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Ethnocentrism ?


C Potter-Pirbright

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I got into a bit of an argument today on the internet, with a social justice blogger, who deals with cultural appropriation. I followed the blog initially because I agreed with her general ideas and come from the same background as her. Today however she made me see red, first when she told someone that the religion they were brought up as couldn't be theirs as an adopted child since her parents weren't really her parents.

But then proceeded to tell me that the Government had no right to attach a religion to an abandoned child (in this case to that of the countries majority religion) because that is just politics . I have huge issues with the fact that the government does this to start with. Either ways her argument was more along the lines of the government needs to keep out of my religious beliefs since my religion is determined at the time of my conception and is the only way anyone can be my religion. While I personally think that is bogus, I chose to ask her if cultural practices that encourage and condone atrocities towards women, in this case the practise of Sati ( burning of the widow alive on the husbands funeral pyre) or locking women away in Purdah, and preventing the remarriage of widows were all fine by her and should the government not have laws against such practices?

She told me that the government pretty much had no right to stop Sati if the women want it. (Women traditionaly were coerced and drugged within hours of a husbands death into such deaths, if they didn't want to bring shame to the family etc). Thats when I sort of stopped being polite. And told her she was ridiculous, and no I didn't agree that these deaths if forced should be avenged when they can be prevented to start with. Apparently that makes me a terrible person. Her final response before I decided to disengage and not cause myself permanent damage was

"aren’t you also being ethnocentric in that case by telling the people what’s right and what’s not right for them to do although that’s what they believe in. Wouldn’t you just be trying to soothe their religion in a way that the people don’t want? If the people strongly believe in that, then it wouldn’t be 100% right to try and tell them that their religion is unlawful."

So we are a bunch of intelligent people here, am I that terrible to think that religious and cultural practices that are a part of the cultural I grew up with , can and should be changed? Especially if the subjugate people?

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I think that universal human rights trump cultural practices. While any two people can debate when human life begins, it's well acknowledged that a married woman is a human being and has a right to life. While it's important to be culturally sensitive, it's also important to step in when a culture is committing human rights violations. History is full of examples and most of them are pretty unpleasant; any time law and culture clash, there are going to be fireworks.

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Was this on tumblr, by any chance? Lots of really out there blogs over there which seem to take the "your culture is by your blood and your blood only" stance on a lot of issues, usually coming from people in the US/UK/Canada/OZ/other-English-speaking-region who are talking about their "other" family background culture because of course they were raised in the US/UK/Canada/OZ, and sort of romanticize things, to put it nicely. People living in the "other" place in 2013 hang out on different parts of the internet.

I get that true change really comes from the inside and can't be unilaterally forced from the outside, but I also think that not all instances of change being introduced from the outside is bad (it can very well be picked up and furthered from the inside).

Too often (IMHO) people romanticize "traditional practices" to the point where without realizing it (maybe?) they are effectively asking a group of people to remain frozen in amber for that asker's benefit.

And heck yeah even just on a quick read I'd say "if the women want it" is pretty much LOADED with issues.

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This seems to be less about ethnocentrism and more about moral relativism. Either some things are wrong cross culturally or they are not. That seems to be the core issue here, not any specific practice or religion.

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Yep Tumblr indeed.

The person in question was arguing that no one can ever convert to Hinduism since its discouraged with heavy penalties and determined pre birth etc. She also as far as I can tell while being ethnically from the region has never lived there etc, so has a a very rigid and romantic view of things. I try to keep out of these sort of things, but this one as I said pushed my buttons big time, "if the women want it" is such fucking shit for any form of subjugation that I don't have the words. Not to mention the moment when she told me that banning it was passed into law by the British( with evil British being implied) and thus omg forced... uh read some history. In this case I spent enough of my young adult years in that culture to say 'STFU'.

Unfollowing and staring at Doctor Who pretties was the smartest thing I've done since.

