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Dr. Joe Wenke Headshot

Getting to the Bottom of Bigotry

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Hatred and bigotry are very old news. Yet they're in the news every day. More than that, they're in our face constantly, particularly on the Web. The Web is great, but the anonymity of social media provides the perfect breeding ground for haters to spew their hate speech.

Last week, when Sebastien de la Cruz, an 11-year-old Mexican-American boy wearing a mariachi outfit, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the third NBA finals game in San Antonio, Texas, his performance was met with a torrent of ethnic, anti-immigrant hatred. The bigoted response to this little boy, who was invited back to perform the national anthem for the fourth game, was shocking but hardly surprising.

Hate speech is absolutely pervasive on major social media sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For example, check out the comments on just about any YouTube video featuring a member of any minority group. They're disgusting. I've also found that if you hit the wrong button, so to speak, on Twitter (like if you type the words "gun control"), you are immediately treated to a barrage of vitriol and contempt.

Hatred is so pervasive that there's the danger that we may actually get used to it, become numb to it, write it off as "same old same old." If you feel yourself drifting in that direction, consider the anti-LGBTQ comments that were generated by a recent HuffPost story on the extremely high incidence of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth in San Francisco. Some of the comments are downright pathological. Consider, for example, the following remark, which has since been removed: "This [i.e., the high incidence of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth] is really good news. It is nice to see these kids care enough about the pain & embarrassment that they brought upon their parents, to end it once and for all."

Comments like that make me ashamed to be a human being. They also make me ask the obvious question: Why do people hate other people? What's at the bottom of hatred and bigotry?

For example, what exactly is it about a human being's sexual orientation that triggers such hate? What's it to them -- the haters of gay, lesbian and bisexual people -- whom other people are sexually attracted to and love? Why are transgender people so hated, so marginalized? Why is there so little respect for these courageous people?

Why do so many men hate women (and there seem to be a lot)? Why do they, the hateful men, think that they are superior to the women they hate? And what about hatred based on race, ethnicity, country of origin, religious or political beliefs? What's going on? Why is hatred so prevalent? Why is it such a big part of the human experience?

It's pretty weird when you think about it: Bigots hate people they don't know. They hate them because of the group they belong to. If you're a member of the group they hate, then they hate you even though they know nothing else about you. That's the very definition of bigotry.

But why hate a group of people? Well, in almost every case, people don't hate people from the group they belong to. They hate people from a group they don't belong to. For example, straight people don't hate other straight people just because they're straight, and white people don't hate other white people just because they're white. Haters, bigots, seem almost invariably to hate people who are different from them. To the haters, "different" is bad. Are they afraid of the different people? Do they feel threatened by them? On the other hand, are they perhaps secretly attracted to them? If they do feel threatened, however, what exactly is the threat? Do they think they are going to be hurt by the different people? Do they think the different people are going to take something important away from them -- like a job or a girlfriend? Are they going to change the neighborhood? Do they speak a language that the haters don't speak or understand? Do they dress differently? Eat different types of food? Celebrate different holidays?

It certainly appears to be part of the character of some human beings to hate whoever is different from them. That's really bad. That's really disturbing, but the whole truth is even worse. What's the whole truth? Two more things. Number 1: Bigots don't think they're bigots. They think they're right. Number 2: Often the justification for bigotry is based on religion. The justification for the denigration of women goes all the way back to the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible. Similarly, the justification for believing that black people are inferior to white people, indeed the justification for slavery itself, was for hundreds of years based on the Bible story of the curse of Ham. Anti-Semitism has often been justified by the absurd idea that all Jewish people are responsible for killing Jesus, who was, of course, Jewish. Then there's the belief that your religion is the one true religion and that other people not only have no right to different religious beliefs but have no right to live. That incredibly lethal idea comes to fruition in the oxymoronic notion of "holy war," which is perpetuated today by the radical Islamic interpretation of jihad but which has a long and bloody history in Christianity as well, as evidenced by the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Most LGBTQ bigots base their bigotry on their religious beliefs, only they don't see their beliefs as bigoted; they think they're right, and they believe that their bigoted view of LGBTQ people is sanctioned by God. According to these people, being homosexual is unnatural, perverted, or, to use the Catholic Church's term, "disordered." I cannot conceive of a more hateful or disgusting characterization of another human being than to say that the very way that they are, their very being, is unnatural or perverted, but that is exactly what LGBTQ bigots believe. That's why "love the sinner, hate the sin" is really just a form of hate speech rather than legitimate Christian compassion. It says, "I don't hate you. You're my neighbor. The Bible tells me to love my neighbor, and I do, but you, my neighbor, need to change. Being homosexual is not an essential part of your being. You weren't born that way. Something went wrong somewhere. You need to acknowledge that and get some therapy. Go straight. Love someone of the opposite gender. If you can't do that, well, then you can never marry or have sex. By the way, you can't be a Boy Scout either."

I don't think we'll ever really know why human beings hate, but we do know how they most often justify their hatred. They do it through religion. It is profoundly disturbing but true: When it comes to sanctioning hatred and bigotry, religion is most definitely the root of all evil.