Growing up Irish Catholic in the 1950’s and ’60’s in a predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant area of New England meant dealing with prejudice. My mother remembers the hostility of other children, which they learned from their parents. Prejudice has long been a mainstream concern, and it will be a big issue for many years to come.
We’ve elected a president known for unabashedly saying bigoted things about women and minorities. Progressives wonder how they can change people’s hearts and minds. Though I’m disappointed in Donald Trump’s election as president, I think progressives are looking in the wrong place.
Most of us don’t recognize our own prejudices, and even become angry when someone points it out. I have deeply held moral beliefs, one might object, and if you can’t see that then you must not be a good person.
Bigotry is often moralistic. Mexicans are sending rapists into this country, so we have a moral duty to stop them. At least according to soon-to-be President Trump. But if you don’t believe the worst about Mexicans then it’s obvious why such a statement is not the moral position it claims to be.
Devout Catholics were offended by the Wikileaks revelation that Sandy Newman from Voices for Progress emailed Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta calling for a “Catholic Spring”—a liberal revolution within the Catholic Church. Newman characterized Catholics as “backwards,” and the church as stuck in middle ages.
As an atheist who left the Catholic church 20 years ago, I’m well aware of the derogatory things atheists say when among like-minded peers. Until a few years ago, I participated in this. It’s alleged that Catholics are not really motivated by moral beliefs, but by a hateful desire to oppress women. So, one cannot call Newman’s statements prejudiced.
And Lena Dunham recently caused a stir when she advocated for the extinction of white males. In a tweet she clarified (some might say backpedaled) that, “It’s not the end of men, it’s the evolution of men into better men.”
Many progressives truly don’t believe that such statements are sexist, or that it’s patronizing to say that a group you don’t belong to needs to evolve. Men are not oppressed, but misogyny is institutionalized, so it’s incorrect to call Dunham’s statements bigoted.
But if you don’t believe the worst about Catholics or about men, then these statements don’t look like the moral positions they claim to be.
An alternative viewpoint is that prejudice, hate and bigotry are wrong as a matter of principle. It doesn’t matter who you are or whom you are talking about. It doesn’t matter if one group is oppressed and another group is not—or even if a group is oppressing others. This is not a zero sum game, and there are no excuses for hate and bigotry.
There’s also the issue of boundaries. A non-Catholic is not entitled to say what Catholics should do with their own church, just as Catholics are not entitled to advocate for laws requiring non-Catholics to follow the church’s moral doctrines. In the same way, what kind of man or woman you strive to be is up to you.
My mother doesn’t think much has changed in New England since the 1950’s. Back then, anti-Catholic prejudice was cultural (Anglo-Saxon Protestant.) Today it’s political (liberal, progressive.) One is descended from the other—often in the literal sense of parents and children. The reality of anti-Catholic attitudes was unacknowledged in 1950’s. And today’s left wing anti-Christian sentiment, like the misandry of Lena Dunham’s statement, is also unacknowledged.
But conservatives see this, and that’s why progressive preaching falls on deaf ears.
As a boy in the 1980’s, I attended a conservative evangelical school (there was no Catholic school in my town.) There I saw a quest for ideological purity, including ever more subtle insights into pop culture’s immoral agenda. It was fueled by moralism and denunciations of believers who seemed to fall short, or who sought to inject nuance into the conversation. Among social justice activists today I see the same phenomenon. But this approach is fueling, not counteracting, prejudice.
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