What is the point at which opinion turns into prejudice? I was stunned this morning to find a Christian pastor on Facebook promoting a poster from an American ‘Stop Islam’ campaign. I am very conscious of the fact that I don’t ‘get’ America, north or south, so don’t take what I say as a criticism, I’m merely thinking out loud. Had I promoted that poster, it would have been prejudice; I’m not sure that it necessarily was so for the pastor, but it set me thinking.

In Britain we tend to make jokes about being ‘politically correct’. The media love to seize upon the latest manifestation of ‘political correctness gone mad’, and we usually smile broadly when we hear that something or other may not be done or called by its traditional name for fear of giving offence to someone. For Christians, the smile sometimes wears a little thin when we find that Councils have abolished Christmas in favour of Winterval, or ancient liberties are attacked; but in general we accept that we live in a plural society and have to rub along together as best we can. We do not have to travel very far before we are in a different country, with a different language and culture. Whether we like it or not, we are used to adjusting.

Or are we? One of the disturbing aspects of Britain today is the extent to which extremism of various kinds seems to be flourishing, most of it underground though sometimes it surfaces in ugly ways. Whether we are talking about Islamic extremism or the racially-motivated extremism of other groups, the problem is the same: opinion has turned into prejudice. Opinion may not be based on fact or experience, but it is at least open to questioning. The Latin roots of the word ‘prejudice’, by contrast,  show very clearly that the attitudes it represents are not based on reason or experience nor are they open to question: prejudice is, quite literally, a judgement made in advance of knowledge, and, as such, it is very dangerous.

None of us is free from prejudice, but, as I asked at the beginning, what is the point at which opinion becomes prejudice? As a Christian, I believe that there is only one mediator between God and ourselves, the Lord Jesus Christ. For me, there can be no watering down of that; no casual accommodation to other beliefs and creeds. But I have no difficulty in honouring the truth I find in other religions — not in a wishy-washy, we all believe the same kind of way, but with wonder and gladness that I can learn something about God I might not otherwise have the opportunity to do. When we had a couple of Tibetan monks living with us for a year, we soon realised that the philosophical bases of Christianity and Buddhism, if one can call them that, were worlds apart, but the concept of purity of heart and the monastic quest for it were points of close agreement. The experience enriched my understanding of what it means to be a nun.

This Saturday morning it is worth spending a moment or two thinking about our own opinions and the point where they slide into prejudice. It is good to have firm opinions, to be zealous, to proclaim the truth as we see it; but to be prejudiced is to have a closed ear and a closed heart. And the problem with that is, nothing can get through except the bile we leak out.


15 thoughts on “Prejudice”

  1. And bile, as anyone with jaundice will tell you, makes you very ill. Not only does your body feel awful, reduces your energy and effectiveness but it also stops your brain functioning as well. At least with prejudice it is possible to prevent it, jaundice may requie drastic treatment.

  2. You have opened up a really important debate here. I’m going to think about this. My immediate reaction is how good it is to aim always to keep an open mind. Also that it’s easy to have opinions but they need to be backed up by knowledge and experience.

  3. Hallo. I live in Italy, in the north, near Milan. Many immigrants from north Africa and other continents live and work here. Children of different religions attend school together without problems and they really become friends.
    Unfortunately when they grow up they separate and each group becomes “closed”. I would not say that hate is the predominant feeling, but the actual respect is not due to love. We tend to avoid relationships for fear of any kind of problems.
    They grow together at school and they learn from each other.
    Some advance knowledge is available, but it is not enough.On the contrary sometimes knowledge causes division, if there is not acceptance and humbleness.
    Please note that I am VERY PROUD of the welcome and acceptance by the Italians to all foreigners, but I fear that deeper relationships are not going to be common, at least in the forthcoming future, by both sides.

  4. France, where I live part of the time, has racism in the open, which really results from fear and absence of self-love (if I look at the political party promoting it…)
    Racist, i don’t believe I am (but then I may be surprised some day). Prejudiced, on the other hand, I can be. When it comes to rich folks… Not all of them, but some… I don’t look at them with kindness.

  5. Several people my age (20something) have told me that the biggest barrier between them and the mainstream US church is the prejudice that they perceive against people of other faith, gay people, illegal immigrants, etc.

    Facebook posts like that tend to be what people remember, even if it does not represent the majority of US Christians, and certainly not the heart of God.

    I think that the biggest issue is that people just don’t know each other. I teach in a VERY diverse school. I am sure that if people knew my students, my sweet, smart, adorable baby people, that they would not be able to make hateful statements about entire groups of people anymore.

  6. We are not born prejudiced, rather taught it or learn and adopt it as our own. I think it is natural to feel threatened when you are told another faith group has the purpose in life to annihilate your own, or that another country’s population will overrun your own through sheer numbers of immigrants, and that your culture will be destroyed, your liberties squashed. But is it all true? Or an exaggeration and subsequent knee-jerk reaction to perceived threat? I understand “Happy Winterval” but do not accept I can’t wear my necklace crucifix in plain view .. In the end, we need to be informed about extremism, aware of its ramifications, but not respond in kind. At the root of extremism and prejudice lies hatred and evil, we do battle with sin and Satan, let’s not be duped into believing otherwise.

    • So in answer to the question “When does opinion turn into prejudice?” I’d say when we cease wanting the best for the other, while still maintaining our own rights and dignity, fail to see God in the other. When feelings of anger, hatred, resentment rise up within ourselves, that would be a pretty good clue.

  7. Thank you, as always, for your comments. I think, if I may say so, that Rosemary’s reaction is the one I had hoped for: we all need to think about this question, which is becoming increasingly important in a world where instant communication and the ability of individuals to help shape ‘public opinion’ is so marked.

  8. Prejudice is judging before one knows all the facts, based on one’s preconceived notions or bias’.

    Islam is anti-Christ. It’s goal is world domination and to stamp out all other religions, by force if need be. Look around at the world and look back at history. This is fact.
    Stand with Christ. And that means against those who destroy faith in Him. That’s Islam.
    This is not to say that there are many good and decent Muslims. There are. But what good does that do anyone if they are afraid to stand up against their own system that denigrates other religions, denigrates women, denigrates freedom…and denigrates faith in the One True God, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

    Thank you.

    • I try not to delete comments or suppress argument, but I find both your sentiments and the language in which you express them troubling. Please bear in mind that saying ‘Islam is anti-Christ’ smacks of prejudice and goes against the conventions of this blog, where we agree to disagree agreeably.

  9. I don’t understand how Islam can be ant-Christ. Am I mistaken in thinking that the Koran reveres Jesus as a prophet while rejecting his divinity?

  10. I often speak with Muslim women about religion. I can say that they respect me and they like me as a honest and sincere Christian. We exchange experiences on every day life but I must admit that their knowledge of our religion is not complete and accurate, the same as our knowledge of them.

    I have a quite good knowledge of their religion, only because I lived on a working holiday on Palestine and studied their language and culture. My knowledge allows me to have no prejudice, but I also have to include humility, open mind and the help of God. Thanks to him I can say that religions are not all equivalent,but we are all children of God.

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