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I wouldn’t vote for a repressed gay black atheist Mormon liberal

October 16, 2011

Jon Adams and his facebook friends have been having the most heated discussion responding to this Deseret News article discussing whether anti-Mormonism can be considered the prejudice of our era. (And I was thinking that gay was the new black? But I guess Mormon is…) Within it, a quote from another guy in another article:

“The gap between these two episodes — clear condemnations of racism, but silence and ambiguity about anti-Mormonism — illustrates a fundamental weakness in our understanding of bigotry,” Saletan writes. “We’re always fighting the last war. We hammer a politician’s connection to prejudice against blacks … because nearly everyone recognizes this bigotry as bigotry. Denouncing it is easy.

“What’s hard,” he continues, “is speaking out against a bias that isn’t so widely recognized. It’s politically difficult because challenging a common prejudice could cost you votes. And it’s morally difficult because the biases of your era are hard to see.”

The discussion on Facebook got off on an interesting start (I have trimmed comments as I have felt necessary):

…You just can’t compare religion to race. Race is inborn, unchangeable and not a contingency for behavior. Religion is very much the opposite. If I don’t want to vote for a black candidate because he’s black, yes that makes me racist. If I don’t want to vote for a mormon candidate because he’s mormon, it may just mean I don’t want to vote for some one who willfully devotes his life to something that is very arguably false. It’s discrimination on the basis of behavior, NOT genetics.

So, not voting for someone because of an inborn, unchangeable characteristic = bad. Not voting for someone because a willfully chosen characteristic = OK.

At this point alone, I’d like to get on my belief-is-not-chosen soapbox. Belief is not chosen. (Thank you.)

But, more broadly, this represents a dichotomy that I do not like elsewhere…namely, instead of arguing for moral acceptability of something on its merits, we look at whether it’s chosen or not. If it’s not chosen, then it’s good or acceptable. If it is, then it’s bad or unacceptable.

But actually, that’s not how people actually evaluate things. The people who disagree with homosexuality are going to disagree with it regardless of whether they believe it to be a choice or believe it to be unchosen (hence the LDS shift in discussion to recognizing that perhaps same-sex attraction is something people will just have to deal with in mortality…but if people just choose to be celibate, then they can look forward to being transformed in the afterlife!)

Similarly, someone who dislikes a person’s religious status is still going to dislike it, even if they come to believe that one doesn’t just choose one’s beliefs as easily as one chooses what she has for breakfast.

…anyway, the discussion did not go that way. No one likes my Foucault-ian baby’s-first-queer-theoretical-discourse.

The discussion went a number of different ways, including but not limited to:

  • Is it ok to have your vote influenced by whether someone is a practicing homosexual or not? (actions are chosen, even if orientation isn’t?)
  • What about those for whom sexuality is fluid? (Baby’s first queer theoretical discourse!)
  • Aren’t people’s political (and other) beliefs informed by their religion? Couldn’t we just say we would be less likely to vote for x (e.g., Mormons) because of the implied commitments he might have to believe y (e.g., free will)?
  • Aren’t people’s political (and other) beliefs informed by their race and sexuality as well? So aren’t these practically in the same category as above?

There were some interesting comments:

There is nothing about being a Mormon that forces you to believe anything in politics, or even really in religion – one day in my elder’s quorum in Colorado would make this clear to you guys. Religion is part of identity. My identity is Mormon…You guys identify as atheists (if I’m wrong and you self identify as something else please correct me). This label really only tells you what group a person associates with. It’s speaks very little to the content of their beliefs.

Emphasis added.

Now, to an extent, I understand what the guy was trying to say. Just because you’re a Mormon doesn’t commit you to social conservatism. However, Jon’s original point was that Mormon theology commits one to believing in, say, free will, which could have some political implications to which Jon might be politically opposed. With respect to this claim, it seems strange to say that the label only tells you who a person associates with, but not about the content of beliefs.

In a way, this seems to be the cultural Mormon enterprise, distilled into pure form. But I don’t think everyone would (or should) agree.

