There’s a lot of indignation about Bruce Gorton’s guest post about faitheists. People have been badgering Paul Fidalgo about it on Twitter merely because he linked to it in the Morning Heresy – he linked to it, he didn’t endorse it. James Croft has a long post on it. Vlad Chituc challenged me on it via Twitter, and we ended up having a decent discussion.
The indignation is about the claim that Chris Stedman “holds a degree of the basic unconscious racism that I find common in a lot of these arguments over religion.”
Part of the problem is just that people translated that into “Chris Stedman is a racist.”
Look closely at the two and you’ll see the difference. I pointed that out to Vlad yesterday, and I also pointed out that it’s pretty common to be told that one holds a degree of unconscious racism; he didn’t fully agree but he did at least see my point, which is how we ended up having a decent discussion.
So that’s one thing. It’s just the basic idea that no one is free of unconscious racism and other biases, or at least that it’s not safe to assume that anyone is. The charge can be annoying, certainly, but it’s not the same as just “you are a racist.”
So what about the merits? Bruce went on, first quoting Stedman:
“But how can we discount the role religious beliefs played in motivating the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?”
Why do I say this is unconsciously racist? Gandhi and MLK Jnr were both fighting against social injustices they personally suffered – and they were fighting shoulder to shoulder with atheists to achieve it.
I do not think religion was the motivating factor behind Martin Luther King Jnr, I think not wanting an America where the colour of his skin relegated him to third class status had a lot more to do with it. I do not think religion motivated Mahatma Gandhi, I think desiring an India free from colonial rule had a lot more to do with it.
I think that’s right. I also think it’s possible to find moral support and encouragement and so on from a selective use of religion – obviously King was not “motivated” by the same religion that “motivated” the white supremacists – but that’s not the same as being motivated by religion in general. I think Bruce is right that the real motivations for social justice campaigns like those of Gandhi and King are moral and thus secular. They are not rooted in ideas about obedience to God; they are rooted in ideas about equal treatment among human beings on planet Earth.
I think the idea of unconscious racism has to do with making special rules for other races, and that that’s patronizing and thus racist.
I think I’ve often found that idea somewhat persuasive, but I think I was probably wrong. I think what’s really going on is people trying to correct for their own privilege, and it seems pretty perverse to call that racist. I think the idea is, “it’s easy for me to give up religion, because I’m not shut out of nearly everything else, but it’s not so easy for people who are shut out of nearly everything else. That makes me hesitant about trying to talk them out of religion.”
See what I mean?
I could develop it more, but I’ll let you do the work.