Goffs School Religious Studies

Topic 2 – Religion and Prejudice

What is prejudice and discrimination?

Prejudice: to prejudge someone unfairly, usually based on a stereotype.

Discrimination: acting on a prejudice. This can involve treating someone unfairly or preventing them from having equal chances in life.

Stereotype: having an over simplified mental image of people and applying it to everyone in that group.

Scapegoating (scapegoat): blaming certain groups for problems in society.

Why are people prejudiced?

There are many reasons why people are prejudiced. Some key reasons are listed here:

  • Unfamiliarity with certain groups
  • Lack of education
  • Fear and uncertainty
  • They were nurtured (brought up) in a prejudiced environment
  • Bad experiences with certain groups
  • The media have shown certain groups in a bad light

Some of the effects of prejudice resulting from the above reasons include:

  • Fear
  • Vulnerability
  • Genocide (i.e. the holocaust)
  • Violence
  • Riots and social unrest

Types of prejudice

Racism: prejudice based on race. This is the belief that the colour of someone’s skin or ethnicity determines their ability or characteristics.

Sexism: a form of gender prejudice. It means treating people unfavourably because of their gender.

Religious prejudice: prejudice towards people of a particular religious group. An example is anti-Semitism (prejudice of Jewish people/Judaism) or Islamophobia (prejudice of Muslims/Islam).

Homophobia: prejudice based on sexuality, such as prejudice against homosexuals.

Ageism: prejudice concerned with the age of a person (e.g. old people can’t drive, teenagers are criminals).

Disability discrimination: discrimination towards the disabled. This can be through the calling of names but also denying disabled employees access to services (e.g. a lack of ramps, lifts and toilets).

Prejudice can also be based on social class, lifestyle and looks.

Society and the law

Democracy and human rights are based on religious values of equality and justice for all. Britain has a number of laws against discrimination. These include the:

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • Race Relations Act 1976
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Equality Act 2006

Prejudice and human rights

Article 1 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone should have the same rights and duties. Article 2 says that you have these rights regardless of race, religion, age, disability, language, sex (gender) or sexuality.

Religious attitudes to prejudice

Most religious groups teach the following:

  • Tolerance: respecting the beliefs and practices of others.
  • Justice: bringing about what is right, fair, according to the law or making up for what has been done wrong.
  • Harmony: living in peace with others.
  • Value of the individual: the belief that each individual is created by God and has a special value.
  • Human rights: the basic rights and freedoms that everyone is entitled to.

Christian beliefs about racism

Christians agree that discrimination goes against the idea of God’s design. All humans are ‘made in God’s image’ (Bible) and deserve respect.  As Christians believe that God created men and women in his own image, they should respect all ethnicities and genders.

Christians believe that “Love thy neighbour” (Bible) means to help and love everyone around you. For many, but not all, Christians this includes those of other ethnicities (races), genders, sexuality, religion and ability.

In the Bible the parable of the Good Samaritan shows that people should not be judged or stereotyped but valued as individuals. In Jesus’ time, Samaritans were treated badly, but it is the Samaritan who helps the injured stranger.

Jesus socialised with the outcasts of society and welcomed tax collectors and sinners into heaven. He washed the feet of others that were discriminated against.

However, some Christians have been racist. The Crusaders killed thousands of Muslims in the name of Christianity. The Spanish colonised many South American peoples and forced them to convert. They believed their civilisation to be better. In the southern states of the USA there used to be the Jim Crow Laws, or segregation, which separated black and white people. Many Christians defended these laws.

The racist apartheid governments in South Africa, which ruled through a white minority, treated black, Asian and “coloured” people unfairly. Some people were killed for fighting against apartheid and mixed marriages were forbidden. The DutchReformChurch often supported the government suggesting that black people are inferior to whites.

Some Christians might even quote the Bible to defend racism. For example, Acts states that God “determined the times set and exact places” for men to inhabit the earth.

Christian attitudes towards gender

The Christian church has often been accused of sexism.