(I was going to conclude this topic by offering some serious thoughts on why it is problematic [but why one might argue anyway] not to vote for each of the items in the topic title…repressed…gay….black…atheist…Mormon…liberal, but instead I’ll take the easy way out and say that I wouldn’t vote for a repressed gay black atheist Mormon liberal because I probably wouldn’t vote.)

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  1. Seth R. permalink

    The whole “discrimination is OK if he CHOSE it, but not if he didn’t choose it” thing is stupid.

    A poor illiterate beggar kid in the streets of Tijuana didn’t choose to be any of those things either.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for him as president (assuming he hasn’t grown into anything else recently).

    And the whole – “people chose to be Mormon, so it’s OK to make ignorant remarks about them from my own incredibly biased worldview” logic is just plain ridiculous.

    OK, sure… we Mormons CHOSE to freely be Mormon. So that makes it perfectly peachy to act like a dick online.

    • Poor illiterate beggar kid in Tijuana has serious life experiences…you should vote for him.

      I kid. I kid.

      The choice vs. not-choice dichotomy is really a smokescreen. If people want to negatively factor Mormonism into their voting (or other) decisions, then fine, but they should be upfront about their reasons why, rather than going behind the choice/not choice matter.

  2. It’s silly to try to rank prejudices.

    It’s silly to declare that our culture is officially “over” certain kinds of prejudice. The best we can say, I think, is that every culture can experience ebbs and flows of different kinds of prejudice — racism, anti-semitism, anti-Mormonism, sexism, homophobia, whatever… There was a gay golden age in Berlin just before… Hitler. So no culture can ever say, “Oh, we’ve cured that now. We’re officially tolerant.”

    Anyway, prejudice is a very individual/cultural thing. So some people may not be racists, but there will always be racism somewhere.

    And it does seem self-evident to me that it’s silly and wrong to make assumptions about anybody based on a declared belief. I mean, I’m a self-declared Mormon, but my political beliefs are kind of… Socialist. My dad, also a self-declared Mormon, a life-long Republican. (Though he voted for Obama because of his support for health care reform.) How, in any way, does either of our deeply held Mormon convictions allow anybody to predict our political behavior?

    Is it too obvious to point out that we should judge politicians by their political beliefs?

    • John,

      Whenever politicians have personal drama (e.g., affairs), should people ignore than in the political realm?

  3. Thanks for the sympathetic treatment Andrew S.

  4. That age old question.

    I guess I’ve been watching politics long enough to realize that, yes, the integrity of the politician actually does matter. Very often, the personal integrity of the politician ends up looming much larger than whatever “positions” or “platforms” they wave around during the campaign. Their integrity (and competence) bear very directly on whether they’ll actually try to deliver to the voters what they promise… (Realizing, of course, that a million variables can prevent the best, most competent, most honest politicians from accomplishing what they promised.)

    In the example of an affair, for instance… If a man won’t keep one of the most fundamental promises to someone who should matter more to him than anyone else (his spouse), how am I going to trust him to keep promises to millions of people he doesn’t know from jack? At the same time, I recognize nobody’s perfect, and I believe in forgiveness. So I don’t necessarily believe an affair disqualifies someone from public office. But I think those kinds of personal things are of interest to me as a voter, when someone is asking me to trust them enough to support their candidacy.

    I think when a politician does face some kind of public drama related to private activity, I guess another good test is to see how they handle it… Do they freak out? Go into denial? Get defensive? Start pointing a finger of blame at everyone else and her dog? Or do they face up to mistakes and make some kind of public accounting that shows they know right from wrong? Are they willing to risk throwing an election to do the right thing?

    These are all things I care about…

  5. John,

    So, I guess, when you wrote, “Is it too obvious to point out that we should judge politicians by their political beliefs?”

    I should’ve recognized that you did NOT write, “Is it too obvious to point out that we should judge politicians only by their political beliefs?”

    But see how you have started reasoning why integrity matters from a political standpoint. “If a man won’t keep one of the most fundamental promises…how am I going to trust him to keep promises to millions…”

    Why then is it illegitimate for people to make other kinds of reasoning processes? They start with different premises than you, but it seems to be the same kind of thing.

