What Is Religious Bigotry?

Listen up, people. It’s not often Chiefy admits he was wrong.

A short time ago, I responded to a Facebook post about Bernie Sander’s “no” vote on a Trump appointee, Russell Vought. The post claimed that Sanders voted as he did because he is biased against Christians, and I disagreed. I defended Sanders’ position. Now, after having seen more video of the hearing, and hearing some other points of view, I have changed my mind. What Sanders said displayed his bias against evangelical Christians.

The statement that Sanders objected to was this: Vought said that Muslims “do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” In the confirmation hearing, Sanders said, “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.” (from The Atlantic)

I agree with Sanders that it was a hateful statement. It is also true that many Muslims say similarly hateful things about Christians, but that is beside the point. The Friendly Atheist was correct to say, “The question Sanders should’ve asked is whether Vought’s beliefs about non-Christian people would ever influence his treatment of them under the law.” (Emphasis in original.) How Vought feels about Muslims and their standing with the Christian god is irrelevant. Will he let his theological stance influence his policies? Perhaps, but this was not established during the hearing. To determine that, one would have to examine Vought’s past actions, not merely theological statements, for signs of bigotry.

I happen to believe that people’s values and their judgments of others have an influence on their behavior. Still, we can’t judge future behavior based only on a person’s expression of beliefs, the same way we can’t convict a person for thinking about committing a crime. One is presumed innocent until proven guilty. We can legislate penalties for hate crimes and other bigoted behavior, but we can’t rule bigotry out of existence.

Bottom line: Sanders pointed out a kind of religious bigotry that is integral to evangelical Christianity (and numerous other religions), but he did not establish any valid reason to vote against Vought’s approval. Therefore, his vote betrayed a bigotry of his own. As for my previous opinion, I apologize if I led anyone astray. I will try harder to judge individuals based on their actions rather than their statements of belief.

Title image credit: Washington Post.

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