Have you ever been a member of a group (e.g., Boy Scouts, Democratic Party, teachers’ union), or do you self-identify with some group (e.g., skeptics/ agnostics, Christians, political conservatives)? I suspect the answer is, “Yes, several.”

diverse group of people

Multi-ethnic, possibly mult- other stuff, group of people

Now, have you ever seen or heard someone from your group — or, at least, whom outsiders associate as part of your group — saying/doing something stupid, repugnant, or otherwise embarrassing? Yeah, me too.

Sometimes the offending party is someone who holds to the same ideas & principles as you and the rest of your group and who is normally a “fine, upstanding member.” But, something just sets them off on this particular occasion and you wish they would just shut up and go home. Or, maybe, it turns out the individual has a particular vice or, er, shortcoming that suddenly gets some attention. Once in awhile, though, there is some far-xxxxx radical or idiot or nutjob who is singled out by the media and gives your whole group a bad name. I hate when that happens. (OK, ok, I “strongly dislike” when that happens. Don’t want to be labeled a “hater”.)

For me, as far as the first type goes, it might be someone like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. I don’t follow either of them closely, but I’ve read at least one book by each, and when I hear/read them or about something they’ve said, I generally agree. Their styles occasionally grate on me, but we’re basically on the same page on most things. But, once in awhile, they will say or do something that will make me cringe that was, shall we say, tactically unwise, at best. (At least in the way it was phrased.) For example, Limbaugh’s addiction to prescription drugs or Coulter’s remarks about the 9/11 widows “enjoying” their husbands’ deaths. Groan!

As for the second, more radical type, I think of people like the “Christian” militia group who are currently in the news, or the Westboro Baptist Church whose members are always showing up & getting on camera with their signs & placards that says stuff like “God Hates Fags!” (I’m not Baptist, but I’ve known quite a few, and none of them were hatemongers like this crowd.) Now, I may actually agree on a couple very basic points with both of these two groups — uh oh, I’m in trouble now — but their rather extremist views (especially on certain topics) and activities are not something I can agree with or, in good conscience, condone. I’m sure other examples come to your mind, as well.

But, of course, the media love to jump on it, the bloggers eat it up, and those who hold opposing positions to yours will paint your whole group with the same broad brush. It’s frustrating and sometimes makes you want to scream, “I’m not one of them! I don’t hold that view, so don’t lump me in with those morons!”

I was trying to think of what an equivalent example might be for someone who is “on the other side of the aisle” from me politically, theologically, philosophically, etc. It’s not easy, especially when there are so many far-Lefties in both federal government and the news & entertainment industries embracing, literally and figuratively, Communist dictators like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. Is the “average” Democrat or liberal as disturbed by this as I am?

One possible example is those more “reserved” homosexuals who are exasperated by some of the antics of the “flamers” and more in-your-face activists. Another possibility is when one of the “New Atheists” (e.g., Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris) makes some incredibly scathing comment about the evils of religion or mocks & impugns some revered religious person. (On politics, I actually agree with Hitchens on a lot, while we are diametrically opposed on many (most?) theological/philosophical issues.) I know some atheists and agnostics that just shake their heads or roll their eyes at such provocative and, yes, judgmental comments. Any other examples you all can think of?

I guess what I’m getting at, here, is that we all need to be careful. Next time you are tempted to latch onto some wingnut’s comments or actions and accuse his/her broader ideological “community”, if you will, of being totally likeminded, take a step back. (Unless, of course, there is plenty of other evidence indicating that’s the case.) Remember how you have felt in a similar case and refrain, or at least temper or qualify your own remarks and conclusions. Or, to put it another way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ll try to do the same.

  1. Todd Fichter says:

    I think that if you are identified with a group and a statement is made or action taken by a particular member, it is incumbent upon the other members to either disassociate themselves from the comment or action, or if too egregious, disassociate from the offending member.

    I think back to the comment made by Pat Robertson that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s judgment on them for making a pact with the Devil back in the 1700’s. The statement not only caused me to cringe, but forced me to speak out and say, “No, Pat Robertson is wrong!”

    If a group chooses not to disassociate themselves from the offending comment, action or person, then I believe it is not wrong to lay the charge at the feet of all in the group. The ‘birds of a feather” rule would then apply.

    • sirrahc says:

      Good points, Todd.

      In principle, I agree. If the statement/action is incredibly unfair, insulting, hostile/violent (or encourages such), etc., then the others should go on record as disagreeing or condemning it.

      But, sometimes there are other factors to consider, reasons why someone might not speak up. Peer pressure. Fear of retribution. Laziness. Ignorance. Etc. (Heck, you could spend all day trying to keep up with the stupid stuff people do & say, so time may also be an excuse.) They may not be great excuses, but sometimes they are understandable.

      Another thought occurs to me on the subject. Sometimes, certain others may associate you with a particular group that has done something bad or foolish, but you don’t self-identify with them (or, at least, not closely) and don’t feed obligated to dissociate yourself with whatever they did. For example, this whole matter of priest pedophilia within the RC church. I haven’t felt obligated to say anything, since I’m not RC and I disagree with much of their policies and doctrine. But, under the broader association of “Christian” or “religious”, some might demand that I condemn the latest scandal. (No one has, but I will if asked.)

