March 18, 2005

Political Correctness and Religion, Part III

Belief Venn diagramThis series began by introducing the concept of political correctness and moved on to consider how the PC movement gradually incorporated religious belief as an aspect of culture, conferring on it the same "off limits to criticism" status that had been reserved for race, gender, and the like. Now we consider some of the implications for granting religious belief this status.

The inclusion of religious belief under the PC umbrella along with gender, race, ethnicity, and other traditional areas the PC movement has embraced has important implications. The most serious implication for atheists is that religious belief is now off-limits to criticism. Returning to academia, the birthplace of PC, professors can no more get away with criticizing someone's religious beliefs than they can with saying something negative about someone's race or gender. A student who makes a homophobic comment may be attacked as non-PC, but the second this same student defends his/her comment as having religious grounds, they are off limits to further criticism. Why? Criticism of one's religious beliefs is no longer acceptable. The critic is now regarded as a close-minded, intolerant bigot.

We now regard religious belief as belonging to an entirely different category of belief, more akin to one's ethnic identity than to one's belief in scientific theories. Scientific theories and a host of other beliefs about the world are routinely criticized, and the critic suffers no repercussions. Religion is afforded an entirely different status and is not subject to this sort of thoughtful inquiry. "But that is part of my religion" is now an effective tool for ending critical inquiry.

This is a problem because religion makes claims about the nature of our world. Many of these claims can be (and have been) evaluated on the basis of their correspondence to reality. However, we need to do much more of this, and we need to be free to do so without incurring PC wrath. For many atheists, religious beliefs are no different from any other set of beliefs about the world. Some beliefs are better than others, and this is determined by the concordance of a particular set of beliefs with reality. This is why evolutionary theory is so vastly superior to creationist theories - evolutionary theory corresponds to reality in the sense that there is evidence to support it.

Until we become comfortable subjecting religious belief to the same scrutiny and criticism as any other belief system, it will limit our scientific, social, and moral progress.