When I discuss the reality that conservative Christians have certain disadvantages in our society I am sometimes accused of false equivalency. Yet at no point have I argued that the disadvantage of Christians is exactly the same as the disadvantage of non-Christians. To conduct a fair comparison of the Christian’s and non-Christian’s place in our society, we have to take seriously the fact that Christianity is at times an advantage and at other times a disadvantage in our society. I accept both facts in the above sentence while those arguing against me often only accept the former. In reality, the advantage of Christians in our society is tied to the lower numbers of individuals with animosity towards them than towards atheists. The conservative Christian disadvantage is that those with that animosity tend to come from a racially, educationally, economically powerful social position.
However, this week I came across an example of false equivalency that perfectly illustrates what this logical fallacy looks like. Here is a link to a video of Bill Maher’s show in which he dialogs with Michael Moore and Al Sharpton (warning: language – after all it is the Bill Maher show). It is about eight minutes long and if you do not want to invest that much time in watching it, I will quickly summarize it. Maher argues that Islamic terrorism is a special problem that has to be addressed while Moore and Sharpton basically argue that Christians are just as violent as the Muslim terrorists. Yeah, that is false equivalency and it is not even close.
It is silly to make overarching accusations about Muslims and violence, but it is clear that contemporary Christianity is not the violent threat that Islamic terrorism has presented to us. To make such an observation is not Islamophobia, but an acknowledgement of reality. One can make an argument that historically Christianity has been as violent as Islam. I would not agree with that argument but it is a logical assertion that can be adequately defended. There is no real logical argument that contemporary Christians are as violent as Muslim terrorists. Some will point to some isolated incidents where Christians engaged in violence. However, Christians who commit mass murder do so detached from overt support from their religious community; whereas, it is clear that many of the Islamic terrorists engage in their violence with the support of certain segments in their religious tradition. To argue that isolated Christian violence is the same as organized Islamic violence, which Moore and Sharpton appear to be doing, is a great example of false equivalency.
The problem is that while the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, there are certain sub-groups of Muslims who are terrorists and openly attempting to kill us. (Moore states that Christians want to kill non-Christians as well. He provides no evidence for this assertion but even if true, then where are the sub-groups of Christians engaging in terrorism today? Equating what people theoretically want to do with what others are actually doing is another great example of false equivalency.) What is the worst Christian group in the United States? My vote goes to the Westboro Baptist Church. They are despicable. But they are not violent nor is there any evidence that they are terrorists. I dearly would love for them to go away but comparing their rude, insensitive, but nonviolent protests is simply not the same thing as attempting to blow up those one disagrees with as we know certain Muslim terrorists do.
I would like to have a society whereby people are not punished socially, economically, or educationally for their religious belief or non-belief. But such a society requires a level of respect for those who differ from us, a respect that I often fail to see. I would welcome an honest discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of Christians and non-Christians in society. To have that discussion, individuals have to be open that religious out-group members sometimes suffer in ways that they do not suffer. I have personally observed the advantages of not being a Christian in academic circles and have done the systematic research documenting some of those advantages. But I also recognize advantages I have as a Christian in other areas of our society. Putting myself in the mind of the other allows me to be open to a more nuanced interpretation than some of my Christian brothers and sisters who only see Christians as a persecuted class. Likewise, I have dialoged with non-Christians who only see their disadvantages and are loath to acknowledged disadvantages conservative Christians sometimes operate under. Such individuals attempt to use the charges of false equivalency to argue that such disadvantages are unimportant before we can even get to the discussion of the nature of these disadvantages. But real false equivalency is stating things are alike when there is plenty of evidence that they are quite different. The discrimination Christians may face in our society is different than the type of discrimination those of other faiths may face, but it is not imaginary and pointing out that fact is not false equivalency. In reality, pointing out that fact allows us to seriously respect the disadvantage both Christians and non-Christians have in our society and helps us to comprehend sophisticated ways religion factors into how social stratification can operate in the United States.