Bil Browning

Why Americans think Hoosiers are a bunch of ignorant Bible beaters

Filed By Bil Browning | December 27, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Hoosiers, ignorant Christians, ranking religions, religious superiority

Want to know why Americans tend to think of Hoosiers as a bunch of ignorant Bible beaters? Sometimes the depths of religious stupidity that's on display in our fair state is staggering.

justice-jesus-ins5.jpgTake, for example, conservative blogger Steve Dalton's recent post on Northwest Indiana Politics about the politics of Christmas. Instead of simply acknowledging his own beliefs and the meaning behind the holiday according to his religious traditions, Dalton goes on the attack against other faiths. (Emphasis mine)

In this culture we celebrate the fact that everyone has their own beliefs ... yet the downside is that we've lost the ability to truly debate which of those beliefs are right and which are just plain hogwash. It's even become rude to suggest that one has a belief that is true, since this assigns "false" to another belief. Let's be frank, truth exists and all other beliefs are false, even if that hurts someone feelings.

The "truth," of course, is Dalton's religion of choice.

While books could be written over the implications behind his need for his invisible deity to overshadow other mythical sky daddies, let's focus in for a second on the sheer intellectual laziness and over generalization that Dalton's post accentuates. In fact, we'll narrow it down to the one tenet of Christianity repeatedly espoused by Christ.

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is one of the basic themes of Christianity. It's taken many forms and phrasings over the centuries including "Do unto others what you'd have them do unto you," and "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

In Matthew 22:34-40 [NIV], Christ is challenged by a group of Jewish fundamentalists who hope to trick him into saying something outside the boundaries of their dogma.

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

That's a pretty ringing endorsement. All of Christianity's principals and purposes "hang on these two commandments." The Golden Rule is also referenced by Jesus in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. Other mentions in the New Testament include this writing from Christianity's foremost evangelist, St. Paul of Tarsus, in Galations 5:14 [NIV]:

14The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

The Greatest Commandment (of the Jews)

What was the Pharisee referencing when he asked Christ about "the greatest commandment?" For the answer, Christians can look back into the Old Testament - Leviticus 19:18 [NIV] specifically.

18 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

The Old Testament of the Christian Bible is also part of Jewish holy scripture. Jesus was, of course, a Jew. Other Jewish scholars reworked the Great Commandment with the Golden Rule like the Sage Hillel did in Talmud, Shabbat 31a:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

Granted, that whole "One God, Two Religions and Half a Book" thing can get tedious for your short-sighted evangelical. Still, the shared references to the Golden Rule should be a major clue.

By Any Other Name

While the phrasing changes from region to region, a variance of the Golden Rule is the basis for most world religions. The similarities are scattered throughout the holy texts of dozens of traditions.

Bahá'í Faith:
"Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not." "Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself." Baha'u'llah

"This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you". Mahabharata, 5:1517

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18

"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" Analects 15:23

Ancient Egyptian:
"Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant (Written in 1640 BCE, this is acknowledged as the earliest version of the Golden Rule ever written.)

"This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517

"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." Number 13 of Imam "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."

"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self." Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara

Native American Spirituality:
"Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself." Pima proverb

Roman Pagan Religion:
"The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves."

"The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form. Be charitable to all beings, love is the representative of God." Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga

"Don't create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone." Guru Arjan Devji 259

"The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven't the will to gladden someone's heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone's heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this." Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order

"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien

Unitarian Universalism:
"We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." Unitarian principles 8

"And it harm no one, do what thou wilt" The Wiccan Rede

"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts." Nigerian proverb

"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

Weaving a Tapestry Fundamentalists Overlook

One of the most disappointing facets of Steve's post is that he's a generally nice guy. He's not your typical Bible beating religious fundie that condemns everyone else to hell but thinks he's on the right path as God's chosen one. That is what makes what he said all the more frightening and deplorable.

Religious fanaticism is rarely a sudden development; it takes time to develop that needed blind spot to facts and logic. Unfortunately, some children are reared in a fundamentalist environment that puts more emphasis on the belief that certain biblical stories actually happened instead of the moral or spiritual truth behind the preserved parable. While many young adults who go to college end up questioning and re-examining their beliefs, the uneducated tend to be the most faithful sheeple of any religion.

