Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The right to bigotry

New from the "What The Hell Did You Think Was Going To Happen?" department, we have: states that have passed "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" -- which allow doctors and other professionals to refuse services to LGBTQ people on the basis of "freedom of religion" -- have markedly poorer health outcomes for sexual minorities than ones that have not.

An analysis done in Indiana by medical researchers at the Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analyzed the number of "unhealthy days" -- days on which the individual reported poor physical or mental health -- before and after the passage of an RFRA law, as a function of whether the subjects were heterosexual or LGBTQ.  The results couldn't be clearer.  Before and after the passage of the RFRA, the number of unhealthy days climbed for LGBTQ individuals, but remained constant for heterosexuals; and the same statistic in states that did not have RFRAs showed no change for either demographic in the same time period.

"Although we can’t say for certain what caused this significant increase in unhealthy days for sexual minority people in Indiana, the change coincided with intense public debate over enactment of the RFRA law," said lead author John R. Blosnich, assistant professor at the Pitt School of Medicine.  "If some other general, statewide factor was at work, we would expect to see the same increase in unhealthy days for heterosexual people in Indiana, and we didn’t see that."

"The Indiana case suggests that the character of the RFRA law might be an important factor in its broader impacts on public health,” said study co-author Erin Cassese of the University of Delaware.  "Some RFRAs are stronger than others, and Indiana’s RFRA law ‘has teeth’ in the sense that it can be used in private litigation, including cases where businesses wish to deny services to sexual minorities. It also permits courts to grant compensatory damages against whomever brings the suit – making a court challenge to a service denial a much riskier proposition...  This project adds to a growing body of research demonstrating that experiences of discrimination are associated with poor health outcomes in a range of minority populations.  While debate over RFRA laws doesn’t typically engage with questions of public health, this project suggests negative health outcomes might be a consequence of this type of policy, and thus warrant some consideration by policymakers."

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Benson Kua, Rainbow flag breeze, CC BY-SA 2.0]

I find it absolutely infuriating when mainstream Christians portray themselves as a persecuted group whose religious views have to be enshrined in law even if those views allow them to discriminate against others.  And here I thought one of the main teachings of Jesus was "love thy neighbor as thyself."  I guess what Jesus meant to say was "love thy neighbor as thyself, unless thy neighbor is the wrong color, wrong religion, or likes to do things with his or her naughty bits that make you feel squinky."

Oh, and then there's the part about "First, cast out the beam from thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to remove the mote from thy brother's eye."  Also kind of inconvenient, that.

And lest you think this is only a problem in the United States, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been staunchly defending a law currently on the books in every state but Queensland and Tasmania that allows schools to expel kids if they come out as LGBTQ.

"That is the existing law," Morrison said.  "We are not proposing to change that law to take away the existing arrangement that exists."

Which is about as articulate as Donald Trump's comment that Hurricane Florence "was one of the wettest we've ever had from the standpoint of water." 

As an aside, where the hell are we finding these politicians, anyhow?  Back in the day, it seemed like at least they could put together a grammatical sentence, even if what that sentence contained wasn't necessarily something I agreed with.

Oh, but I'd forgotten about Dan "Mr. Potatoe" Quayle, who once said that we should be optimistic, because "things are more like they are now than they ever have been."

Never mind.

What I honestly don't get about this is how often discrimination rests on religious views, when you hear "mercy" and "charity" and "love" as being some of the cardinal virtues in pretty much any religion you look into.  It's kind of appalling when the people who sing "What A Friend We Have in Jesus" and "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" in church on Sunday are the same ones who are telling gay people to roast in hell the other six days of the week.

So that's today's exercise in anger induction.  You'd think we'd have gotten past all this bigotry as a species by now.  I guess we've come a way -- when I was a kid, hardly anyone would even admit to being LGBTQ, much less make a stink about it if they were discriminated against.  But what this makes clear is that the bigots aren't ready to give up their narrow-mindedness without a fight... and that we still have a long way to go.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is something everyone should read.  Jonathan Haidt is an ethicist who has been studying the connections between morality and politics for twenty-five years, and whose contribution to our understanding of our own motives is second to none.  In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics, he looks at what motivates liberals and conservatives -- and how good, moral people can look at the same issues and come to opposite conclusions.

His extraordinarily deft touch for asking us to reconsider our own ethical foundations, without either being overtly partisan or accepting truly immoral stances and behaviors, is a needed breath of fresh air in these fractious times.  He is somehow able to walk that line of evaluating our own behavior clearly and dispassionately, and holding a mirror up to some of our most deep-seated drives.

[If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]

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