Reading Time: 3 minutes Artwork by Edward Burne-Jones, of Adam and Eve toiling. Public domain.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Change is hard. Changing yourself is even harder. But if your conditioning is making you accept bigotry, intolerance, and inequality as truth, you owe it to the world to work on yourself.

Artwork by Edward Burne-Jones, of Adam and Eve toiling. Public domain.
Artwork by Edward Burne-Jones, of Adam and Eve toiling. Public domain.

Let’s start with a personal parallel that gives me some sympathy for what other folks might be going through.

I’ve written about the weird cognitive dissonance I experience in regard to my own body: I’m really fit, but I also have trouble getting around the whole “having any fat on your body = unattractive & undisciplined” social conditioning I’ve received over my lifetime.

The problem extends from a personal one to a social one as I explain in this blog post, If I Can’t Change My Social Conditioning How Can I Expect Others To? Basically, if I’m having as much of a tough time of this as I am, even with my own very sex-positive and body-positive upbringing, how can I reasonably expect others to do similar self-work?

With my own cognitive dissonance in mind, I wrote:

How can I expect anyone to challenge their social conditioning of hate/intolerance if I’m having trouble challenging my own social conditioning? If I can’t kick the dumb and contradictory messages about body image and weight that I internalized while young, how can I expect others to do something similar?

My example shows how the dominant social messages around one personal topic – body image – can be tough to kick. That conditioning runs deep. I can only imagine that other types of messages, ones that radiate outward into the world and distribute blame and value to other humans, might run even deeper.

But we are awash in some truly bad shit right now, none of which is inevitable.


The deep, foul racism involved in the murder of black men and the excuses made for it.

The continuing sexual abuse that priests can get away with.

The horrible stuff happening in the world right now, due to prejudice and privilege, all boils down to learned behavior. And what can be learned, can also be unlearned. Those of us claiming to be ahead of the pack need to be doing everything we can to stay there.

Because for fuck’s sake, even atheists – who are supposed to be de-conditioning ourselves of all the toxic programming that comes from religious systems of thought – have exhibited profound racism. (I don’t have the space to get into it in this post, but fellow Patheos bloggers Martin Hughes has a rundown of the racist nonsense here and Galen Broaddus has an excellent link roundup of the thoughtful response here.)

There’s a spiteful atheist who’s gone so far as underhanded unfair fighting to irk one of my fellow Patheos atheist bloggers, and as written on the Miracle Girl blog, that’s basically the blind trying to lead the blind, driving our movement to become the “atheist version of a Donald Trump rally.”

Put simply, you don’t get to be smug about deconditioning yourself from one toxic worldview (theism) simply to espouse another (racism).

That’s really all I have to say on the matter. I support my Patheos atheist colleagues who are battling racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other nasty stereotypes and systems of injustice. Changing your social conditioning is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, but it’s one of the few ways we have to move forward. I study cultures and cultural change – trust me on this. And get to work.

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Jeana Jorgensen

FOXY FOLKORIST Studied folklore under Alan Dundes at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy...