Are you a bigot? It seems I am in the eyes of some tweeters who accuse me of ‘disgusting bigotry’. The word bores me, so I automatically block anyone who uses it, and cannot thus find the tweets in question. That does not matter. The person who uses the word ‘bigot’ does not say anything interesting; he or she merely hurls an insult, and as far as I can see the only reason anyone has ever called me a bigot is because I am a Catholic. For them Catholicism equals bigotry; but that is not really a very profound point. It is merely a way of saying that they do not like Catholics, and an attempt to hurt our feelings.
The use of the word ‘bigot’ is quite high up in the ranks of insults, it seems. It has little effect on me, as I first heard it in Italy, where the word bigotto, or more commonly bigotta, is a rather mild description, as far as I can tell. I have the feeling that in English the word was more or less archaic, until recently. But it is a powerful word to many, and it certainly got Gordon Brown into trouble. It is worth remembering the words of Mrs Duffy: “I’m very upset. He’s an educated person. Why has he come out with words like that?”
Mrs Duffy grasped the essential point. To use the word ‘bigot’ of anyone is uneducated. The insult represents a failure in reasoned argument. To call someone names is to show that either you have lost the argument, or you never had much of an argument in the first place.
As for those who simply do not like Catholics, and like to insult us, well, anti-Catholicism is a longstanding feature of the British landscape. James MacMillan has spoken of Scottish sectarianism; and if you want to know about the hostility that Northern Irish Catholics face, well, just ask them. English anti-Catholicism is not on the same level, but it is there. As an English Catholic I have experienced it myself. At their most hurtful, anti-Catholics insinuate that I am somehow not a true Englishman, but in league with foreigners and terrorists. I remember, at the time of the Enniskillen bombing in 1987, being asked whether I was happy at the result. I have been told too that I am a supporter of General Franco simply because I am a Catholic, and best of all, that we Catholics encourage prostitution by supporting the use of the rhythm method (try and work out the logic of that – I did, but it took time).
This sectarian conversational violence is given official encouragement by the continuing discrimination in law against Catholics in this country, as well as the never too far below the surface anti-Irish and anti-Italian racism of the English middle classes, which feeds into their social snobbery as well.
Luckily I am a true Englishman in one respect, in that I never believe in replying to insults. I have Irish blood, and lots of half-Italian relations, but I also have English blood that goes back hundreds of years; and to all those who despises Catholics, and the Pope, and the Irish and Italians, my reply is…. Well, I will pray for your souls!
But there are more serious points here too. Catholics are here in this country by right, not by tolerance of the majority. We are not here because anyone has given us permission to be here. This is our country. That’s why we need to abolish the sectarian Act of Settlement; and if that cannot be done, abolish the monarchy itself. The Act implies that this is a Protestant country. It is not.
Secondly, people need to be careful about stirring up religious and sectarian hatreds. Hence, let us do away with the word ‘bigot’. It was disappointing to see the word feature in an article by Polly Toynbee recently and in the headline to the article. “The gay marriage debate has uncovered a nest of bigots,” screams the headline. Those who voted against gay marriage were not bigots; they were people Polly Toynbee does not agree with, as is her perfect right. But to use this insulting word in this way is generates only heat, never light.