Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bigotry and Hypocrisy

I liked this takedown of a recent Facebook meme put together by a gay rights activist.  The meme intends to point up the hypocrisy of those (on the Christian right) who claim that being fat is genetic but being gay is a choice and features a photo of a headless obese person sitting on a too-small, poorly-Photoshopped Chik-Fil-A chair.  (If you want to see the original image and comments, she posts the link at the bottom of her blog entry.)

I have seen memes making the same basic point on FB before -- unfortunately in some cases re-posted or liked by my FB friends -- and I find them pretty disgusting.  This one is particularly idiotic because it makes some specific claims that Chik-Fil-A people (executives/employees/customers?) hold the belief that being fat is genetic, which is not something I've ever heard in all the media thrashing around the Chik-Fil-A stuff.  (And leaving these Chik-Fil-A people out of the picture, it's not like 100% of anti-gay Christians, or even 100% of anti-gay, personally fat Christians believe that being fat is genetic either, but...OK, whatever.)

But even in the more generic cases than this one, it's clearly a weird "fighting bigotry with more bigotry" approach that is stupid and offensive.  Whatever the creators/supporters of these memes might claim, they are clearly using a photo of an obese person to trigger a disgust reaction and to associate the anti-gay position with those disgusting individuals.  I mean, why include a photo of a fat person in the ad at all if not to create an emotional response? 

Ragen takes the whole "but no it's not really fat bigotry because we're talking about hypocrisy" thing apart very well, but I want to focus on a particular aspect of this meme and related memes that pop up frequently, especially on the political left: the idea that hypocrisy is the ultimate bad (and that once a person has been shown to be a hypocrite, their positions/arguments are invalid).

By making hypocrisy the focal point of this activism, I think they're doing everyone a disservice.  The issue is not that intolerant Christians are wrong because they simultaneously think being gay is a choice (and that gay people are morally bad and deserve to have their rights trampled on) and being fat is not a choice (and that fat people are morally neutral and don't deserve to have their rights trampled on).  They are wrong because thinking that gay people deserve to have their rights trampled on is wrong.  Whether being gay is "genetic" or "chosen" (that popular false dichotomy) doesn't come into it.  The hypocrisy aspect really doesn't come into it.

In fact, what if Christians decided to get serious about all kinds of sin, not just those sins they do not themselves feel tempted to commit?  What if they decided that anybody who is fat is guilty of the sin of gluttony and deserves to have their rights trampled on?  Fat Christians start feeling shameful and guilty and full of self-hatred while their thinner counterparts lambaste them and all other fat people from a position of moral superiority.  Well now Christians are not being hypocrites, so I guess this position is perfectly a-okay.  Except of course it's not.  "Fixing" the hypocrisy in this matter just means more bigotry, more rights violations, less freedom, less dignity, etc.  It's clearly worse to have members of groups X and Y discriminated against than just group X.  I am reminded of the old joke, "I'm not prejudiced; I hate all minorities."  Is this the direction anybody wants this thing to go?

Also, is it just me or is this a kind of weird example of hypocrisy anyway?  I agree that it's fucked up that anti-gay Christians have latched onto the single sin that they themselves are (for the most part -- obviously there are gay Christians who are anti-gay) not going to commit as some kind of serious thing that needs to be addressed, while considering their own sins less significant.  Certainly the idea that fat is genetic but gay is chosen is a belief of convenience.  And it does seem to be factually wrong.  But is it actually hypocritical?  Having self-serving beliefs is not the same thing as being hypocritical.  Having a set of values that you do not yourself live up to is also not hypocritical -- that could be just a natural consequence of having a moral reach that exceeds your grasp.  But if we want to redefine hypocrisy to mean having self-serving beliefs and not living up to your own standards of ethical behavior all the time, then every single human being is a hypocrite -- including anyone who creates or promulgates these fat/gay memes -- so now what?  I guess we might as well pack up and go home because nobody has a leg left to stand on.


jen said...

Wow, I haven't seen this meme, and I'm glad. It's tricky territory what they seem to be trying to do anyway. Christian beliefs don't need to be logical because they're faith-based by definition. The only point you can discuss is whether it's ok to allow those beliefs to affect society at large (e.g. by allowing discrimination against groups of people), and for some (many?) Christians, they think it's their duty to spread the word of God, so... yeah, maybe.

It is interesting that there is such a focus on choice, and I agree that it shouldn't come into it when it comes to rights. We shouldn't all have to choose to be the way other people think we should be just to be accepted by them.

But at the same time, I can see that if you think someone is simply choosing to do something you find outrageously sinful, it's easy to think hey, they should just stop doing it! Instead of accepting that it's just a different kind of "normal". The point that seems to make people reconsider their stance is when they say well, if God made them that way, then why is it so wrong?

Sally said...

Jen, great point re: the expectations that Christians will be swayed by somebody pointing out that their beliefs are illogical. I mean, people in general aren't very logical about their beliefs even when they profess to use logic as a guiding light here, so for people who are operating on a faith basis, it's really not likely.

One thing I thought about how people react to people who are sexually attracted to children. I believe it's likely that most people with a sexual attraction do not have a "choice" in the matter. Demonstrating definitively that these people do not have a choice in the matter would not everybody else say, Oh well, that's OK then. Having sex with kids is wrong whether it's chosen or not. I wonder whether a lot of anti-gay Christians ultimately would be in the same boat if homosexuality were definitely proven to be genetic. Sort of like, well, sucks to be you with your fucked up preferences, but it's still morally wrong.

jen said...

Very interesting point. True, however someone becomes a pedophile, I still don't want them around children. Even if they're a priest.

To me, whether something is morally okay basically comes down to whether it harms anyone or would harm society at large. Like it's pretty obvious to see that stealing and killing and such are wrong. So on that front, I'd look at the impact of someone being gay (do they make other people gay? do they suddenly start raping people? can they safely raise children? do they have cooties?).

I think it's really too bad that AIDS became so closely identified with homosexuals, because it did raise concerns about the potential danger of "allowing" homosexuality... (and having a basis for denying certain rights, like not being able to donate blood if you're gay because hey, you're going to get AIDS any day now!) And of course other "sinful" behaviors also have a tendency to get lumped in with being gay, like thinking doing meth and being promiscuous are part of the 'disease'.

Ultimately I think public opinion is swayed by seeing people society otherwise considers to be "normal" and upstanding but it turns out are gay and everyone realizes it's no big deal.

Sally said...

Jen, you're probably right about that -- Ellen DeGeneres has probably done more to promote acceptance of homosexuality than all of the arguments about why it should be accepted put together.

Tam said...

As you know, I'm totally with you on the anti-anti-hypocrisy front.

The self-serving belief of some anti-gay Christians that drives me crazy is the one that goes like "Homosexuality is a SIN, but divorce is...well, sure the Bible says don't do it, but practically speaking, we know a lot of people were really unhappy being married to each other, so it just seems like in today's modern world, we need to accept and welcome divorce as a way that we can all have happy and fulfilling lives and not be trapped in painful and loveless situations, plus who are we to judge?"

But of course it's not like I think that those Christians who are also strongly opposed to divorce are preferable.

Sally said...

Tam, I had basically forgotten that divorce was (at one time) considered a sinful/verboten thing by Christian lights.

Tam said...

Unlike with homosexuality, Jesus specifically spoke against divorce:

Matthew 5:31-32

"And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Mark 10:2-12

And some Pharisees came up to Him, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?" And they said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." And in the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."

Luke 16:18

"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery."

Sally said...

Very interesting. Makes sense, though -- the hardline (e.g., Catholic) approach to divorce had to come from somewhere.