January 22, 2009

In Defense of Congressman Diaz-Balart

{{w|Lincoln Diaz-Balart}}, member of the Unite...Image via WikipediaI have a feeling I'll be in a very small minority with this post, but here goes. This is probably not what you were expecting from me, particularly with my known distaste for anti-atheist bigotry and past efforts opposing it. No need to worry. I have not lost my mind (although if I did, I might not realize it), and I remain steadfast in my opposition to bigotry, including anti-atheist bigotry. It is just that in the case of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida's 2nd District, I'm not so sure that we are witnessing bigotry.

Rep. Diaz-Balart, the former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party, sparked outrage in the atheist blogosphere and has been labeled "an anti-atheist bigot" by more than one blogger. If Rep. Diaz-Balart is indeed a bigot, such outrage is well placed.

The precipitant of the outrage was the following statement from Diaz-Balart made in reference to the Divine Performing Arts show:
I was very moved by the song that talked about the damage that atheism has caused and is causing. It was very moving, but all of the performances were moving, uplifting; they teach us about the eternal nature of mankind and of how we have to be humble.

The songs carry the sense that evil will not prevail, and so the message is that the truth ultimately prevails. It is extraordinarily uplifting and I am so happy to be here.
This statement has been widely interpreted as suggesting that Rep. Diaz-Balart views atheism as "damaging" and "evil." I do not disagree with this interpretation. This appears to be precisely what he thinks. I'm still not sure he's a bigot.

Suppose I were to say the following:
Christianity has resulted in considerable damage to society and continues to cause great damage to our world.

Christianity is evil, and I hope that the truth ultimately prevails.
I have deliberately made both statements a bit more direct than what Rep. Diaz-Balart said to remove any ambiguity. The first reflects something I not only believe but have said here repeatedly. The second is not something I have said or would say without first replacing the word "evil" with something like "harmful" or "destructive." Does this make me a bigot?

Even if I loudly proclaimed both of the above statements about Christianity as reflecting my beliefs, this would not make me a bigot. Why? Because bigotry involves people and not simply their beliefs about the world.

Here are some examples of bigotry:
Bigotry requires both a falsehood and an unwarranted generalization about people. Rep. Diaz-Balart is not even referring to people but to an -ism. To be guilty of bigotry, he'd have to say that atheists are evil for being atheists. I suppose one could infer that this was his intent, but I'd rather deal with what he said rather than what I think he might have meant by it.

Believe me when I say that defending Rep. Diaz-Balart is not something I particularly enjoy. Still, I think that we need to be very careful about what we label bigotry if we want to have any impact.

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