      • Jay Moore says:

        I think a great example of what you are referring to is the inferred relationship between Rush L. and anyone who is a member of the conservative or Tea Party Movement.

        I may listen to Rush on occasion and I may even agree with 80% of what he has to say, but just because I happen to be conservative, the MSM and other liberals have decided that I am in bed with the guy or that he represents ALL conservatives.

        Once again, I agree with about 80% of what the guy has to say but that doesn’t mean I am in any way responsible for the other 20%, even if I happen to share the same base ideology.

        What Todd is saying works when you are speaking about a group that you either are or are not a member of. It does not work, however, when speaking about core beliefs, theology and ideology. It’s one thing to have close associations but, more often then not, the associations are loose and distant. Pat Robertson is a Christian, I am as well, that doesn’t mean I should have to apologise to ANYONE because he’s an idiot or disavow his words. I am myself and none other and if you can’t deal with that then – nice knowing you, have a great life.

        I refuse to succumb to the demagoguery of those who use loose associations as a method of blanket dismissal.

        I see the best solution to the issue is leave no question where YOU stand and what YOU believe. Don’t let them shut you up or down.

        • sirrahc says:

          Hey, bud! Was wondering when you’d show up, ‘cuz I knew you’d have some thoughts on the issue. ;->

          Great example re El Rushbo. I was on one atheist/liberal’s blog a few months ago, left a comment or two. Knowing I was conservative, he then challenged me on whether I thought Rush’s brand of Republicanism was in accord with the Gospels. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t a goosestepping acolyte of the Great Rush. We also got into some Biblical passages, waterboarding & torture,… well, it got quite interesting. If you’re curious, you can read it at http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/andrew-sullivan-asks-a-good-question-how-can-a-christian-listen-to-and-support-rush-limbaugh/

          I see the Pat Robertson problem as very similar to that w/ Rush. They are both avowed Christians and political conservatives; so am I. So, naturally, those associations mean I am a target for anyone who knows that and wants to challenge me on something they said. (Of course, I’m not a big fan of either one, which some people (see above link) find hard to believe.) Fortunately, this hasn’t been a BIG problem, as yet. (Maybe I should leave my cave more often.)

          • Jay Moore says:

            nice exchange, he didn’t have much of a response in the end though.

            • sirrahc says:

              Yeah, I could have pursued it further but decided to let it lie. I am subscribed to his feed, though, so I get a regular dose of his liberal &/or agnostic (functionally atheist), er, stuff. I just don’t have the time, or usually the inclination, to comment.

  2. John Gault says:

    For me, the worst scenario is when a member of a group I associate with says something that I wholeheartedly agree with, but the delivery, the imagery, or the messenger discredits the whole thing. I can’t rightly say that I disagree with that person, but I want to crawl in a hole and cry out “I’m not like HIM”.

    Here’s a couple examples…

    Christopher Hitchens drives me crazy. I agree with the substance of most of what he says, but the scotch-drenched, arrogant, antagonist delivery makes me want to cringe.

    I hate it when the media goes to a Tea Party rally and talks to a man that says “Obama’s health care reform oversteps the constitutional powers allowed to the federal government by the Constitution”–meanwhile, the guy is holding a sign that shows Obama’s face in the crosshairs of a scope.

    Ron Paul…anything ever said by Ron Paul.

    • sirrahc says:

      I hear ya, John. Those situations bug the heck out of me, too.

      As for Tea Partiers, I think the MSM and leftie bloggers are full of crap re most of what they “report”. Sure, there is the occasional nutjob or just someone with a sign or statement that you just know is going to be taken out of context. (I would tend to give the guy with the Obama-in-crosshairs sign the benefit of the doubt and assume it is to be taken metaphorically, unless I hear or read him on record as encouraging an actual assassination — or, if he’s part of an extremist militia group that is known to promote such things.)

      Now, I’ve only been to one Tea Party rally myself, so far. (Though I do get emails from a couple TP groups.) I don’t remember seeing, hearing, or reading anything promoting assassination or violence against any politicians. A few suggest either current or potential “civil war”, but I think those are usually talking about ideological battles and political maneuvering between polarized groups. (Theoretically, I suppose a more physical confrontation is possible, but not probable, at this point.)

      As for Ron Paul,… was never a fan, myself, though I think my friend Todd (who commented above) is.

  3. Todd Fichter says:


    It is good to see your following is such a diverse group! No Kool-Aid drinkers here, obviously!

    John, I will tell you what I tell my other Hitchens fans. It would require too much faith for me to be an atheist.

    As for the Tea Party and Ron Paul, I find it amusing that most people (left and right) do not know that the original Tea Party stemmed from Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2007-08. Of course the Tea Party movement can be considered “big tent” if they stick to the principles of fiscal responsibility, which all Americans outside of Washington must understand and agree with to some extent. I view the movement as originally non-partisan, and now unfortunately hijacked by the Republicans.

  4. Todd Fichter says:

    Oops! Words got left out there!

    I meant to say other friends who are Hitchens fans.

  5. Sentinel says:

    Great post, sirrahc – you make excellent points.

    I’ve just posted some of my reflections on another aspect of the same topic – I won’t cut ‘n paste the whole thing, but if you’re interested it’s at:


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