town, an openly gay man lives unmolested except for the occasional raw joke at his expense. Recently, there’s been an huge increase in the Mexican population, too. Again, there’s the occasional racist joke, but overall tolerance. There’s even a Mexican cultural festival every year (I think it comes after the Portuguese and Scandinavian ones).

    In Berkeley, my conservatism (non-liberalism really) was shot down, untolerated. I couldn’t bring up conservative critiques in class; mine wasn’t even considered an acceptable way of looking at the world. Forget about my opinions on abortion or affirmative action, my thoughts on the environment weren’t even tolerated.

    In an environment and business course, the instructor was going on about The Trees. Now I happen to have grown up amongst The Trees and I knew they haven’t, in fact, all been cut down by evil corporations as he was claiming. It turns out even the most evil corporation usually doesn’t have the incentive to cut them all down. To do so would be to reduce present discounted profits. I tried to bring up the fact that environmentalists lobbying for bans on cutting The Trees is actually giving said corporations incentive to cut down them all down. Threatened with the possibility that they won’t be able to cut trees in the future, they have incentive to cut them all down now. The environmentalists’ actions were leading to more trees being cut down, faster.

    This rather mundane point about incentives was boo’d down by the class and I was accused of not doing the reading by the professor. I quit the class soon after.

    Oh, and you read about that brouhaha over the army recruiting station in Berkeley…

    Also, Berkeley is an extreme. My experience with intolerance extends to the South Bay and Davis.

    Now, I’m not saying this intolerance even comes close to the borders of what happened to various races/sexes/etc in the past. I’m relaying my experience in today’s environment with today’s religious and non-religious people.

  3. I’m not saying all conservatives burn crosses. I’m saying that the extremes on that side of the spectrum seem to reach a little further than on the other side. I know what you’re talking about, though; I once had to listen to a 45 minute tirade from someone who felt that the phrase “plain English” was a racial epithet.

    It’s a little difficult to debate this because crushing preferences down to a liberal/conservative spectrum throws away data in at least two or three or ten other important dimensions. A conservative who has swapped strict religious dogma for strict environmentalist dogma (or whatever) still seems to be a conservative, even though the latter is more associated with hippies and bong waving. The whole Birkenstock-wearing hippies vs. bible thumping rednecks dichotomy is too facile to be useful.

    It’s funny that this question came up after the Prop 8 decision. Some business owners who donated to the Prop 8 campaign are finding themselves targeted by boycotts, and they’re complaining about intolerance toward religious people. It strikes me as slightly hypocritical to complain about intolerance when your intolerant viewpoint isn’t fully embraced by the community.

  4. But those supporting homosexual marriage have been intolerant of religious people’s views on marriage. Those four judges that ruled against the earlier proposition banning gay marriage were being intolerant of the views of over 60% of Californians.

    Its almost like “intolerant” means “has views that I disagree with and insists on expressing them” and it really can’t serve as a normative basis because it depends on other normative standards.

    My Berkeley professor, and those students, weren’t wrong because they were intolerant. They were wrong because they were wrong! Their intolerance just made them deaf to my (correct!) argument. So, I don’t think the right dimension to measure tolerance is on the religious/not religious dimension. I think the right dimension is on the ideologue/not-ideologue dimension. Ideologues of all denominations are more intolerant of others’ views.

  5. I apologize beforehand, as it’s late and I’m trying to run out the door on a Friday evening. But a quick philosophical exercise…

    It’s unfair to say that religion = intolerance, as the core values and teachings of religion are [generally] not rooted in intolerance/hate. In fact, from what I can tell it’s quite the opposite. So I don’t know that there is a direct relationship between religion and intolerance.

    That said, I do believe that the institution of religion is more appealing to those that do not enjoy engaging in free/individual thought. Perhaps I’m stretching here, but isn’t it in some way the purpose of institutional religion? I have fairly limited recent exposure, but it seems to me that the church has become, if it was ever anything different, a gathering place for people to be told how and what to think.*

    Additionally, I’d guess that a good majority of the areas where religion has held strong also have very “traditional” social customs and beliefs, if for no other reason than the institution and religion themselves are a traditional custom and belief, respectively. Generally, it is traditional customs and beliefs in combination with the unwillingness to or lack of interest in change that I think are the root of intolerance. One just has to look to our history to see this.

