CAUTION: Overly broad generalizations ahead.
Today I caught myself using a double-standard. As we were having lunch today, a family came into the restaurant wearing clothing that marked them as being of some evangelical brand of Christianity. If the ultraconservative ankle-length dresses and lime-green sport coat weren’t enough, then the large leather thumpable Bible was a dead give away. (Who carries Bibles into Salsaritas, anyway??) Obviously from my description, my internal reaction included a bit of derision.
Last week, we met a very nice Amish family on one of the cave tours. The father had the traditional beard-with-no-moustache, the wife and daughters all had dresses and head bonnets, and the boys wore dark shirts and trousers held up with suspenders. While the attire couldn’t help but attract my attention, my reaction was quite different from today’s encounter. I tried to respect their choice of clothing as part of their chosen lifestyle and culture.
So why should I have reacted differently to one family than the other? They both made choices of attire based on deeply held religious beliefs. Perhaps it was because one was so far outside my culture that I could somehow respect it better. I would show the same respect for traditional Hindu clothing, etc. The evangelicals were just a bit too close to home.
I tried to justify my difference in reactions to difference in religious intent. The Amish choose to live apart from the modern world, but they don’t necessarily try to impose their choices on the outside world. However, I’ve heard evangelical street preachers rail at women for wearing pants, condemning them to Hell for their clothing choice.
Probably, the truth of the matter was that we had to interact with the Amish family for a couple of hours in a very confined space. We got to know them, beyond their differences. Today’s restaurant incident was a chance encounter, where quick impressions linger. Who knows? Today’s group may have been just as nice. However, many prejudices have their basis in experience, and so far I’ve had more negative experiences with evangelicals than with Amish.