I have sat on this post for several days, trying to scrutinize my own sentiments. In my post about Ariana Huffington and Pat Robertson, I referred to Huffington as a bigot. It’s a harsh word and I’ve been thinking about whether it appropriately fits. I think it does, but I feel the need to explain myself.
In today’s climate, we don’t like extreme-sounding language on certain sensitive topics. It seems extreme to use a word like “bigot” for someone like Huffington. It seems reactionary. I want to be a peaceable person, so I shy away from harsh language. Furthermore, the word often is used with regard to white prejudice on questions of race, so maybe it doesn’t translate very well.
Dictionary.com defines “bigot” as “a person who is intolerant of any differing creed, belief or opinion.” Hmm. Too strong. This makes us all bigots virtually all the time. A word that covers everything covers nothing. Even bigots tolerate some “other opinions” at least some of the time, I would think. “Intolerant” is too vague anyway and has become kind of a buzzword. “AskOxford.com” (I’m doing this blog at home and don’t have acccess to OED) says of “bigot:” “a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others.” “Prejudiced” helps. “Intolerant” of the views of others sometimes has real merit. “Prejudice,” on the other hand, is pre-judging before the case is permitted to be made. Prejudice means jumping to conclusions on probably some sort of ad hominem basis.
I work in academia. Anyone familiar with this environment knows that bigots can and sometimes do have Ph.Ds. I wince to write those words. It’s ironic, because a big part of our job is to expose bigotry. And here’s the danger: if you think you (or someone else) cannot be a bigot because well-educated, think again. We should not be fooled by our own sophistication.
I am not interested in propping up Pat Robertson’s sagging image. Whether he is still regarded as a nationally powerful Christian leader is a debatable point. I hang around a lot of young people who barely recognize his name, if at all. We have much more serious problems in the Christian community than Pat Robertson. Maybe that’s why I’m not as bothered by Robertson’s comments as some people are.
Huffington is no less a bigot simply because she is more articule and sophisticated. We’d better start paying attention to and recognizing bigotry of all flavors, especially by people who help to shape public opinion.
I have deeply conflicted feelings about public opinion these days. I like that blogging and other media allow for more people to share opinions in an accessible format. I worry that we don’t distinguish very well thoughtful, careful opinions from fear-mongering and demagoguery, particularly when it comes in such articulate packages.
I’m sufficiently bothered that I have another post coming immediately on another topic. Stay tuned.