March 5, 2005

Political Correctness and Religion

According to Dictionary.com, political correctness is defined as follows:
n : avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against [syn: political correctitude] [ant: political incorrectness]
This is an accurate characterization of the early days of the PC movement in that the focus was on marginalized groups. In the academic context, with which the PC movement is closely linked, this meant that professors and students were discouraged from verbally expressing attitudes thought to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise demeaning to various minority groups. For example, consider the use of gender neutral pronouns or the replacement of "sexual preference" with the far more accurate "sexual orientation." 

Since academic settings have long been progressive in that they encourage the free exchange of ideas and the questioning of dogmatic traditions, it was not surprising that the PC movement was initially viewed as a liberal force for social change. Social conservatives were associated with the established power base of wealthy white males (which was generally accurate), and their viewpoints were dismissed as intolerant and bigoted (again, this was often true). Of course, it soon became apparent that the free exchange of ideas was only acceptable if it excluded ideas that might be potentially offensive.

Social conservatives were gradually excluded from the discussion and faced increasing marginalization. Thus, the PC movement limited the academic forum by preventing non-PC views to be presented. Conservatives began to rightly protest their exclusion, and the PC movement started to become the butt of jokes outside the academic community (despite continuing to dominate the academic environment).

In recent years, a new trend has emerged in the PC movement that has made it more open to some socially conservative viewpoints - the inclusion of religious belief as a component of culture and the prohibition of criticizing it. This transformation will be the focus of Part II of this analysis.

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