It's an interesting charge, and although I saw some believers charging skeptics with bigoted rhetoric yesterday, it is a common theme here. Common enough that I went looking for examples outside of the skeptic-believer argument, and found some.
So today I intend to debunk this charge in a couple of ways: the loose, all-encompassing nature of complete 'intolerance'; and more examples of this 'bigotry' to which I doubt anyone would lodge a serious objection.
As a starting point, it may be useful to state one's terms.
bigot (plural bigots)
One who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.
One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
AdjectiveI understand that generalizing about all xians or all believers as if they all engage in some particular, reprehensible practice is incorrect and not even useful. This is something I try not to do, though I may not be successful. I try to address beliefs, not believers, much less all of them. But it is interesting how quickly the mockery of beliefs is transubstantiated into mockery of people, and soon enough the bigot label is trotted out in service of defensive believers.
intolerant (comparative more intolerant, superlative most intolerant)
Unable or indisposed to tolerate, endure or bear.
Not tolerant; close-minded about new or different ideas. indisposed to tolerate contrary opinions or beliefs; impatient of dissent or opposition; denying or refusing the right of private opinion or choice in others; inclined to persecute or suppress dissent.
The sort of loose definition as seen above seems useful to them. It is relatively easy to identify someone strongly partial to a point of view. Likewise, not difficult to find someone intolerant of, say, indoctrination of children. This is the same kind of argument I often see from believers trying to classify atheism as some kind of religion.
NounI have seen the serious devotion definition abused to falsely turn atheists into religious folk. Just for the sake of amusement, it's not hard to make the same argument about dedicated Democrats, or for that matter World of Warcraft players. Although my devotion to WoW is not what it used to be. Must make me a lapsed death knight.
religion (plural religions)
A collection of practices, based on beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or sacred.
Any practice that someone or some group is seriously devoted to.
Any ongoing spiritual practice one engages in, in order to shape their character or improve traits of their personality.
An ideological and traditional heritage.
And the WoW players groan about the in-joke. Anyway. :)
When it comes to this question of bigotry, I could easily find many obstinate, opinionated folks who have no interest in entertaining positive opinions about, say, state-sponsored torture. Would these be bigots? No, don't be stupid, the believer might say. This is different. But different how? This is where the definitions with a bit more detail can be useful. This was a more detailed description of intolerance, the key concept in bigotry: it's not enough to be partial to one side or another, we all are.
close-minded about new or different ideas. indisposed to tolerate contrary opinions or beliefs; impatient of dissent or opposition; denying or refusing the right of private opinion or choice in others; inclined to persecute or suppress dissent.Although I look forward to the time when most skeptics are born and raised to it, for now the situation is a bit different. I was raised to be a believer and over time rejected it. For many skeptics, just being one is the result of open-mindedness. There may be some who would like to outlaw organized religion (enter Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, stage left, on dead and beaten horses). But the skeptical community at present seems more interested in prohibiting bad behavior, not beliefs. Few seem to care, beyond perhaps poking fun at the idea, if someone believes a cracker turns into their god's flesh when they eat it. Which gets me to the last part.
Persecution and suppression of dissent: if these are part and parcel of intolerance, and thus bigotry, is the skeptical minority even capable of it? The article I cited in the intro addresses this point specifically. The article mentions a few examples from outside the skeptic/believer conflict, such as this "Queer Nation Manifesto" from 1990.
I hate straight people who can't listen to queer anger without saying "hey, all straight people aren't like that. I'm straight too, you know," as if their egos don't get enough stroking or protection in this arrogant, heterosexist world. Why must we take care of them, in the midst of our just anger brought on by their ** up society?! Why add the reassurance of "Of course, I don't mean you. You don't act that way." Let them figure out for themselves whether they deserve to be included in our anger.The writer is quick to point out that atheists don't suffer as much, which seems generally true, and I readily admit that. What anger I feel is not even close to this. I rarely get riled up unless I'm reading about some family self-destructing or killing its children due to fundamentalist drek. But I have seen the same protestations, and I've certainly been told many a time how angry or bitter I am. It makes me smile. Enough that it starts to seep into my writings. :) And of course the smilies and jokes get ignored -- because it's not even about trying to understand. As this manifesto points out, it's not about listening to the anger. It's about deflecting it.
But of course that would mean listening to our anger, which they almost never do. They deflect it, by saying "I'm not like that" or "now look who's generalizing" or "You'll catch more flies with honey ... " or "If you focus on the negative you just give out more power" or "you're not the only one in the world who's suffering." They say "Don't yell at me, I'm on your side" or "I think you're overreacting" or "Boy, you're bitter."
I have to end on a question here, because, well, I don't know how this ends. I'm a skeptic. I entertain the possibility of being wrong. And honestly, I don't know if this is right. What persecution I do endure is a pale shadow of the discrimination suffered by minorities, by the LGBT community, by women. I can't pretend to fully understand it. Maybe just a little. So I have to ask them, if anyone should happen by with some real insight for me.
Generalizations made by a despised and discriminated-against minority cannot harm a privileged and powerful class — this is true whether it's atheists generalizing about Christians, feminists generalizing about men, gays generalizing about straights, blacks generalizing about whites, etc. Those members of a privileged class who are supposedly giving the rest a bad name are, however, causing real harm to others. Some of that harm is even due to their generalizations about despised and excluded minorities which are made precisely to ensure that the marginalized remain powerless.It's not that I mean to justify generalizations against the privileged, or to attack such generalizations, either. I prefer not to engage in such generalization, but I can understand why others would do it. I just don't know if this idea is true, that they can do no harm to the privileged. But if this idea does hold water, then I think it would adequately debunk the argument that skeptics are bigots about religion.
Skeptics are in no position to persecute, to suppress dissent. Not unless the 'persecuted' feel 'suppressed' when presented with the rhetorical equivalent of 'two plus two does not equal five'. On Daily Kos, the charges of bigotry seem like a scare tactic, because it's the last thing anyone on a relatively open, tolerant, liberal forum would want to be. It is a conversation stopper, just another form of STFU. Which, incidentally, is a key concept of intolerance. :)