Not every educated person turns away from their faith, of course; not every scientist is an atheist and many religious leaders are incredibly intelligent. Humans are a many-faceted beast. Our happiness is fleeting, our concentration is fickle, and our capacity to enjoy both cruelty and kindness in almost equal portions is written in our bones.

The multiple personalities of its citizenry is what shapes our societies and how our civilizations have embraced that diversity has defined them. One of the main reasons polytheism was popular is the universality of the Golden Rule. If everyone is minding their own business and treating each other with kindness, what does it matter which aspect of God your neighbor believes in?

Pulling Out the Loose Thread

Every weave has a weak spot. Any determined mischief maker can work at the web and by pulling out threads and unraveling connections destroy the whole thing. Sometimes the knits are accidentally torn or disfigured by rot.

Demanding that your religion is the "truth" and "and all other beliefs are false," isn't just tugging at a loose thread, it's grabbing handfuls of cloth and attempting to rend the entire weave. It is, simply put, a bid to aggrandize the speaker at the expense of others. This isn't "hurting someone's feelings," it's a thinly veiled attempt at domination while needlessly insulting others so the author can satisfy a Freudian childhood itch that his daddy can beat up someone else's daddy.

The "truth" is that 99% of the world's religions share the same common thread - the Golden Rule. The overwhelming historical need by societies has been to find a way to keep their citizenry happy and at peace with each other.

Religious zealotry, however, has been the basis for countless massacres, wars, and political machinations that ended in genocide. This end result goes much further than hurting someone's feelings; it concludes in a riot of blood and prejudice.

That's about as far from Christ's teachings as possible. And that's the truth.

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Steve Dalton's article is short but perhaps could have been shorter. I think he was on safe ground when he talks about faith in Jesus and being unashamed of it. Respect for others beliefs must include respect for one's own beliefs.

However, he seems to advocate crossing the line into disrespect for others. Debating religious beliefs with other people is fine if it is voluntary. The internet has a large number of forums where you can do just that and some are quite popular. But Dalton seems to want to champion his beliefs to people who don't want the discussion. This would be extremely rude, and yes, it would tear at the social fabric.

Dalton's article is short and doesn't really say how far he would push his beliefs on others. It may be that he simply wanted to encourage Christians to take pride in their beliefs or to complain about "political correctness." But, yes, the article does raise the specter of militant proselytizing and that is disturbing.

Steve Dalton is now playing the victim card because of this blog entry criticizing his blog entry--

daltonsbriefs [Moderator] 4 hours ago || I got slapped around pretty good at: for having the temerity to suggest that a truth may be ... true. In this author's eye, we are bible beaters.

Ahhh, Mr Dalton;
By the standards of how many of us have been treated by evangelicals(I was raised Catholic, the evangelicals had reasons to distress me before I came out)you've been handled reasonably respectfully.

I have to say Bil, I agree with this Dalton character to a large extent and I think its rather a shame that the political left, progressive, whatver-historical-political-category-you-want-to-call-it, has abandoned such a view. The fact is, religious bigots are wrong. They are wrong because they have false beliefs. I don't need to ennumerate all those false beliefs here, but you can come up with a good list easy peasy. For one, a lot of fundie christians believe gay sex is wrong. That is a FALSE belief. Yes, they are entitled to have their false belief, but that won't change the fact that it is false. Its sad that the poltical left refuses to acknowledge that we actually have TRUTH on our side.

As for the Golden rule, while it is a good starting point it is actually a pretty disasterous in terms of a moral theory, and probably should be avoided when making life/moral choices. The problem in it lies in that different people like different things.

To take a teeny tiny example. Imagine a straight guy has some how gained the power over a certain group of extremely attractive, intelligent women-robots (robots who are identical with real women except lets say on the microscopic level) and he can command them to do whatever he pleases. Now this straight guy would love it if these women seduced him, perhaps even ravaged him sexually. Does this make it ok for him to command these women-bots to seduce and/or ravage any person on the street, as the Golden Rule would imply? No! It would be tantamount to rape or at the very least would make others extremely uncomfortable and would just be plain wrong.

We can construct an almost infinite array of examples like this one and begin to see just how quickly the golden rule unravels as it fails to take into account the subtlety of human difference in desire and situation.

