Book Review: Othering: The Original Sin of Humanity
By Charles K Bellinger
From the back cover:
Othering is a word used in academic circles, but it may be unfamiliar to many laypersons. This work introduces the word, which is a refined way of describing prejudice, discrimination, and scapegoating. The book addresses what othering is, how it has been practiced in varied contexts, and how it prepares the way for violence.
This is a solid summary of what this scholarly book seeks to accomplish. Bellinger pulls from religious as well as secular sources to make the case that othering is at the root of many kinds of evil perpetrated by humanity. And, while the book is thoroughly enjoyable if you are into this kind of thing, it has one major flaw that not only sets the book apart from others but also places it within a different category than maybe the author was intending.
The book does an excellent job of defining othering and showing the reader how it led to slavery and even the holocaust. But then he lets his personal biases become clear by using the bulk of the work to equate abortion with those two events and talk about it as the ultimate form of othering for our current day and age.
To read the book, I had to set aside my own feelings about abortion and chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. He is clearly Conservative and pro-life and does not hide this from the reader or subtly slip his ideology in. The issue is that he falls into the same trap as other pro-life authors do by mischaracterizing the pro-choice movement. By placing pro-slavery and pro-Bazi texts alongside pro-choice texts, he creates the narrative that those in favor of abortion are succumbing to othering with regard to the fetus.
He also does something that, I feel, is a bit intellectually dishonest in that he does not give the same level of criticism to his perspective’s arguments as he does to the opposition. If he had, he would see that the same people arguing for the personhood of the fetus are also arguing against the personhood of the LGBTQ person using the same arguments as their pro-choice counterparts. Granted, this book was written in 2020 and there was not as bold of an anti-gay movement as there is currently, but even then the rhetoric was ramping up.
I’ll quote to illustrate the flaw in the argument:
The pro-choice advocate argues that in this situation of conflict [pregnancy] the woman’s will must prevail because she is clearly and unequivocally a member of the moral community, while the status of the inhabitant of her womb is inferior…the pro-life worldview maintains that genuine moral progress is present when expanding the boundaries of the human moral community and the ideal of nonviolence are held together instead of being torn asunder and placed in rivalry with each other.
The irony is the same people arguing that moral progress is an “expanding” of the “boundaries of the human moral community” are currently seeking to dehumanize, or are practicing the very othering that Bellinger is seeking to root out, towards the LGBTQ community by arguing that the straight, cis, hetero person is superior.
Again, it has been three years since the book was published and it is quite possible that this would be included in a newer edition to point to the pro-life movement, because this book feels like it is speaking to the choir in a lot of ways, and say, “We can do better.”
Criticism aside, I actually really enjoyed this book. It was provocative and well-written. Well-thought-out. His arguments were consistent and he made a strong case, especially when talking about racism and slavery. I genuinely felt the black lives matter undertones that, since the work seems directed at a more conservative audience, need to have presented in a manner that does not come across as “revisionist” or what the Conservative movement has defined as “CRT”. It is rather heady, definitely not a beach read, but I highly recommend it.
Read it, wrestle with it, even argue with it. You will greatly benefit from reading this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.