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Heh. I just KNEW it. Yeah, your description fits a lot of the blogs over there to a T, pretty much sometimes all you can do is walk away. (Or find some other blog snarking it...)

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I will say that there are some very good social justice bloggers on Tumblr, particularly ones where social justice isn't the only thing they blog about. The blogger you are posting about is making some very odd arguments though. Plenty of people convert from one religion to another, or from having no religion to having one, with little to no outside influence. I myself was brought up in a totally secular household but am a Christian, and I know people who have converted from Islam to Christianity in freaking Iran - not exactly a place hospitable to Christian missionaries. And if we're looking at India, it can be a very hostile place for non-Hindus to live outside of certain areas. Speaking as someone from a place with a state religion, the whole 'you were born in a Christian country therefore you're a Christian' thing bothers me and I'm surprised to see an SJ blogger support that stance.

And I have no patience for people who want cultural mores to trump human rights.

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This person could not be wronger. Religion is not genetic, adoptive parents are real parents, and supporting Hindu-led anti-sati campaigns within India is perfectly appropriate for non-Indians (just as supporting anti-FGM campaigns led by groups within countries and regions where FGM is widespread is appropriate for people from other countries).

She's taken something that has a grain of truth---that opposition to cruel or oppressive cultural practices needs to be led by voices within that culture---and inflated it to some weird stance that nobody else gets a say. As you clearly know, there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Hindu women within India actively involved in protesting misogynist Hindu cultural practices, and people from all over the world providing financial and logistical support for their work. She's the one being a cultural imperialist by denying Hindu women the agency of advocating for their own rights, and dismissing the important and brave work they are doing right now.

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Is it a tenet of Hinduism that the religion is genetic? Judaism has that, it passes to you from your mother, not your father.

I'd just class it in with stupid stuff religious people believe, and bad shit religious people do to children and move on to trying to stamp out the whole evil mess.

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Is it a tenet of Hinduism that the religion is genetic? Judaism has that, it passes to you from your mother, not your father.

I'd just class it in with stupid stuff religious people believe, and bad shit religious people do to children and move on to trying to stamp out the whole evil mess.

Having children and passing on the faith is part of a Hindu's dharma, but no Hinduism is not a genetic religion like Judaism is. There is no ethnic or familial barrier to a non-Hindu converting to Hinduism.

FWIW though, plenty of non-religious people believe stupid stuff and do bad shit to kids. The vast majority of the world is religious and the idea of secular = better IS often ethnocentric. Modern anti-theistic atheism is overwhelmingly a white, middle-class phenomenon and ignores the place of religion in empowering communities in the global South, eg Christianity for the Dalit community in India or the role of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe for Mexican women. Particularly with discussions surrounding Islam and women, 'lol religion is stupid' quickly descends into 'lol brown people are stupid'.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-schr ... 87325.html (not breaking link because it's to HuffPo)

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I follow the same blog and had a similar reaction. I thought it was odd to say that someone who was raised from birth as a Hindu isn't a "real" Hindu and never will be because their birth parents aren't Hindu. Just...what? I don't know a ton about Hinduism, but that just seems so strange.

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I follow the same blog and had a similar reaction. I thought it was odd to say that someone who was raised from birth as a Hindu isn't a "real" Hindu and never will be because their birth parents aren't Hindu. Just...what? I don't know a ton about Hinduism, but that just seems so strange.

Ikr, I saw red pretty quickly on that front itself. By the time she started arguing with me about the rights of women to commit Sati , I couldn't handle it. But you probably saw that entire charming stream of arguing. blergh.

Hinduism has different and varying views on if you can or can't convert to the religion. Some believe its a genetic and spiritual thing. And others think theres nothing wrong with converting and following beliefs and practices , and some honestly couldn't care less. This girl thinks she has all the answers especially since she has priests in the family, my only response to that which I didn't actually utter was and so what so do I and they'd be appalled by you. As with all religions I guess everything is up to interpretation.

But religion doesn't trump human rights. Plain and simple.