"A" addresses a subtle point that the main post does not. In some discussions, the Golden Rule might be, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you;" and the Silver Rule is "Don't do unto another that which you would not have done unto you." The Golden Rule is stated in the positive, and the Silver Rule is stated in the negative; however, in application they can be very different.

As "A" points out, practicing the Golden Rule carelessly can lead one to do things that are not welcome to others --- and while the Silver Rule is more reliable to follow, it too has exceptions. For example, if a masochist says "Hit me, hit me hard!" then the Silver Rule would lead you not to hit him, because the average person does not like to be physically assaulted. However, to the masochist being hit is exactly what he wants.

Both rules cannot be practiced literally by an unthinking automaton; and both rules have to be applied within a realm of common sense.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 28, 2009 8:46 AM

The greatest hubris is assuming that we know what would be on a deity's mind. I think the above argument is solved by a glance at the Wiccan version of "The Golden Rule" above and also a quick google of the word: bunkshooter.

Carl Sandburg said it best: "Where do you get that stuff?"

Meanwhile, celebrate Indiana. She is the smallest state in the continental 48 west of the original 13 colonies, but she is outsized in her generation of crazy folks. :)

Well in my opinion, believing in some omnipotent, supernatural being is the very definition of intellectual laziness. It also pretty well defines the aversion to personal responsibility, (another concept the right wing loves to espouse but doesn't really grasp). Hey, why even try to be a good and kind person when all you have to do in the end is accept some version of "god" and be saved from eternal damnation? Why take responsibility for your actions or try to make the world a better place when it's all "god's" will? (see global climate change)
I used to go to great lengths, GREAT lengths, to avoid criticizing other peoples' religion, both generally and when it came to individual superstitions. After all, I analyzed the belief structure my parents tried to impose upon me and many other beliefs since and have found them lacking. Not being "special" or "better" than anybody else, I accepted that I could be wrong and any of them could be right. Then the zealots began to impose their will upon me, under cover of legislation, regardless of my belief structure and regardless of the fact that I don't share theirs. So now, all bets are off.
How is killing gays in Uganda and better than killing infidels in Pakistan? How is denying me full citizenship due to my gender identity any different than denying Palestinians full citizenship based on ethnicity? In all the examples, the sole basis, the ONLY basis for discrimination is the majority's belief in some supernatural deity and it's apparent desire that only they, who hold power there have it right and that gives them all of the justification needed to oppress their own minorities and to wage war on other nations. All because of the concept of "god"
You can keep it.

Hmmm. Well, perhaps Dalton is following the golden rule. I mean, if one is to "love one's neighbor as one loves oneself," perhaps, deep down, he doesn't like himself very much.

"invisible deity
other mythical sky daddies"

how is it following the Golden Rule when you bash others' beliefs?

Dalton is wrong... but so is hating on Christians.

I'm the first comment on Steve's post and I criticized him for it, but not because he was wrong but rather because he left basic things unsaid which could be twisted and taken in a bad way. This article is the proof of it.

Christianity, long before there was an Indiana, came to the conclusion that God's truth could pop out imperfectly in all sorts of venues. No strand of christianity that I know of thinks that other religions or ethical systems are wrong in every particular. The key is discussion and respect and patient expectation that eventually people will clue in to the ultimate truth.

Christians do cooperate across theological lines, especially on new issues like modern bioethics where all faiths have to look at old texts in new lights. This cooperation is viewed by all sides as good even though, for example, both Islam and Christianity view themselves as exclusively right. Even in Indiana there is generally no objection to this. What do you think the WCC or the relevant Catholic ecumenical commission do?

Oh, I think there are *lots* of reasons for ppl to see "Hoosiers" as ignorant Bible-beaters, rednecks, and lots of other anti-progressive things.

As far as religion goes, tho I don't agree with most of the beliefs or traditions, I am willing to live and let live--if those folks want to live like it is still the nineteenth century (or ninth, in some cases), then I am willing to let them do that in their own family/religious community, even tho it generally causes much pain for anyone who isn't straight and male.

The problem for me comes when they are driven to export their beliefs to society, and try to force me to live *my* life according to *their* religious ideals. Which the most conservative of them seem to strongly feel the need to do. ~


Let's be frank, truth exists and all other beliefs are false, even if that hurts someone feelings.

There are multiple problems with this oversimplification. It is a one-dimensional statement on a subject where multi-dimensional thought is necessary.

