March 5, 2005

Political Correctness and Religion

Politically Correct signage

 According to, politically correct is defined as follows:
marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ecology.
I'm not sure that is a particularly helpful definition. "Progressive orthodoxy" seems to change over time so what was considered progressive 20 years ago probably wouldn't be accepted by many of today's progressives. Hell, progressive orthodoxy from 20 years ago would probably get one publicly shamed today!

Still, I think most of us probably get the basic idea. It does seem to be a fairly accurate characterization of the early days of the PC movement in that the focus was on marginalized groups. In the academic context where I first encountered PC and with which the development of 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 more accurate "sexual orientation."

Since academic settings have long sought to 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, and their viewpoints were routinely dismissed as intolerant and bigoted. Of course, it soon became apparent that the free exchange of ideas was only acceptable if it excluded ideas that might be potentially offensive. And this is where the phrase "progressive orthodoxy" in the definition above becomes so important.

Social conservatives were gradually excluded from the discussion and faced increasing marginalization. Thus, the PC movement came to limit 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 many academic settings).

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 on criticizing it. This transformation will be the focus of Part II of this analysis.