TODAY IS International Left-handers Day, and as in past years, it is certain to cause quite a stir.
Religious leaders across the country oppose the special day for left-handers, decrying left-handedness as unnatural and immoral. "God meant for man to use his right hand," said a coalition of conservative church groups in a joint statement released last year on Left-handers Day.
Protesters also marched outside the headquarters of Left-handers International RonaldHubein Topeka, Kan., last year and read Bible passages supporting their claim that left-handedness is evil.
Locally, radio talk shows were flooded with calls about Left-handers Day, some in support but many very much opposed. "Why don't they use their right hands like everyone else?" shouted talk host Les Kinsolving. "I think they're sick."
Of course, none of this really happened. There really is an International Left-handers Day, but it comes and goes each year without a peep of protest. After all, why would anyone care which hand people use?
Substitute "homosexual" for "left-hander," though, and the story would be perfectly believable. But would it make any more sense?
Many people today would say yes: It is reasonable and justifiable to denounce and even punish gays. These same people surely would find it ludicrous to do the same to left-handers, but they might be surprised to learn that many of the same arguments now used to attack homosexuals were once used as grounds to disparage and fear left-handers.
Through much of history, left-handed people have been associated with evil because of their "unnatural" state. Folklore is rife with correlations between the left hand and demons, and left-handedness was thought to indicate that a person was a witch. "Normal" people, it was believed, used their left hands only for sinful purposes, such as masturbation.
Numerous Bible passages associating right with good and left with sin fueled the fire. In the Old Testament, God tells Jonah that residents of the wicked city of Nineveh "cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand." In the New Testament, Matthew says God will judge all nations, placing the blessed on his right hand and the damned on his left.
The word "right" is a synonym for proper or correct, reflecting the positive associations people draw with the right hand. A synonym for left -- rarely used this way today -- is sinister. (Left continues, however, to connote something wrong or out-of-place.)
Some of the prejudice against left-handedness survived to modern times. Not long ago, left-handed students were forced to write with their right hands. The hand of a disobedient lefty was smacked with a ruler or tied behind the back. These children were made to feel inferior to their right-handed classmates, and the compulsory, unnatural use of their right hands has been blamed for speech problems some of them have suffered. (In the same way, many gays are forced by family and social pressures into heterosexual marriages, and the result is thousands of unhappy, repressed lives. It is also interesting that the same proportion of the population is homosexual as is left-handed -- about 10 percent.)
Left-handers have a much easier time of it today, and while their status has changed, so, too, has the status of homosexuals. Today, Europeans have a much more tolerant view of homosexuality than do Americans. In this country, for now, gays are largely in disfavor. But that is likely to change at some point, making room for another group to face the same intolerance. People who are different from the majority take their turn at being mistreated -- left-handers, homosexuals, people of minority religions and ethnic backgrounds, the handicapped, the overweight, illegitimate children and so on. And the reasons used to justify the mistreatment are equally silly each time.
If whatever makes you different from the pack is not on the current hit list, consider yourself fortunate.
Ronald Hube writes from Baltimore.