(1) "The Truth" can be stated in more than one way.

(2) "The Truth" can have different perspectives, some perspectives being counter-intuitive. We have all heard the story about the blind men describing an elephant --- each blind man was correct, but was also accessing only a portion of the truth and mistaking it for the entire truth.

For a counter-intuitive aspect of Truth, consider relativity. It doesn't make sense to the average person that an object moving near the speed of light is heavier (more massive) than the same object when it is at rest --- even so, it has been proven to be true.

(3) As pointed out, different versions of Truth can overlap; you might say the other guy is false, but that does not mean that he is absolutely wrong about absolutely everything.

(4) Finally, for one person to claim that "his Truth" is right and all other claims to Truth are wrong implies that his access to ultimate Truth is superior to another's. But there is no reason to believe that one person has a better grasp of the Truth than the next person, especially from a political standpoint. This is the foundation of the argument that, politically and socially, the best environment is created when people respect each other's beliefs even in the face of dramatic disagreement. Among theists, religious hubris is dangerous specifically because no one person or group has a complete understanding of God --- and most esoteric spiritual disciplines point out explicitly that a complete understanding is humanly impossible.

The point that "a complete understanding is humanly impossible" makes a statement such as "truth exists and all other beliefs are false" useless.

Far more useful is the commandment: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 28, 2009 8:07 PM

I very much liked your point 2 above. I generally concentrate on perception of truth being different for a person digging in a muddy trench vs a person fishing in a stream or standing on a mountaintop. Whenever anybody suggests (outside of scientific discovery) that they have found "the truth" I remind myself of that.

I see that in only watching my own little political blog I missed the much more active conversation over on Bil's site. First, I will agree wholeheartedly with Bil that we both find some irony in having no angst toward each other, and yet disagreeing on immense issues.

I appreciated the post, even the tone, because I more than many of you enjoy the debate and the engagement. There is a certain amount of honesty in a debate amongst avid disagreeing but congenial thinkers.

To put my thoughts simply, I find post-modern philosophy, especially the parts that suggest there is no such thing as truth ... or worse that truth is whatever each individual believes it to be ... to be naive, sophomoric and small minded. I once said to a Mormon friend "were I to be tasked with making up a religion from scratch, and given 30 minutes, I would have written of a religion that encourages eternal promiscuity and interplanetery travel and men ordering around women in droves ... it just has all the animal instincts in one place." Of course my Mormon friend saw the implications of the statement, the reason it sounds so appealing is frankly because it's made up.

So let me close this round, and I'll be sure to check back in with: "the ultimate in human selfishness could be summed up by suggesting that there is no such thing as right or wrong, truth or lie, there is merely what I want to hear and what I want to believe" (my quote)


Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 29, 2009 8:25 PM

I would add that whenever someone tells me they have found the "truth" I instinctively guard my wallet.

When anyone says "right or wrong" I think it would be wise to substitute "harmful and benign" instead.

Melanie Davis | December 30, 2009 5:13 AM

We're all battered people, and maybe the problem is that we see the golden rule form another angle and instead understand it as:

Do unto others as you have had done unto you.

This would explain a lot, and we humans are beasts not much talented in forethought.

Brad Bailey | January 2, 2010 11:09 PM

I commend your objectivity and thoroughness in researching your response to the article. With all due respect, Dalton's is but one of thousands of similar commentaries that appear in local and state newspapers all over the Bible Belt this time of year. It's a product of the soldiers-for-Christ mentality that has prevailed in red states for years.

As this thread ages, perhaps I should suggest this version of the Golden Rule that drills down to the specific issue of Faith and Truth:

Handle the ultimate beliefs of others with care and respect, just as you would want the thoughts of your own soul to be approached by others; be willing to explore the Truth with them in civil, respectful, and nimble ways: for just as you might help them purify their view of Truth, they also might help you purify yours.

And a similar thought expressed in the negative:

Do not hatefully attack and ridicule the beliefs of others, just as you would not want your own most precious beliefs to be so attacked and ridiculed.

If there is indeed only one Ultimate Truth that we apparently cannot grasp immediately and directly, then a constant purifying of the Truths that we can access may be the only way for humanity to move toward It. And if we are to progress to some discovery process even better, we must start here.