Some of these prejudices are racially-based or ethnically-based. Some are religiously-based. Others are gender-based or lifestyle-based. All these prejudices are deeply and profoundly stupid.
Nevertheless, the stupidity of these prejudices do not weaken the power of these prejudices, in any real way. Despite their complete and utter irrationality, these prejudices remain strong.
As a person who lives in a western and English-speaking culture, I am aware of three religious prejudices that are strongly persistent in my own culture. Two of them are common to all western societies. A third is particularly virulent in the English-speaking world.
I call these prejudices "The Three Venerable Bigotries".
- The first venerable bigotry, common to all western societies, is antisemitism.
- The second venerable bigotry, also common to all western societies, is islamopobia.
- The third venerable bigotry, particularly virulent in the English-speaking world, is anti-Catholicism.
Antisemitism, the irrational fear of - or hatred toward - Judaism and individual Jews (merely for being Jewish) has been present in most cultures whose traditions were shaped by Christianity ever since the "parting of the ways" between Christianity and Judaism during the first century CE.
Islamophobia, the irrational fear of - or hatred toward - the Islamic faith and individual Muslims (merely for being Muslim), has similarly been present in most cultures whose traditions were shaped by Christianity ever since the emergence of the Islamic faith in the seventh century CE.
Anti-Catholicism, the irrational fear of - or hatred toward - the Roman Catholic Church and (at times) individual Catholics (merely for being Catholic), has similarly been present in most English-speaking countries ever since the religious conflicts in Britain in the sixteenth century.
These three venerable bigotries share some common features:
In the case of each of these prejudices, there is a significant body of hate literature (i.e., The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and similar books in the case of Catholics, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and similar books in the case of Jews, many more recent works in the case of Muslims). Even for those who haven't read these works of fiction posing as fact, their message has infected the attitudes of many people. And the message of these books is, simply and falsely, "The community of people about whom you're reading here is a sinister institution determined to harm you." (And, if you haven't read these books, my advice is that you have far better things to do with your time, and far better books to read.)
In the case of each of these prejudices, there is a determined effort by many to associate all the members of a community with the crimes of a few. According to this mentality, all Catholics (or at least all priests and religious) are blamed for the activities of a small number of paedophile clergy. Similarly, this mentality blames all Muslims ... or all Jews ... or both ... for the activities of a comparatively small number of political extremists in the Middle East.
The content of these bigotries varies according to the individual, but the bitterness remains.
- If you're on the political "right", your anti-Semitism, islamophobia, or anti-Catholicism takes on a right-of-centre flavour.
- If you're on the political "left", your anti-Semitism, islamophobia, or anti-Catholicism takes on a left-of-centre flavour.
- If you're religious, your antisemitism, islamophobia, or anti-Catholicism takes on a religious flavour.
- If you're non-religious (or even anti-religious), your antisemitism, islamophobia, or anti-Catholicism takes on a non-religious (or anti-religious) flavour.
While people holding these bigotries point to events in the news as support for their prejudices, the prejudices are not dependent on the events.
- If the whole political situation in the Middle East was solved to the full satisfaction of all the various communities in the area, antisemitism and islamophobia would remain problems in our western society.
- Similarly, if the problem of child abuse among some clergy was completely solved, with appropriate penalties given to all who abused children and all who covered up these crimes, we'd still have a problem with anti-Catholicism in our community.
With all bigotry, the responsibility for combatting the prejudice rests on those of us who are not among the objects of the bigotry. As with racism, sexism, and homophobia, so it is also with these three venerable bigotries.:
- For those of us, including myself, who are gentile, combatting antisemitism is our business.
- For those of us, including myself, who are Christian, combatting islamophobia is our business,
- For those of us, including myself, who are "Protestant", combatting anti-Catholicism is our business.