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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Religion and ridicule

Tristero has a great retort to the usually astute Kevin Drum's assertion that liberals need to avoid ridiculing Christian right-wingers, who are, after all, using their piety to shield themselves from criticism of their political beliefs and actions. Great points, across the board.
On top of the "what he said" stuff, I have some points I'd like to add.
Kevin likens the religious right to other insider groups who are permitted to mock themselves but cannot be mocked from the outside.

I too find this puzzling. I'm about as nonreligious as you can get, but even I understand the basics of in-group comedy: only blacks get to make fun of blacks, only Jews get to make fun of Jews, and only religious folks get to mock religion. That's both common sense and common courtesy.

Well, it's not polite to mock somebody's deeply held religious beliefs to their face, of course. But I think it's permissible to have humor around religion in situations where it's not right to make racist or sexist jokes. Tristero points out one generally applicable situation--it's fine to mock the hell out of someone, even to his face, who is putting on a false piety to push his political agenda. But there are other situations as well. Many of my friends and I (as well as my sister) have alot of fun making fun of the church and we have a right.
Because being a race or a sex or whatever is something you are, and your religion is something you choose. This cannot be emphasized enough. It's right to respect people's religious differences, just as it's right to respect all differences, particularly those held close to the heart, like religion. I show deference and respect to rabid NASCAR fans but then I make fun of them behind their back. Big deal.
On top of it, religion is not an insider/outsider issue in the same way that race or sex is, because religion is so pervasive that we are insiders to some degree. As an atheist, I'm an outsider by Kevin's standards. But as a baptized Episcopalian, I reserve the right to mock the church I was raised in relentlessly. And since I had to grow up in the part of the country where the Southern Baptists are blending not very well with Mexican Catholics and had to suffer through the Piety Wars that are ongoing there, I reserve the right to make fun of Christians in general. I don't, as a general rule, make fun of other religions, but then again it's not that funny if it's outside your experience.
I remember once in a high school literature class, a teacher was trying to explain the concept of "allusion". For those who don't know, a literary allusion is when a poet or writer alludes to mythology. The teacher said the most common mythological allusions were to Greek mythology and the Bible. When she said this, some students raised hell because the Bible is not "mythology". She tried to explain that "mythology" was a type of literature and the truth of it is not relevant, but they basically whined until she took it back. I reserve the right to mock them for being morons and mock them for having such strident religious beliefs that it turns them into morons.
Outside of overt mockery is the question of, well, questioning. The Christian right is pushing their agenda and then hiding behind their religious beliefs, which is wrong for the reasons Tristero mentions, since they are using religion to push a secular agenda. But they are able to dismiss that argument outright, because all they say is that their religion forbids them to accept secularism. That is, their religious beliefs dictate that they have to convert people to their cause by miseducation, force, whatever it takes. And if you don't let them act out their religious beliefs by letting them force them on others, then you are oppressing their religion. Dig?
Unfortunately, they have forced the issue. Either you turn the government over or you are oppressing their religion. That turning the government over would mean that they oppress everyone else is making an unacceptable secularist argument. They don't believe in equal rights, and forcing it on them is oppression. Really, this is the logic.
Fundamentalists know they are on shaky ground asking that their religion be favored above all others by our government so they have to justify it. The justification is something like this: this is a Judeo-Christian society. There weren't any atheists or Muslims or gays or feminists back when the country was founded so when they created religious freedom they just meant you got to pick which Christian denomination you belong to. And we're open to letting people go to other Christian churches, as long as ours is the official belief put forward by the law.
Why fundamentalism above other religions? Well, because they follow the Bible to the letter.
Tell me that isn't an open invitation to point out the logical inconsistencies in a religious belief that claims superiority because it has no logical inconsistencies. Luckily, there is nothing wrong with attacking somebody's religious beliefs. If there was something wrong with it, there would be no Protestantism, philosophy, or theology. Hell, there wouldn't be Christianity which is basically built on one man's criticisms of Judaism as it existed in his time.
Dingy liberals have mixed up being polite about other people's religious beliefs with criticizing religion. You don't just bust someone's ass at a party or whatever about their religious beliefs. Alot of Christian denomincations don't get this and their members will start trying to convert you, but bad manners in others doesn't mean that you have to have bad manners, so it's best to just sort of weasel out of the situation instead of getting into it.
But you start meddling in politics, saying that your Bible says that the government needs to adhere to your religious beliefs and you have invited others to look at those beliefs and criticize them. Yes, it's good to argue secularlism for its own sake, but I don't have a problem with pointing out that someone is mistaken about their own Bible, where it clearly states that one is to leave unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

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