Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mean-Spiritedness Against Religion

I read a review of Rick Gervais' movie The Invention of Lying in which Gervais was accused of being “mean spirited” for the way in which he portrayed religion as, perhaps, the biggest lie of all.

Ironically, it is a movie set in a world where people are incapable of lying. It is a world in which people are incapable of committing even the 'white lies' such as denying that those shoes "make you look foot" or that a person’s beliefs springing from holy scripture are utter nonsense.

(See, The New York Post, Rick Gervais: Holy Terror)

This happens far too often. When somebody presents this particular perspective on religion we are told that they must shut up because it is unkind or 'mean-spirited'. We have an obligation to lie about religion – or at least to hide the facts – in order to keep others from feeling bad.

Yet, a large portion of those whose sensitive feelings must be spared from having their feelings hurt in this way have absolutely no problem using their beliefs to justify the harsh treatment of others – treatment that goes far beyond mean-spirited.

If we are going to discuss mean-spiritedness, then let us also discuss the mean-spiritedness of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures that aim to prevent homosexuals from getting married. Let us add the lies that this somehow represents a threat to heterosexual marriage, and the lie that permitting homosexuality is morally identical to permitting child rape.

Weigh the meanness of telling a Christian that his religious beliefs are absurd against the meanness of promoting hate-filled lies about homosexuals for the purpose of denying them through law something that, for many, would be of great personal value and harmful to nobody.

If we are going to discuss mean-spiritedness, then let us also discuss the mean-spiritedness of insisting that children be indoctrinated with the message that atheism is not compatible with patriotism. Let us discuss the mean spiritedness of insisting that the nation's money and its public buildings – including its schools – be adorned with the message, "If you do not trust in God then you are not one of us." Let us talk about a Pledge of Allegiance that equates atheism with rebellion, tyranny, and injustice as one of the four great anti-Americanisms.

And let us talk about the mean-spiritedness of beginning sessions of civil government where all citizens have a right to be seen as equal before that government with a ceremony that says that Christian citizens are superior to all the rest. When government sessions start with a prayer "in Jesus' name" this is nothing less than an example of the government officially beginning its session with a declaration that, "The Christian religion is the one true religion, and all of the rest of you are idiots and fools."

If we are going to discuss mean-spiritedness, then let us discuss all of this manufactured hate, based on lies that we have seen at Town Meetings across the country. It is one thing to have honest concerns about a policy. It is quite another to eagerly embrace fictions and to react to them with hostility and, in some cases, guns and threats of violence. These threats take "mean-spiritedness" to a whole new level.

Here, we come to the willingness to believe those lies. The type of person who is receptive to hate-mongering lies is the type of person who has already embraced hate, and who is merely looking for an excuse to give it the illusion of legitimacy. The willingness of the religious right to accept lies about Obama or his policies or homosexuals or atheists shows that these people already embrace hate – they hunger for it – and leap on any lie that might be offered to them as a way of adding fuel to their hate and then basking in the warm feeling it gives them.

If we are going to discuss mean-spiritedness, then let us discuss the emails sent around that contain vicious attacks against the neighbors and co-workers of those who are reading it. Some of them attack people sacrificed their lives and well-being for this country to leave.

For example, when my father – a career member of the United States Air Force until he was discharged with total disability due to injuries sustained in the crash of an Air Force transport plane – attended a government-run ceremony honoring American’s veterans. At the ceremony, a speaker read one of these emails that the religious right likes to circulate in which those who do not believe in God were told to exercise their right to leave the country.

And the crowd cheered.

A crowd whose mean-spiritedness was far and away worse than that which can be found in The Invention of Lying.

If we are going to discuss mean-spiritedness, then let us discuss the mean-spiritedness of distributing books on campus, giving public sermons, and creating movies that claim that people who believe in evolution are the cause of the Holocaust. Let us ignore the fact that the Nazis did not practice natural selection at all (which leaves it up to nature to decide who lives and who dies), but instead practiced artificial selection – the art of farmers and herders for thousands of years.

And let us discuss the mean-spiritedness of politicians claiming that only somebody who believes in God is fit to run the country, and political advertisements that declare that the charge of atheism is sufficient reason not to vote for somebody.

Protesting these things is actually not mean-spirited at all. It is an act of concern for the victims of mean-spiritedness.

There is no sense in claiming that mean-spiritedness needs protection whenever it is motivated by religious beliefs, and that only non-religiously motivated mean-spiritedness deserves oru criticism.

And even the charge that the movie is mean-spirited is a lie. In the movie, the invention of religion as an act of great kindness – as the act of a loving son who wants to ease the suffering of a dying and frightened mother. That, to me, does not sound like the act of a mean-spirited individual.


anton said...

I am sorry that your father experienced Christian hatred, especially after his personal sacrifice.

I was called "mean spirited" this past weekend when I reminded a Catholic, when she was extolling the greatness of Vatican City which she had recently visited, that she should take into consideration that there are no extradition treaties with Vatican City. She didn't see why that was such a point until I reminded her that more than 2,000 residents of Vatican City are pedophile priests who were granted "sanction" in the holy city on condition that they perform the "maintenance". Hence, Vatican City is spotless thanks to the pedophile priests. Visiting Bishops and Cardinals are fed well, their beds are made and maybe they even find someone willing to warm up the sheets for them.

Sabio Lantz said...

Maybe the following differentiation is useful of two types of "mean-spirited" criticisms:

(1) Generalized, unfocused criticism of religion (which you have written against)

(2) Rightful focused criticism

shirker said...

I think I get it now:

Not mean-spirited: "You deserve to burn in hell and be tortured for eternity."

Mean-spirited: "Your beliefs are silly."