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I just surfed up that blog now (doesn't take much to guess the names of those things) and yeah, the poster seems to be saying "my particular practice is the only right one."

FWIW I encountered someone who was like this about Judaism on another board, he was a BT (born Jewish, but only became religiously observant in later life) who went full on haredi (or was aiming that way, anyway, by his own admission) who would just make blanket statements about the one way to do things, and of course it would be the most restrictive opinion, and occasionally other orthodox people (modern orthodox, etc) would appear to say, "hey guy, tune it down a notch, we've been doing this since we can remember and we don't agree with you, you need to point out just what small corner of the community you're supposedly representing" which was amusing.

Personally I find some of the "this is not XXX" blogs to be half and half - lots of good stuff, but then some stuff that is just... coming from a sincere place, I think, but the entire thing is SO focused on the minority experience in the US or other white-majority English speaking countries that there is some very strong desires to protect what they are seeing as a minority practice that they were teased for, or similar, without seeming to realize (or just not acknowledging) that there are places where those things are normative and people tweak the practices all day long because it's just regular ol' modernity. I mean, you'll get people who will with a straight face try to say it's some form of appropriation to study foreign languages, even, never mind that people migrate around the world daily and if you go to those countries where it's the national language, hordes of recent migrants are speaking it.

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Was this on tumblr, by any chance? Lots of really out there blogs over there which seem to take the "your culture is by your blood and your blood only" stance on a lot of issues, usually coming from people in the US/UK/Canada/OZ/other-English-speaking-region who are talking about their "other" family background culture because of course they were raised in the US/UK/Canada/OZ, and sort of romanticize things, to put it nicely. People living in the "other" place in 2013 hang out on different parts of the internet.

I get that true change really comes from the inside and can't be unilaterally forced from the outside, but I also think that not all instances of change being introduced from the outside is bad (it can very well be picked up and furthered from the inside).

Too often (IMHO) people romanticize "traditional practices" to the point where without realizing it (maybe?) they are effectively asking a group of people to remain frozen in amber for that asker's benefit.

And heck yeah even just on a quick read I'd say "if the women want it" is pretty much LOADED with issues.

And you have to also think about why the women want it in the first place. There could be societal/familial or community pressure on the women to embrace the cultural practice.

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Having children and passing on the faith is part of a Hindu's dharma, but no Hinduism is not a genetic religion like Judaism is. There is no ethnic or familial barrier to a non-Hindu converting to Hinduism.

FWIW though, plenty of non-religious people believe stupid stuff and do bad shit to kids. The vast majority of the world is religious and the idea of secular = better IS often ethnocentric. Modern anti-theistic atheism is overwhelmingly a white, middle-class phenomenon and ignores the place of religion in empowering communities in the global South, eg Christianity for the Dalit community in India or the role of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe for Mexican women. Particularly with discussions surrounding Islam and women, 'lol religion is stupid' quickly descends into 'lol brown people are stupid'.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-schr ... 87325.html (not breaking link because it's to HuffPo)

I am not a cultural relativist. There is no merit to the argument that something is better because it's a tradition. Religion is evil no matter how many people do it, or how long they've been doing it for. As Steven Weinberg said, it takes religion to make a good person do bad things.

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Okay, so you just entirely ignored my point which is not about cultural relativism but about racism. How do you defend the fact that atheism is overwhelmingly a white, middle-class phenomenon? You say religion is evil, but if it is evil, how come it empowers disenfranchised people such as the Dalit community in India? How can you defend the racism within the atheist movement as described in the article I linked to? Did you read the article?

It doesn't take religion to make a good person do bad things - when the government in North Korea make people disappear, is that religion's doing? No. Religion is not a sentient being. People use it for evil things, sure, but that applies to other things too such as land or resources. Do atheists who abuse children and do other evil things not exist somehow, because it takes religion to make people do bad things? Because it's pretty easy to prove that that's not the case.

