Random Rantings

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ignorant Bystanders

Why the Christian Right is winning, and what to do about it

When one studies bullying, and effective strategies to put a stop to bullying behavior, special focus is given not to the bully and the victim, but to the bystanders. There are many bystanders, who witness the interchange between bully and victim, and may even witness physical violence, but take no action to intervene or get help. The effective strategy to end bullying is empowering those bystanders to take action. The bystanders must be taught that not only is bullying wrong, but that they have the power to stop it. If one bystander was to go get help from an authority – that is one way to stop it. But also, the action of one bystander standing up and speaking publicly, “No! You will not do this, it is wrong.” may stop the bully cold. Especially if, encouraged by the single bystander, other bystanders also stand up and agree - the bully gets the clear message that his/her actions will not be tolerated. When bystanders do nothing, they in effect condone the bully’s actions, even if the bystander personally disagrees with the bully.

The key to ending bullying is to make sure that the bystanders – the witnesses to the actions of the bully – know that the bully is wrong, and feel comfortable taking action either against the bully, or to support the victim. In the case of the Christian Right, the bullies and victims are less clear. This is certainly not to say that there are no bullies and no victims – but because everyone defines this differently, I will not try to defend a particular point of view, since it is not necessary to my argument. (My personal opinion – some of the Christian Right are clearly bullies, and I think others act like the bullies but don’t really mean to… and everyone is a victim, even if they refuse to claim that status.) What is clear is that a vast majority of the American populace are bystanders.

Now – why did I title this piece “Ignorant Bystanders”? Because I feel that the reason that the vast majority of our population are bystanders is because the majority are ignorant. Please, please, please, do not equate ignorance with stupid! I think that, generally speaking, people are intelligent. Ignorant, however, means unaware or uninformed, lacking information on a subject. I believe that a majority of people in our country have never been exposed to study of comparative religion. I believe that some have not studied civics, or how our country came into being and how it is run, and many more have had poor general instruction in History. I believe that many have never found themselves being in a minority position, and therefore find it hard to empathize with someone struggling to have their voice heard.

Ignorance I have personally witnessed:
-College graduates who have never heard of the Holocaust, or McCarthyism
-A college student who made the claim that it was okay if women were paid less than men, because they will just quit their jobs to go have children. I questioned this young man about why he believed this, and found that he believed it was a fact that an infant would die if it was not breastfed by its own mother – and therefore he held the belief that it was a necessity for all women to quit their jobs to care for their infants – for the simple reason of keeping the child alive.
-A group of adults who believed that all religions (except pagan religions and native cultures) worshipped Jesus Christ, regardless of the details of the religion. For example, Jews call Jesus “Adonai” and Hanukkah is the name of the Jewish holiday to celebrate Jesus’ birth, Ganesh, or Shiva, are two of many ways Hindus say Jesus, Allah is the same as Jesus, same with Confucius and Buddha (though some argued that Confucius and Buddha were images of the Holy Ghost seen among the lands after Christ’s resurrection)…

This ignorance allows people to take on the assumption that the “majority rules” is okay in every situation, mostly because they cannot conceive of any situation where someone would logically disagree with them. Taking the example from above, if everyone believes in Jesus, then why would someone ever get upset with public acknowledgement of god? Is it because they want to hear the minority name of Jesus that their tradition uses? Why can’t they just be happy that it’s all the same, and we use Jesus instead of whatever name they use?

The lack of knowledge of religious diversity, coupled with the lack of experience of being a minority allows people to be comfortable with “majority rules”. Lack of knowledge of historical events where minorities were persecuted also means that people do not know the danger of “difference”. I believe that because of ignorance, people are comfortable with the Christian Right. They do not see a difference between their worldview and the dominionist worldview. Because the superficial values are the same, people who have not deeply examined the iceberg that is the Religious Right come to believe that everything else the Right believes they happen to agree too. They also do not see how the dominionist worldview could possibly harm anyone, because they themselves are not upset by what they have seen of it.

The way to combat the Religious Right is through awareness and education.

I have found that talking with others about why I believe, or don’t believe, in an issue is a great education for others (and of course, the same is true in reverse). The neighbor who doesn’t see a problem with sectarian prayer in school may in fact not understand that your child would be uncomfortable, and if they found that out, might change their position. In one of my comments to a previous diary entry by dogemperor, I stated that I had met someone who did not know that birth control pills could be used for the treatment of a medical condition. “That changes everything,” was the response when I explained that prescriptions can often be used for treating more than what they were invented to treat.

We must make sure that Americans all understand the existence of difference; different cultures, religions, and that ultimately, every religion is a minority, because there are so many that no one is really a majority.

Educate people about how and why our country was started – first by debunking the “Christian Nation” myth, second by making sure people understand the rights of minority voices to be heard and respected, and how those rights were codified in our country’s legislation.

Empathy for minority groups must be taught – yes, in a democracy often majority rules, but the majority has a responsibility to respect the minorities in their midst. Tolerance and respect must be our highest values.

And ultimately, we must energize the bystanders to notice the danger and to stand up against it.

We do this by not being afraid to stand up for ourselves. We do this by standing up for others when we get the chance. We do this by challenging the assumptions and beliefs of others when faced with those who “don’t get it”.

The Religious Right started out small – effecting change in small corners of the world – until the movement grew and kept growing to what we know today. We need to do the same thing. Start small. Talk to your neighbors. Create tolerance and respect in your own community. Just as the dominionists said – it might take a generation raised in our culture and with our beliefs to rise up and change the world… We can do the same thing – and I believe we won’t have to wait a generation. Our beliefs don’t need to be indoctrinated into children to have them survive. Thinking, rational adults can come to understand if they are given all the information.

Let’s fight the ignorance and beat the bullies!



Cross-posted at www.Talk2Action.org

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