    So if:
    a) institutional religion lends itself to those that do not practice individual thought; and
    b) religion is strongest in areas with traditional customs and beliefs; and
    c) traditional customs and beliefs lead to intolerance;

    Then is it fair to say that, while not a direct connection, there actually some relationship between religion and intolerance?

    Moreover, and to your point about the “liberal classroom think”**, I believe the lack of individual thought, almost by definition, is true of any large organization…including—gasp, sorry Will—education institutions. How many people in school really challenge what is told to them? I’d assume that most just want to be told what to know so that they can do well on the test, graduate and get a job. What’s worse is they then take what is told to them as necessary fact and often take strong opinions/positions in that way: I’m right, even though I’ve never really thought about why or about the possibility that I may not be, and you are wrong/an idiot. There is a great scene in Good Will Hunting about this.

    The same is true in religion. The difference is that the lack of individual thought is much more disturbing when it comes to religion because it is often the basis for people’s “values” and the concept of moral right and wrong.

    Anyway, I’m rambling now and should go. But I, for one, am intolerant of intolerance…which I guess makes me intolerant…and so, intolerant of myself.

    * While I have a lot of respect for spirituality, I don’t believe much of of it goes on within the walls of a church. By this, I mean no offense to those that attend church…I just mean to offend the institution itself.

    ** I think “liberal” is often used to imply someone practicing individual thought. But it very much does not. Case in point, many actors are liberals…and we all know they are so just to be perceived as cool. Same with a lot of liberals…so much so that it has become a term that describes a group that actually often lacks individual thought. So I don’t think this can be a liberal vs conservative discussion.

  6. The faults of mankind make church a breeding ground of intolerance, if that’s what it is. We draw lines between insiders and outsiders. This means its not the church-going that makes people intolerant its the fact that people want to belong to a group and they’re intolerant of outsiders. The more your driven to be an insider the more intolerant you’ll become. But this motivation can express itself in any group and I don’t see what’s special about religion.

    You give a reason church is different — church encourages traditional values and those values lead to intolerance — but you don’t really give support for that claim. In fact, as you mention, much of the doctrine of traditional churches (at least the doctrine lectured on in sermons) is quite the opposite of intolerant.

    I think the attacks on religion are misplaced. Everyone is susceptible, some more than others, to insider-outsiderism. If you got rid of all the churches tomorrow, this would still be a problem. The creepy cult-like thing going on among some Obama supporters is evidence that there’s plenty of good substitutes for religion on this mark.

  7. Not really fair to go after judges for making an unpopular ruling based on its constitutionality; it’s their job. I’m sure desegregation was at least as unpopular at the time. Besides, provision for the minority is the difference between democratic government and mob rule.

    Part of the problem is separating Liberal and Conservative (the American ideological camps) from liberal and conservative (the adjectives). Liberal and liberal aren’t interchangeable, the same way the Republican party doesn’t fight against the Democrats for more representative government.

    I don’t think religious people are especially intolerant. I do think intolerant people are attracted to the formality, rigidity, and acceptance (of insiders) that religion offers. Or maybe it’s something about providing moral absolutes as a chainsaw to cut through nuance and ambiguity.

  8. I’m not questioning their legal ruling. I’m saying it was intolerant.

    Also, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on moral absolutes. Try, to pick a random example, not recycling in Davis. Its like you committed a mortal sin even if the economics (not to mention the environmental impacts) of it are dubious at best.

  9. Like how integrating a school was intolerant of white parents?

    Toss a can in the trash in Davis and you might get funny looks from strangers, or at most, you’ll get called out on it. Compare that to getting caught by your priest sipping orange juice during Ramadan or tucking into a ham sandwich on a Friday during Lent. I’m at a loss to think of moral absolutes unique to agnostics/atheists that carry the same kind of penalties.

    I propose an experiment: stop recycling, and let your neighbors know about it. Take notes detailing the ostracization you experience. Move to a suburb in Kansas. Tell your neighbors that you are an atheist. Take notes detailing the ostracization you experience. Compare notes. Should be easy to come up with appropriate controls for both groups if you want to be proper about it.

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