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I am not a cultural relativist. There is no merit to the argument that something is better because it's a tradition. Religion is evil no matter how many people do it, or how long they've been doing it for. As Steven Weinberg said, it takes religion to make a good person do bad things.

Arguments that devolve into insulting a person's intelligence are not very productive. I do not think that a believer is stupid or dumb nor should they be called names. There are complex reasons why people choose to believe, family; community, the desire to see a deceased loved one. For the most part, if religion is practiced by the believer and not forced on others or used to justify unfair laws or mistreatment of different groups, I'm willing to not mock most religious practices. However, that doesn't mean that being religious or believing in a higher power is rational. If someone tries to convert me, I'd probably come off as slightly insulting because once an individual crosses the line to trying to convince me to accept a nonrational belief as fact, I feel that I don't have to be completely respectful of them anymore.

I've never gotten into a discussion with atheists that devolved into a 'brown people are stupid rant.' I have read comments from Christians complaining that atheists don't pick on other religions enough; however, once the atheist site begins to pick apart the illogical nature of a different faith, accusations of racism normally follow.( I have read some rather misogynistic views from atheists though.) It is difficult to relate to atheists as a group because atheism only means you don't believe in god.

I'm not certain why the race or education of atheists should have any relation to criticizing religion. I've been told that there are atheist Hindus, for example. Not being very familiar with Hinduism, I don't know if that is true.

The writer of the article used arguments that I've read creationists use against accepting evolution. For example, Darwin was a racist.

I do agree that religion can do a lot of good but it can also do a lot of evil. It is difficult to say whether religion has had an overall positive or negative effect on humanity. But I think that the tendency to separate ourselves into us versus them would occur without religion also. Having a god just seems to make it easier to feel that one side is superior to the other.

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It doesn't take religion to make a good person do bad things - when the government in North Korea make people disappear, is that religion's doing? No. Religion is not a sentient being. People use it for evil things, sure, but that applies to other things too such as land or resources. Do atheists who abuse children and do other evil things not exist somehow, because it takes religion to make people do bad things? Because it's pretty easy to prove that that's not the case.

I'm not saying I necessarily agree with the above poster's point (although maybe I do -- haven't thought it through enough), but I think you're missing something in your logic. "It takes religion to make a good person do bad things" is not the same thing as saying "Only religion makes people do bad things." It's saying GOOD people only do bad things if influenced by misguided religious teachings to do so. So the answer to your questions would be that those people who do bad things not motivated by religion are bad people.

Of course, it could also be argued that anyone who does bad things is a bad person, and pointing to their religion doesn't absolve them of responsibility.

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I've never gotten into a discussion with atheists that devolved into a 'brown people are stupid rant.' I have read comments from Christians complaining that atheists don't pick on other religions enough; however, once the atheist site begins to pick apart the illogical nature of a different faith, accusations of racism normally follow.( I have read some rather misogynistic views from atheists though.)

Regarding not "pick[ing] on other religions" besides Christianity -- I think it's because, at least in Western countries, atheists only feel especially oppressed by Christians. I will admit to having very negative feelings about Christianity that I don't have about other religions because of my personal history of growing up atheist in bible-thumping rural Georgia and being made to feel that Christian = good person and MAYBE believing in God = good person, but not believing in God definitely = evil person. I resent the fact that it matters to people whether or not the President of my country is Christian. And I most certainly do not appreciate the in-your-face evangelizing that Christians do that does not seem to be a part of most other religions.

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Okay, so you just entirely ignored my point which is not about cultural relativism but about racism. How do you defend the fact that atheism is overwhelmingly a white, middle-class phenomenon?

My response is, so? What does the race of atheists have to do with prejudice. Unless you think that being white automatically makes someone a racist.

You say religion is evil, but if it is evil, how come it empowers disenfranchised people such as the Dalit community in India? How can you defend the racism within the atheist movement as described in the article I linked to? Did you read the article?

