Those Intolerant Conservative Religious Types…
I work in the digital art industry, so I am often the lone conservative in a sea of born-and-bred liberals. It works out all right, so long as we avoid the topic of politics, which is totally fine with most people. Once, a couple of years ago, I was working in my animator pit, buried deep in the bowels of the building, when I was paged to come to the front lobby. There, I found a small gaggle of co-workers (women, not that it matters) pointing past the plate glass windows to where my car was parked. A gathering of service employees were leaning on my car, waiting for the bus, yucking it up with each other. They were all black. This, it seemed, required my immediate intervention, thus my summons to the front desk. Obviously, some sort of chicanery was afoot, and I was expected to go and shoo them all away.
My car, it should be noted, was (and still is) a late nineties Ford Taurus P.O.S. I wasn’t worried about anything happening to it. I didn’t mind at all that the group had chosen to recline against it. If anything, it was possible that the car would end up cleaner for all that rubbing. I said as much to my collected co-workers. They were insistent, however, that this malicious and potentially volatile loitering needed to be put a stop to. When I made to return to the animator pit, one of my co-workers took matters into her own hands, stepping out the front door to shoo the gathering away. Needless to say, this turned a mild gathering into an understandably disgruntled and annoyed mini-mob. I didn’t blame them. I considered poking my head out and telling them that I was the owner of the car and didn’t mind at all if they leaned on it– they could sit in it if they wanted and turn on the friggin’ radio– but by that point it didn’t seem like it would help. Sometimes being a six-foot-four white dude just doesn’t help.
And I remember thinking, as I headed back to the gloom of the animator pit, isn’t it supposed to be us conservative religious types who always assume black folk are up to no good?
Fast forward to last week. My wife and I made the acquaintance of a young woman in our social network– I’ll call her June. June was very likable and friendly, and we quickly fell into conversation about some upcoming life events. My wife mentioned that she was soon to leave on a humanitarian trip to Haiti, prompting June to mention that her boyfriend was currently in the Gaza Strip. We were curious and interested, of course, so we asked why he was there. June proudly described her boyfriend’s work there. “He’s helping build homes for the Palestinians,” she said, and then blithely added, “you know, the good side.”
It wasn’t so much that we disagreed with such a bald, us-and-them statement. It was the utter surety that June exuded– the absolute confidence that, since we are apparently decent, intelligent people, we obviously agree with all of her politics.
And I thought, isn’t it supposed to be us conservative religious types who see the world through the lens of strictly black-and-white, good-and-evil judgments?
Furthermore, isn’t it us monolithic, narrow minded conservatives who assume that every right-thinking and decent person agrees with us by rote?
A few days ago I read an article in the New York Times about the recent death of evangelical scholar John Stott, who spent his life promoting the idea (and it is far more common than most non-religious people might believe) that a Christian’s duty is to serve the world’s needs, both in small ways and large, as practically as possible. I have been affiliated with a lot of churches over the years, both professionally and socially, and in every instance those churches have had budgets set aside to help the poor in their communities. They provide clothes and food, they support feeding efforts in starving countries, they even use their own funds to send people to work in the neediest places in the world. By any measure, religious people are the most charitable of any demographic.
And I ask myself, isn’t it supposed to be the secular liberals who are the most socially conscious and aid-minded? I thought conservative religious types just wanted to beat people with Bibles and enforce their own morality on everyone?
In fact, when I look around at the world lately, enforcing morality seems, ironically, to be the nearly exclusive domain of the left. They want to make sure that no one can smoke virtually anywhere. They insist that laws must be passed assuring people can’t eat certain foods. They make supposedly funny climate-change medias that celebrate how much fun it would be literally explode those who disagree with them. They nearly always assume that everyone agrees with them. They seamlessly mock as stupid anyone who publicly expresses an alternate opinion, all while purporting to champion diversity. It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.
But I don’t mean to imply that the stereotype of the typically intolerant, judgmental ideologue is not true of some conservative Christians. I know some people like that. What I AM implying (pretty heavily, if you haven’t noticed) is that the left is just as prone to exhibit those traits as the right. In fact, I would suggest that the left is rather more prone to intolerance, arrogance, and their own peculiar brand of fundamentalism than the average conservative. Why? Because they do not have to actively work against the constant negative stereotype. For the moment, Liberals are allowed to occupy the moral high-ground by pure fiat. They are so secure in their vaunted moral and intellectual superiority that they feel safe indulging in the more petty idiosyncrasies of human nature. Conservatives, on the other hand, have the constant pressure of proving that they are not what the New York liberal cocktail party crowd says they are. Some of them perhaps go a little too far, trying to placate a liberal politburo that will always despise them no matter what, but that merely proves my overall point.
This societal pressure is a good thing, perhaps. It drives the pendulum of human nature, which is always swinging back and forth between sociological extremes. It is not so much something to be railed against but accepted and watched.
The bottom line is that the base aspects of human nature– bigotry, tyranny, arrogance– are present in every faction and tier of society. At any given time, it may reside more confidently in one group than another, but it is the sole domain of none.
I would merely suggest, as politely as possible, that my more liberal-minded friends consider how they themselves might come across before glomming onto the knee-jerk notion that only conservative religious types can be social pariahs. If history has any say in the matter, your day is probably coming. The time to start pushing back is now. Fair enough?
Because someday, figuratively, it might be you leaning on the car.