How to fight bigotry

Today's quote comes from G.K. Chesterton:

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition. It has nothing whatever to do with belief in the proposition itself.

Chesterton was a Christian, and one who enjoyed nothing more than to defend Christianity against people like me. I understand what he's doing here; he's trying to make the point that it's not religious belief that turns people into bigots, but their closed minds.

He's right. Religious belief does not cause close mindedness. There's no causal relationship. But there sure seems to be a lot of correlation. I've spent a long time around religious people (mostly, but not exclusively, Roman Catholics), and if there's one thing they're not encouraged to do is to doubt or question authority. Especially the religious kind of authority. How this could lead to open-mindedness is beyond me.

Yeah, there are always exceptions. It is entirely possible, for instance, to believe that homosexual activities are sinful and yet be loving and kind towards homosexuals. Pope Francis is a prime example of that - he takes very seriously the idea that one should love the sinner. Also - and that's crucial - that he himself is a sinner. But as you probably know if you follow these things, this particular stance is making Francis most unpopular among his flock. Because to many of them, there are certain sinners who deserve to be exempt from love, kindness, or understanding. Not themselves, mind. They can sin as much as the next biped and still be worthy of God's love. But gays, somehow, well now that's different.

Bigotry is a particularly obnoxious form of close-mindedness. You can't fight it with reason. It's been tried. Didn't work. But you can fight it with love; and in this particular case it's not uncommon to see hard-line anti-gay crusaders turn around once a person close to them steps out of the closet.

Suddenly they don't see abstract sinners anymore. They see a son, a daughter, or any other loved one; a human being they know and love and who opens up to them about a very personal and often vulnerable part of who they are.

However having every anti-gay bigot suddenly discover an out-of-the-closet sibling is not exactly a practical solution. Also, bigotry isn't just about gays. What to do, then?

Only one thing, but it's a biggie. Expose them to ideas and people they are uncomfortable with. Foster a public square that's as diverse as can be, with all sorts of ideas floating around. Encourage young people to practice debating and arguing in a civilized manner, by modeling this behaviour yourself. Take the time to listen to people. And when you disagree, sometimes, try not to say it. Instead ask yourself if there's anything you can learn from someone with whom you disagree.

Oh, and do try not to be offended so much of the time.

Regular exposure to a variety of ideas doesn't have to make you change your mind on everything. Sometimes it can reinforce your existing ideas. That's fine, too. But at least, once you've been exposed to them, those diverse ideas make you better able to conceive of a point of view opposed to your own. It makes you better at defending your own positions, and it makes you much less likely ever to become a bigot.

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