"You Catholics all think the same.“
"In the TV show, the host says: Even God agrees with me, the audience and the polls that this is the best middle-class car in 2020!'”
"Believers are fundamentalists and against science."
"How can believers in Poland and Croatia be victims of prejudice and bias on the ground of religion at all, when the majority of the population declare themselves as Catholic?"
As part of everyday communication, at first glance, these sentences do not seem problematic. On the contrary, it is very likely that the faithful hear them or read regularly. Therefore, the ears of the citizens have become accustomed to them and the mind has accepted them.
However, they can still cause a certain feeling of discomfort, inferiority, and even hurt in believers. Let's see why. The first sentence directly says that in Catholicism there is no room for democratic opinion, and that all believers must blindly listen to what they are told. The second sentence uses the term “God,” the central notion of religious life, in a completely profane context, at the same level of value as the presenter, audience, or poll, all for the purpose of evaluating the car. The third sentence directly affixes to believers the label of fundamentalism and an anti-scientific attitude. In addition to generalization, it affects a whole group of believers, regardless of religion, like the previous sentence. Characterized as such, the (in)direct message is that all believers are dangerous and potential terrorists, and that they hinder the progress of humanity. The fourth sentence is perhaps crucial in understanding the former ones, and it indicates that there is an unnoticed prejudice in the speaker’s attitude toward believers in his society.
All of these statements communicate an (in)direct message that can seriously offend or harm the person to whom it is addressed. And even worse, it can be considered a normal, generally accepted way of thinking about a particular topic. The professional literature has characterized this phenomenon as microaggression. These are widely accepted and subtle messages that convey a negative attitude towards a particular group, and often the one who uses them is not even aware of their potential negativity and their own prejudices towards a particular group that underlie those messages. They significantly contribute to the creation of a social atmosphere against the target group, and in this case against the faithful.
Microaggressions can manifest in various forms, and the professional literature divides them into three categories, which can overlap: microinsults (subtle snubs that carry negative messages to a particular group), microassaults (when members of the group are called derogatory names and similar, in order to dehumanize, put-down, etc.) , and microinvalidations (messages that deny the attitudes and worldviews of members of the target group). At the same time, it is stated that microaggressions can be further distinguished as verbal (directly pronounced negative and humiliating messages), behavioural (body language towards members of the target group) and environmental (the message is transmitted through social structures and imposes one's own worldview on society as something "normal").
Research on microaggression directed at believers is still extremely modest. That is why here we provide a short insight into a recently published scientific article by David R. Hodge, titled “Spiritual microaggressions: Understanding the subtle messages that foster religious discrimination” (2019). The author points out that according to research in the USA, religious hate crimes have increased 18% over past years and after race / ethnicity, religion is in second place as a category of bias, exceeding gender, disability and sexual orientation combined.
Hodge uses the term "spiritual microagressions", and in the article develops seven overlapping categories within this domain. It should be distinguished that microaggressions can affect a specific group of believers, but also a group that includes all believers as such. Let us list the categories with the author's brief explanation and our examples directed against Christians and believers in general.
Hodge believes that microaggressions against believers are messages that:
- endorse stereotypes, “messages that play on over-generalized beliefs about spiritual groups”. Example: “He is such a cathotaliban.” (This is a derogatory term used in the Croatian public space, both by certain media and public figures, in order to negatively characterize certain social actions of active believers);
- assume homogeneity, "every individual in a given spiritual tradition affirms the same beliefs and practices (…) reflect the assumption that no flexibility exists within a given religious belief system" Example: "What do you Christians think about this topic?"
- pathologize spirituality, „communication that pathologizes people based upon their spirituality. These messages subtly equate spiritual beliefs and practices with abnormality, deviance, or sickness.“ Example: „I think it is abnormal and insane when believers worship or pray to the bodies or bones of saints.“
- disparaging spirituality, „mocking, denigrating, or otherwise disparaging people who are members of a faith“. Example from before: “In a TV show, the host says: Even God agrees with me, the audience and the polls that this is the best middle-class car in 2020!"
- exoticizing spirituality, „messages that communicate that particular forms of spirituality are bizarre, foreign, or unusual (…)“. Example: „I find it so unusual and bizarre when Christians walk through the city in procession behind the cross.“
- presupposing secularism, „secular values are normative, expected, or the standard“. Example: „There is no place for theologians and religious experts in preparing curricula for schools.“
- deny the existence of spiritual prejudice, „denials at both the micro and macro levels. The former includes negating experiences of personal bias while the latter includes rejecting the existence of systemic bias“. Example of personal bias: "I am not against believers, even my grandmother was a believer." Example of systemic bias: "Members of a religious group that is the majority in a particular society cannot be a victim of social prejudice."
Academic works such as this one by David R. Hodge, provide better understanding of the phenomenon of microaggression. This includes better recognition and identification of microaggressions as such, their prevalence, presence, and wide acceptance in society. Microaggressions directly indicate prejudices "which have taken root" in everyday opinion and often on an unconscious level shape the behaviour of individuals and social institutions.
Therefore, it is necessary to further develop research that will point to this phenomenon and help individuals and societies to overcome it, as well as victims of microaggression to recognize, understand and ultimately oppose them.
Author: Ph.D. Saša Horvat
 Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, DOI: 10.1080/15313204.2018.1555501, 473-489.
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