Friday, November 4, 2016

Racism and Religion: The Power of Perception and Denial

Studies have shown that levels of religious beliefs tend to correlate with levels of racism. Some even argue that this is a causal relationship. And given that particular brands of religion tend to flourish along geographical lines, along with the fact that racism itself is a kind of 'religion of race' that leads a person to view their own race in a more favorable light than other races, discriminating against people for one often includes a good deal of discriminating against them for the other.

What is interesting about the relationship between religion and racism, however, is how these two ideas work like "belief" buckets tied at either end of the same social rope in a common well. Basically, American Christians who believe that God exists are often less likely to believe that racism exists in American in general (after all, we have a "black president), and vice versa. And as the one goes up, the other goes down.

Hence, those who "believe" in their religion may often be "non-believers" in the existence of racism, even though there is so much more evidence for the latter than the former.  Instead, what evidence there is, is usually interpreted by such "believers" as proving that racism does not exist. They not only consider Obama's election as proof that we live in what former HUD Secretary Bill Bennett called "a post racial America,"for example, but chose to interpret the disproportionate percentage of black impoverishment, incarceration, and unemployment, as being proof  not of racism, but as proof that blacks are lazier, less intelligent, and more prone to committing crime.   

But this blog is not to argue that religion causes racism, even though some may believe it does. In fact, for the sake or argument, I would like to assume that it does not. After all, religion played a major role in both the abolitionist and civil rights movements, along with much else. The point, therefore, is simply to illustrate how our confirmation bias leads to shape what we chose to "believe" is true, about either God or race relations in America. And in the same way that a person who does not believe that germs exist (if there is any such person) would unknowingly contribute to the spreading of germs, so a person who does not believe that racism exists also unknowingly contributes to spreading racism.

Even worse, anyone who simply denounces ALL claims of "racism" (because undoubtedly, "crying wolf" is something we see across the board in every issue we can think of) likewise contributes to racism by throwing out the legitimate claims with the illegitimate ones.  

The real question raised by comparing beliefs about racism to beliefs about religion, however, is why some people who are such theists for one are such adamant atheists for the other? And while the answers to such a question may be at least as numerous as there are people who may hold such opposing "beliefs," the point is that our preference to believe or not believe in something, often has far less to do with the amount of evidence itself, than with how we simply chose to interpret that evidence (which is almost always ambiguous) in accord with the "beliefs" we just happen to prefer. 

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