  6. Well, it’s just that religious beliefs relate to political behavior in complex ways. Just because a candidate is Mormon (or Evangelical or Atheist or whatever) doesn’t mean we can assume they will behave in a certain way.

    I think it is legitimate to ask a candidate how their religious beliefs relate to their political views…

    I didn’t say we should ignore a candidates religious beliefs and/or affiliation, we just shouldn’t make assumptions about what it means for them as a candidate.

    Just as I said, “I don’t necessarily believe an affair disqualifies someone from office…”

    In a similar way, the fact that a candidate is black, for instance, isn’t irrelevant. That persons life experience as a black man or woman has an impact on their political views. But, obviously never in the same way for every person. Colin Powell and Barack Obama and Herman Cain are all “black,” but you can’t make any assumptions about how their blackness has affected their political views or will affect their political behavior…

    That’s what I meant to say when I said you “can’t make assumptions.” Not that those aspects of people are irrelevant, but simply that we can’t assume that a person’s gender or race or religion or sexual orientation automatically mean they will be this-and-such type of candidate.

  7. Suppose someone makes an argument like, “If someone couldn’t think critically on this one area in his personal life [insert religious beliefs here], then how can we trust him to think critically with millions of people”? This too wouldn’t necessarily disqualify a person from office, but it seems to me that this argumentation is structurally similar to the one you had with a personal affair (but maybe it’s just that way because I wrote it to be structurally similar…haha).

    However, people are freaking out at this thought process.

    As far as blackness impacting political views…it’s interesting because Colin Powell, Barack Obama, and Herman Cain aren’t *just* black. So how are we to tease how the part of their political views that have been affected by their “blackness” and the parts that have been affected by socio-economic status, other life experiences, other ascribed characteristics, their own personality differences, etc.,? It’s an interesting question…we obviously can’t “control” for all other factors and distill the “effect” of blackness.

  8. Seth R. permalink

    I think that speaks to the prejudice that religious people are incapable of rational thought – because the believe in something I personally consider to be obviously false.

    Well sir, that actually can very much be bigotry.

  9. Seth,

    Good point. Although that leads to one interesting alternative outcome… What if someone instead argued that religious beliefs don’t matter because people are compartmentalized? (and haven’t you heard people make that argument elsewhere? Eg, “that scientist is religious because he compartmentalizes his religious side away from his work.”)

    Seems like that wouldn’t be much of an improvement over “he believes x which I find to be obviously false, therefore I think he is incapable of critical thought” or whatever…

    • Seth R. permalink

      Isn’t that just a different wording of the same bigoted viewpoint?

      That he couldn’t possibly be a scientist if he wasn’t compartmentalizing all this “voodoo crap” away from his actually serious public persona.

      That’s really just another way of saying that religion and adult thinking are like matter and anti-matter.

      Which I consider to be a quintessentially bigoted and ignorant position.

      • I guess this would be a good point to write a post asking people what is ‘bigotry’. I think that, as with faith and critical thinking, there will be a diversity of answers.

  10. Well, I suppose that’s no worse than saying, “He has no faith in God, therefore he must be an amoral person, and I could never vote for him.”

    Neither generalization, obviously, is true. That latter generalization is probably more frequent in our culture… We’re yet to have a major party candidate who’s an open atheist.

    Re: being black. Of course, nobody is just black, or just Mormon, or just gay, or just whatever. And black is a stupidly uninformative category too… Did you grow up in urban Detroit or in rural South Carolina? Was your dad born in Nigeria or was your fifth great grandfather a slave? Are you a third generation Ph.D. or the first in your family to go to college?

    But if that’s true for a category like race, why wouldn’t it be at least equally true for a category like religion? That’s why I made the point about me and my father… Both testimony-bearing, believing Mormons, but about as far apart on the political spectrum as it’s possible to be.

  11. I still feel as though my argument has been totally lost on most people, but given that, I must not have articulated it well. I think Zach M. unwittingly conceded to my initial argument in my Facebook thread, and I hope to flesh that out still, but I’ve had neither the time nor energy.

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