Understanding Bigotry in Religion and Respecting Individual Beliefs

Accusations of bigotry have become so commonplace in the realm of faith that it is nearly impossible for the casual observer to recognize true bigotry. The American Heritage Dictionary simply describes bigotry as intolerance. In matters of faith, then, bigotry would merely be the behaviors of an individual that reveal an obvious lack of tolerance for another's beliefs and practices. Yet despite this meaning for the term, individuals accuse others of bigotry while facing the utmost of respect. How can we tell bigotry from a mere discussion of differences in belief? How do we discard our own bigotry when confronted with differences in opinion?

The Problem with Evidence

Bigotry is fairly easy to recognize in areas such as politics, science, and any topic in which evidence for a theory or decision exists. In such cases, the bigot refuses not only to personally believe in the alternate view point despite unquestionable evidence against it, but also takes the stance that the supported view is wrong. However, bigotry in matters of faith is considerably more difficult to recognize. Is the man whose faith requires him to believe that his religious path is the right and only way a bigot for believing that others' paths are wrong? In terms of religious paths, we have no means to provide concrete evidence that one religion is right above all others. That applies to the others' paths over that of the man's. One is not a bigot simply for holding true to his or her faith.

The following example further demonstrates the difficulty in providing evidence in matters of faith. Two siblings with the same religious upbringing reach adulthood to find they have drawn opposing conclusions in matters of deity. Both siblings were raised to believe in a single, male God. One grew to understand God as a balanced entity of two polar forces: male and female or God and Goddess. The other grew to understand God as non-existent. The two siblings' "evidence" for their conclusions are completely identical. What proves intelligent design to one proves the lack of any intelligence to the other. When it comes to faith, then, evidence is completely a matter of individual perspective.

Example 1: Beyond Bigotry

So if simply believing that others' beliefs are wrong and recognizing only one conclusion to a piece of evidence are not examples of bigotry, then what is an example? Usually the first stereotype to enter one's mind is the fanatical, evangelist of one of several Christian denominations. When we focus on the "fanatical" aspect of this stereotype, such individuals can certainly be found within such a crowd of any religion.

These individuals do not simply believe that others are wrong; they make a large show of saying so while openly criticizing what they consider "faulty" interpretations from "evidence" of their beliefs. Sometimes such fanatics can become extremist and cause verbal and even physical damage to property and persons. Generally, the actions of extremists will completely contradict the beliefs that they claim to be defending and cannot be counted as representatives of the faiths they claim.

Example 2: Quick to Judge

Another example of bigotry is less recognizable. These are the individuals who are confronted with outside beliefs regarding their faith and instantly assume it to be an act of bigotry. The accusations are often incorrect and demonstrate bigotry on the part of the accuser instead. For example, within modern-day Pagan faiths individuals are constantly confronted with opposition to their beliefs. Some of this opposition is indeed bigoted with the unfortunate result of meeting such bigotry with more bigotry. Other times, the view presented is merely a matter of describing one's beliefs and nothing more. Despite this, many Pagans will accuse any opposing views to theirs as bigotry.

A prime example: Wicca is a faith commonly warned against by Christians. Some very respectable Christian organizations will provide rather accurate details about Wicca. Afterward, they will present their views on Wiccan beliefs and practices and how their religious beliefs relate. No hate, no accusations of anyone being wrong, and no bigotry. The information presented is merely an honest comparison of beliefs with the occasional suggestion for Wiccans to consider and question their beliefs and nothing more.

However, some individuals who are or associate with Wicca will see the well-meaning words of these Christian groups as an attack and call the authors bigots. Clearly, the only bigot in such a scenario is the one who cannot see past his or her personal views to recognize the true nature of the words laid out before them.

A Solution

You do not have to share beliefs to be tolerant of the beliefs of others. Respecting individual beliefs is not about believing everyone's beliefs are right. Respecting one's beliefs is about acknowledging that different views exists and that is okay. Respecting others' beliefs requires only that we do not cast judgment, cause harm, or try to force our views upon each other. Expressing concerns about another's beliefs alone is not bigotry; refusing to accept that others will see our beliefs in different ways is. If we want to see bigotry in religion go away, we must first stop being bigots ourselves.

© 2011 by Evylyn Rose