Although your question was not directed at me, I wanted to point out that I don't think that religion is evil just not very logical. I read the article. The author's main point seems to be offense that a study was done claiming that atheists have higher IQ's than religious people. He then goes into a discussion that doesn't really cover the study itself. A better question would be whether having a high IQ has is a factor in atheism or if seeking a higher education correlates to a higher IQ.

It doesn't take religion to make a good person do bad things - when the government in North Korea make people disappear, is that religion's doing? No. Religion is not a sentient being. People use it for evil things, sure, but that applies to other things too such as land or resources. Do atheists who abuse children and do other evil things not exist somehow, because it takes religion to make people do bad things? Because it's pretty easy to prove that that's not the case.

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I don't know about the atheist "movement" but in my experience plenty of people of all backgrounds are happy to be pretty much "non-religious" (as I would say I am) or just secular.

Atheism not as a "movement" is just the state of not believing in gods. That's it. I find the current trend in many places of trying to say that atheism is some sort of unified movement that is necessarily racist (and various other "-ists") to be just as misguided as the argument that atheism is itself a religion which requires a leap of faith. Both are aimed at saying that not believing in religion is somehow either non-legitimate or some sort of deliberately artificial posturing thing. To me, just the lazy usual "I don't particularly believe in anything" very "non-fervent" "non-religious" "non-observant" type views qualify as atheism. People criticize religion (whichever one is dominant near them) the world over.

I just don't really see how it's a "white vs. brown" thing.

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Regarding not "pick[ing] on other religions" besides Christianity -- I think it's because, at least in Western countries, atheists only feel especially oppressed by Christians. I will admit to having very negative feelings about Christianity that I don't have about other religions because of my personal history of growing up atheist in bible-thumping rural Georgia and being made to feel that Christian = good person and MAYBE believing in God = good person, but not believing in God definitely = evil person. I resent the fact that it matters to people whether or not the President of my country is Christian. And I most certainly do not appreciate the in-your-face evangelizing that Christians do that does not seem to be a part of most other religions.

Not only do atheists in the West mostly feel abused only by Christians, but they can also end up feeling a kinship with other religions, like Hinduism, Judaism (thinking about our other thread about cultural appropriation), and Muslims, who all also get abused by the dominant religion. Far from being racist towards brown people, I see a lot of sympathy flowing from atheists to other minority groups.

Furthermore, I don't see that atheists primarily being white and middle class (and upper class) as a racial thing so much as an networking thing. Despite the atheist claim that they don't aim to evangelize, these ideas DO spread, and they spread fastest among already established networks of similar people, sooo.... other middle class white people.

I think it's also useful to point out that it has traditionally been quite dangerous to identify as atheist. It may be that white middle class people have the indenpence from their families to break away from traditional beliefs, and also the resources to band together as an "atheist" movement. That certainly has some interesting racial things to talk about, but it's not "racist" in the sense that only white people are welcome.

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I got into a bit of an argument today on the internet, with a social justice blogger, who deals with cultural appropriation. I followed the blog initially because I agreed with her general ideas and come from the same background as her. Today however she made me see red, first when she told someone that the religion they were brought up as couldn't be theirs as an adopted child since her parents weren't really her parents.

I wonder how she would feel if a Hindu couple adopted a child from a Christian mother? Would she say the Hindu couple couldn't share their faith with their newly adopted child?

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No, being white does not automatically make somebody racist but it does mean they have white privilege and therefore it is inappropriate for them to decide what is best for non-white people - like in the case of white atheists dismissing mostly non-white religions.

Regarding it taking religion to make good people do bad things, it seems very strange that religion is singled out as being the only thing that does that. Anything that inspires strong emotion in someone can do that. I am NOT denying that religion is used for evil, but religion by itself is neutral - it can be used for good or evil.

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No, being white does not automatically make somebody racist but it does mean they have white privilege and therefore it is inappropriate for them to decide what is best for non-white people - like in the case of white atheists dismissing mostly non-white religions.

Or like sending missionaries to Africa, South America, and Asia?

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