I want to talk about the word “bigot,” not so much bigots, but the word and its meaning.
Earlier this week, Minnesota Public Radio broadcast a debate about Minnesota‘s proposed and so-called Marriage Amendment. (I haven’t yet found a full transcription of the debate, alas — MPR’s site isn’t always easy to navigate — but a detailed story about the debate his here.)
Based on the guests invited to debate the issue, I’m not sure if debate was intended to focus on marriage, religion, and politics or if it simply devolved that way, but in essence the sides of the debate largely lined up on religious opinions. This in itself should make all voters and citizens very nervous. When the Christian Bible is cited as the primary precedent to define law — to literally rebuild a state’s constitution, in this case — sound and obvious reasons for outrage exist.
I found it interesting, however, that both sides stepped over each other to tell the other that they were being civil and open-minded about each other’s positions and discourse.
Civil, ok, but open-minded? I’m not so sure. I think you can politely and sincerely call someone a bigot and not have to apologize for it. If the other side is offended, maybe they should consider why.
In particular, the open religious talk in this debate was stunning. The fact that biblical text is used in a public forum to defend positions of public policy in what’s supposed to be a secular state runs contradictory to what I had always been taught are the foundations of freedom, particularly religious freedom, in this country. But again, I get side-tracked, but then there were other outrageous comments.
Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, kept making the point that in the future other people could change the amendment by referendum. Well, maybe. But that begs the question: What purpose do constitutions serve? I thought the brilliance of our constitution — state and federal — was equal protection, protecting the rights of the minority from the wishes of the majority.
My guess is Brian Brown is a political conservative and political conservatives tend toward this natural law theory and the idea that we have inherent, unchanging rights. Or, in a classical sense, laws are proven by logic and reason where logic and reason are governed by unchanging principles which can determine right and wrong, good and bad. Either way, Brian Brown fails either test. Logic got lost in his opinions and if we are to accept that each generation can re-amend its constitution to fit the whims of the majority, well, where are those inherent basic rights we all are supposed to have?
I recall and God knows (sorry God for bringing you in here) that I might be wrong, but I thought the root of “bigot” is found in religion. Doesn’t it come from some old form of “by god”? Follow me here — especially if you’re a bigot, don’t know it, and were on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater Thursday night. ‘Bi got” where “bi” equals “by” and not that naughty habit of being both same sex and opposite sex. And “got” equals “God”, that impressive guy with all the white hair, big flowing beard, and regal gowns pointing all the time. So you get “by God.”
A bigot wasn’t necessarily a “bad person” or even a hick from Anoka, but someone who lived “by god.” Leave it to the French to turn such a thing into an insult…must have been a German-French thing once upon a time.
In the debate Thursday night, each side was careful not to offend the other with bigot, but…we had bigots on stage! Hell yeah! Why can’t we call a bigot a bigot?
Look at the modern definition: “A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.” Ok, call me intolerant if you want, but I am not the guy trying to codify my intolerance into the state’s constitution! In fact, I think you could argue that my intolerance of intolerance cancels out! (Logic, anyone? How about common sense?) But you cannot tell me that people arguing in favor of Minnesota’s anti-same sex marriage rights amendment are tolerant.
So why can we call them a bigot?
Furthermore, they are forcing their intolerance based on a specific belief, creed, and opinion. Seems to fit the definition perfectly. It is so blatantly obvious that I think it takes more honesty than smarts to figure out.
The biggest offender on the stage — and therefore the biggest bigot — was the Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis. (Brian Brown tried to be all smartsy and talk like he knew what he was talking about, which is by itself annoying.) Here’s part of what Rev. McAfee had to say.
“The core of what we believe is that marriage was ordained by God, as given in the Bible. If you add to it, then you change my belief system,” McAfee said. “And when you change my belief system, I have just as much right to vote yes as anyone else does [to vote] no because it shifts my belief system.”
Let’s be serious again and look at our definitions. I see words like “believe”, “God,” “in the Bible,” and “belief system.” See any problems here? Do you see any reason why we shouldn’t call Rev. McAfee a bigot?
He fails the secular argument, too. Why are his beliefs more valuable than anyone else’s? Simply because he has a special relationship with his god, I suppose, would be his answer. Unfortunately arguments like these are precisely why we have a constitution in the first place, to protect us — to protect our natural inherent rights, a biggie for conservatives — from the whims of the majority.
There is a reason why people don’t want to be called a bigot. It is loaded with derogatory connotations. But there is a reason for that, too. We don’t tolerate intolerance and thus “bigot” isn’t a very endearing word. So it seems to me that the work around here — especially if you’re a right’s bandit like Brown and McAfee — is to remove the word “bigot” from political discourse. Don’t let them get away with it.
For the record, the anti-amendment debaters — Bishop Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and Sarah Walker, board member of Minnesotans United for All Families — did a good job being nice and still made their point. Of course they could have made their point more directly and clearly if they didn’t have to counter all the bigoted objections, but they did a good job and refrained from the “name calling” I might be accused of here.
Overall, though, I see intolerance, especially in the name of religion, mainstreamed into our public and political discourse too easily today. In American today we face an emerging theocracy that should be of concern, especially as it flies directly in the face of our nation’s founding principles. That should be more offensive and disturbing than calling a bigot a bigot.
So, in defense of “bigot’ — not bigots — I want to encourage people to stand up to the narrowing definition of rights in this country. When start to reconstruct our constitutions to restrict rights, not protect them, we are no longer true to the values or tenor of the ideas that built this country as a free nation.
“The precepts of the law are these: to live honestly, to injure no one, and to give everyone else his due.” — Cicero
(P.S. I apologize for the Anoka insult. I should probably remove that, huh? Ironically, I like Anoka! I really do…but I was on a roll and it just came to me. Maybe I should have said Coon Rapids instead.)
- Is it acceptable to call someone a bigot? (kokoliri.wordpress.com)
- Minnesotans United for All Families (mnunited.org)
- A Call for Reasonable GOPers (alittletourinyellow.wordpress.com)
- Let’s call a bigot a bigot (newstatesman.com)