In the Bible it says that women are the “weaker partner” and in the story of Genesis, Eve is called a “helpmate” for man. Therefore, women are often seen as inferior to men. Moreover, Adam was made first in the second book of Genesis. Eve was made from his rib.

In the Bible it also suggests that women should “busy themselves at home”, which means women have often been seen as having responsibility for brining up a family and looking after the home.

There were also no female disciples in the stories of Jesus.

In the Bible, St. Paul said women should not teach in church. It was also suggested that they should cover their heads.

However, the Bible does place an importance on Mary Magdalene who Jesus appeared to first after His resurrection. Other examples of women’s importance include the Queen of Sheba, who was seen as powerful, and Deborah, who was a judge and prophetess in the Old Testament. Jesus also caused furore at the Temple when he called a women the “Daughter of Abraham” when it was only ever men that were called “Son of Abraham”.

Some Christians will point to the first book of Genesis where male and female were both made in God’s image.

The role of women in Christian society

In traditional Christian households women have often stayed at home and looked after their children. It is the man who makes decisions and is the main earner. St Paul said in the Bible, “at the head of every man is Christ, at the head of every woman is man”, which has often reinforced these stereotypes.

In the Catholic Church the Pope is a man and women cannot become priests. It is suggested that St. Paul’s comments on women not teaching in church reinforce this.

However, in the Church of England and most protestant churches women can be vicars or ministers.

Many Christians value women. They will say that we are all equal and there are examples of successful women in the Bible. Famous women in society, such as former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher, are women and Christian.

Christian attitudes towards homosexuality

Many Christians see homosexuality as a sin. They may argue that homosexuality is unnatural and not part of God’s plan. They could point to the idea that sexual intercourse is only for procreation (making children).

There are several verses in the Bible which seem to suggest homosexuality is a sin. The most famous of them is probably from Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; that is an abomination.”

Also in the Bible, the story of the city of Sodom is often seen as demonstrating God’s disapproval of homosexuality. In the story a man called Lot has two angels staying in his house. The men of Sodom surrounded the house. The then the Bible states,” They called to Lot and asked him where the men were who had entered his house that night. ‘Bring them out,’ they shouted, ‘so that we might have intercourse with them.'” God later destroys Sodom.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England do not allow gay-marriage despite changes in the law.

However, other Christians may use the quotes ‘love they neighbour as yourself’ and the Golden Rule as reasons to respect homosexuals. After all, prejudice is not agape.

Lastly, God gave humanity freewill, so some may say people can be gay if they choose to.

Christian Forgiveness and reconciliation

Forgiveness is a key Christian belief. Jesus asked God to forgive those that crucified Him whilst on the cross. The Lords Prayer emphasizes this with the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us”. This is also in the Bible, but Jesus uses the word ‘debts’.

Jesus said you should “love you neighbour as yourself”. If you like to be forgiven, then forgive others too. Jesus also said you should “love your enemy”. Christians must forgive in order to be forgiven by God.

At Holy Communion (Eucharist/mass) Christians ask for forgiveness as they take the bread and wine. They seek forgiveness for their sins as well as receiving Jesus’ forgiveness. This is important to Christian believers.

In the Roman Catholic Church there is confession. This is really called the Sacrament of Reconciliation where Catholics seek forgiveness and admit their sins to a priest.

Reconciliation can mean the Sacrament, as in the Catholic Church, but also the idea that people forgive one another and learn to live together, even love one another again!

Christian attitudes to other religions 

Some people say there are three Christian approaches to other religions:

The first is that there is only one way to God and that’s through Jesus. Christianity is the truth and all other religions are false. In the Bible Jesus said, ”I am the way and the life. No one comes to the father except through me”.

The second approach is that Christianity is the full truth, but other religions offer a path to God if the person is good. They have an unknown love of God. People brought up in Buddhist or Hindu societies might be good Christians otherwise. St. Paul called these “anonymous Christians” and he said many Greek pagans were like this.

