28 May 2014
Prejudice, To The Letter
Last night, I was having dinner with two friends and a friend of theirs—who, as it turns out, is a neighbor of mine. We’re all artists and teachers of one kind or another so, as you can imagine, topics of our conversation included writers and writing, education and politics.
The friends are a couple; I met them in the church I’ve been attending. Their friend—a nice straight woman who grew up Roman Catholic—is not religious but seems to be a theist of some sort.
Anyway, at one point, the conversation turned to the influence of religion in politics and what that’s meant for us. One of the couple mentioned Michelle Bachmann, and talked about how she’s emblematic of what’s corrupting both education and politics: She, like some other politicians and others working behind-the-scenes, attended fundamentalist Christian colleges and law schools. “They want to run this country according to their version of Biblical law,” my friend exclaimed.
Of course, any time anyone tries to run anything according to the letter of any sort of scripture—religious or secular—said scripture is filtered through the mind of whoever is interpreting it. We all have prejudices, but I am coming to realize that’s not the real problem of trying to run a country according to Mosaic or Sharia or whatever kind of law. Instead, the real danger comes when someone tries to use a text—whether it’s the Bible or the Constitution or the Communist Manifesto—to support a particular agenda that has little or nothing to do with the text itself.
Here’s an example of what I mean: Many well-intentioned people harbor unconscious prejudices against people whose races, nationalities, gender identities and expressions, beliefs or sexuality differ from their own. Most of us learn those prejudices long before we learn even the words for them, let alone the intellectual tools to take those biases apart. Being aware of, and fighting, them is all we can do. On the other hand, some people will try to institutionalize those prejudices, whether through Biblical rationales for slavery or Koranic (Is that the proper word?) justifications for killing infidels—or using some interpretation of the Talmud as a basis for isolating themselves and their fellow believers from everyone else.
Essentially, Michelle Bachmann and her ilk are among those who are trying to use the Bible as a legal basis for discriminating against LGBT people. What’s even worse, though, is that people like her have joined forces with lawyers and politician whose legal education is based mainly on property rights (or, again, someone’s notion of them) as well as laws and interpretations of laws designed to allow very wealthy people to gamble with what little people poorer than themselves have.
Why is the situation I’ve described so dangerous? Well, making this country into a fundamentalist (again, according to someone’s interpretation) Christian state can leave us disenfranchised: Enforcing bans on same-sex marriage, and repealing laws that allow it in some states, will be just the beginning. Call me paranoid, but I can imagine someone creating a “heterosexuality test” or some determination of how closely someone conforms to accepted notions of gender identity and expression. What will happen if such tests are used to determine whether someone can vote or get a job, loan or place to live?
Such a test might be devised by Bachmann’s husband, a “psychotherapist” who practices “conversion therapy.”