Until the late 20th century, it was common practice for left-handed folks to be maligned or castigated in the United States because the “left hand” was considered evil or deviant. At best, being left-handed was considered a sign of disrespect to the establishment. Shockingly, as recently as 2015, leftie discrimination made national news when a pre-K teacher in Oklahoma forced a 4-year-old to write with his right hand.
The word sinister is rooted in the Latin word for left. Similar slants against leftedness are found in other languages too. In French, gauche also means “clumsy. Italian’s mancino also means “crooked or maimed,” and skaios in Greek means “ill-omened.” Australia peppers in some misogyny with its moniker, mollydooker, which means fighting like a girl (opposite of the female-empowering way of Wonder Woman or Atom Eve). Check out an exhaustive list of more examples here.
In contrast, the Latin word for right is dextrous– as in dexterity, the basis of all manual function. Not to mention that the word right attributed to the right hand also means “correct.”
Growing up in a religious wackadoo environment, I remember my stepfather justifying his far-right political views because the word “right” described him. Therefore, he extrapolated that the Left is wrong. To give perspective, he also taught us that the Pittsburgh Steelers were "bad" because the (phonetic) word steal was in their name. The self-delusion is staggering. (I’m sure Obama’s left-handedness sweetened the hatred honeypot for the far-right collective during his presidency.)
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. Sir Walter Scott, Marmion
Love in Action: An Opportunity To Expand Empathy
Can you imagine living in a world where everything is functionally designed opposite your nature? Kitchen gadgets, tools, scissors, automobile dashboards, not to mention the simple task of handwriting (although, who really does that anymore?) are all designed for the right dominant orientation.
Pick a simple task, like cutting a piece of paper or opening a can, and attempt it with your non-dominant hand. I’ve tried brushing my teeth or eating with my left hand and it’s a mess. However, a simple exercise like this heightens my awareness of what it is like to be different in a world built for everyone else but you. The mind-body connection in this exercise viscerally drives home the lesson of what it must feel like to be a lefty in a righty world.
Roughly 10% of the population is left dominant. According to a BBC article, recent research suggests that this trait is passed through DNA and that the brains of such individuals were better optimized in regions involving language. Being left-handed has slowly evolved into the perception that someone is possibly more intelligent or creative than the average rest of us.
Many religions and cultures have disparaged left-handedness. But for American Nones, who are generally disaffected, post-Chrisitans, let’s inspect our own backyard.
Starting with colonial times, we need look no further than the infamous Salem witch trials. The Puritans accused left-handed people of being demonic and were thusly persecuted. The Victorian era, ripe with strictures and impossible ideals, produced the least amount of left-handers on record in the U.S. This was certainly not because they didn’t exist. Rather, they were subject to the ethos of the time. Conformity, people, conformity. We’ve all heard the stories of poor lefty kids getting rapped on their knuckles with a ruler by a looming nun in Catholic schools from days gone by.
I can imagine a cadre of Pilgrims with their buckled capotains, and tightly corseted, well-bosomed, rosey-cheeked, hoop-skirted 19th-century belles, and glaring, black-habited monastics confessing at least one thing in common. “The Bible made me do it.”
Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man (as in the dude himself, J.C.) standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:56
If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. Or so the thinking went.
Ok, this is an oversimplification of right or left-handed mentions in the Bible. But a quick Google search will reveal that overwhelmingly, the Bible is negative about things “left” and positive about things “right.”
This rationalization and behavior appalls us now but illuminates how the ignorant, cherry-picking misuse of religion ghastly affects people. Biblical literalism and religious exclusivism are two foundational issues that feed this problem.
Spark A Conversation Toward Change
I wasn’t too surprised to come across the kindergarten teacher in Oklahoma who shamed a left-handed boy several years ago. She must have been an octagenarian who had never left Oklahoma, I reasoned. But lord have mercy, was I shocked to come across some blogs as recently as 8 to 10 months ago by pastors asking such questions as, “Are left-handed people sinful?” and “Is being left-handed a sin in the Bible?”
Wait. Hold up.
Are we really still having this conversation?
Just to posit the question reveals that we have a ways to go, friends.
I’ll leave you with the grand award for the most flabbergasting commentary, posted in May 2017, by clergy about left-handed people. This gentleman graciously proclaims that “mercy triumphs over judgment.” Yet, he woefully admits,
Nonetheless, I equally accept that people who openly adopt a “left-handed lifestyle” perhaps should not be put into high Church office – especially in roles requiring ordination. Contrary to popular perception, while we are all sinners God doesn’t treat all sinners alike, because He expects a higher standard from leaders (Jam. 3:1).
Sunday, August 13th, 2023 is International Left-Handers Day. Show our lefties some love and support! Help advance a national consciousness toward the responsible use of religion.
Sign our petition, A Call for the Responsible Use of Religion and share it with others. Use it as a conversation starter. Conscientious religious people use their religion to grow more loving towards others who are different, including the acceptance of left-handers and Nones. We need more of that. For our part, may we return the Love exponentially.