The third approach is where some Christians see all religions as of equal value. Your religions will lead you to the same God or truth as others. No religion has more truth than another. Jesus said that his “father’s house has many rooms”, which is seen as symbolic of this approach.

Missionaries are important here. Missionaries often went overseas to proselytise their religious beliefs and covert people to Christianity. Today, many Africans are Christian because of European missionaries.

Many Christians consider themselves Evangelicals. They seek to spread the word of God and spread Jesus teachings. They often take the first approach to other religions in that other faiths are wrong and only belief in Jesus can save souls. They spread the ‘gospel’ – good news – and set up media businesses and churches to do this. Televangelicals do this through TV.

Ecumenicalism is also relevant. This is where Christian churches try to get together and work together despite slightly different beliefs and ways of worship. For example, Taize is a Christian community in France that tries to bring Catholics and Protestants together.

Buddhist beliefs on racism

The Buddha taught everyone has equal potential for reaching enlightenment.

Right Action and Right Speech (both parts of the Noble Eight Fold Path) require Buddhists to treat people equally, avoid prejudiced talk and show tolerance and consideration.

Buddhists follow the Five Precepts. The first is not to harm any living thing. Prejudice and discrimination could lead to harm, such as during the Holocaust.

Buddhists believe you should show metta (loving-kindness) to all sentient beings, including all types of people.

The Buddha left his wealthy lifestyle as wealth does not bring happiness. He also rejected the caste system which divided people in classes.

Buddhist attitudes to gender

In Buddhism, both men and women can be enlightened. There is no reason why men are mentally superior to women.

However, although there are Buddhist bukkhunis (nuns), many Buddhist countries do not allow women to be fully ordained. Thailand is an example.

The historical Buddha’s most famous statements on women came about when his stepmother asked to join the monkhood and become a nun. The Buddha initially refused her request. He said women should be at home with family and that they might cause the men to lose focus on Buddhism. Moreover, Buddhism would be the religion to allow women to be ordained when no others did.

However, the Buddha’s cousin, Ananda, sat at the Buddha’s side and argued on behalf of the ordination of women. The Buddha continued to refuse the request. Finally, Ananda asked if there was any reason women could not realise enlightenment and enter Nirvana as well as men. The Buddha then allowed women to become nuns as they too can be enlightened.

Despite this, in Theravada Buddhism, nuns have more rules to follow than monks.

There are 250 rules for monks and 311 rules for nuns.

Buddhist attitudes towards homosexuality

Unlike other faiths, Buddhism does not call homosexuality a sin. Although some Buddhist groups see heterosexual marriage for people as the norm, most Buddhists make no distinction between homosexual and heterosexual partnerships. However, the third precept of avoiding sexual misconduct applies to both.

Nonetheless, Tibetan Buddhism has barred ordination to pandakas (passive homosexuals). Due to possible desire of both sexes, this could cause ill-discipline amongst the other monks. However, they can attain beneficial karma and achieve favourable rebirths.

Individuals who fought against prejudice

Mahatma Gandhi – Hindu lawyer who campaigned non-violently against apartheid in South Africa and the caste system and British rule of India. He was a Hindu who believed in ahimsa (not to harm others) and famously said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

Martin Luther King – Christian minister who led the civil rights movement in the U.S.A against racism in the country. Martin Luther King’s protests were non-violent to show his belief in agape (‘love they neighbour). He taught that avoiding violence followed the Jesus’ teaching of “turning the other cheek”.

Unlike Malcolm X, Martin Luther King strived for integration. He gave a famous speech (“I have a dream …”).

Desmond Tutu – A Christian archbishop who led anti-apartheid campaigns in South Africa. He preached non-violence and appealed for help from other countries. Due to his Christianity, he preached a message of forgiveness to those who were racist. He set up the Peace and Reconciliation Commission were black victims of racism often forgave the white police officers and other white South Africans who abused them. This allowed the country to move on.