Dehumanizing Christians Part 4 – Ethnocentrism instead of Authoritarianism

For those of you who are reading this blog series for the first time let me do a quick recap of where I am at. In my first post I showed that willingness to use authority figures to take away the rights of others is not limited to those high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). In my second post I showed that religious/political progressives are the ones most likely to agree with the characteristics of Christian dehumanization correlated to the willingness to use authority figures against conservative Christians. In my last post I showed that those with attitudes of Christian dehumanization are also likely to have vindictive attitudes against conservative Christians. Thus, the qualities of authoritarianism generally linked to religious/political conservatives can be found in religious/political progressives when we measure them using conservative Christians as the targeted group.

There is a generous amount of research arguing that RWA is a viable explanation for social problems such as racism, intolerance, and oppression. The theory of RWA paints a picture of vengeful, irrational individuals looking for an authoritarian leader to follow. That leader tells them who to hate and oppress which they promptly decide to do. But my research indicates that authoritarianism is not the best way to understand the results generated by those who have developed theories of RWA. Rather, ethnocentrism is a better way to understand what has occurred. Results tied to RWA are caused by the ethnocentrism of those with conventional social attitudes. Results tied to my findings concerning Christian dehumanization are caused by the ethnocentrism of those with unconventional social attitudes. Ethnocentrism is a more universal phenomenon than RWA and thus it more accurately explains why religious/political conservatives are willing to use authority figures to suppress political radicals and why religious/political progressives are willing to use authority figures to suppress conservative Christians.

Ethnocentrism is a part of every culture. There may be some sort of universal need for a society to have ethnocentrism. I can only speculate on what that need may be, but ethnocentrism may be necessary for societies to have some degree of ethnocentrism to justify their norms and values. This keeps us from constantly “reinventing the wheel.” So if you think that how your society’s families are structured or how your society runs the economy is superior to the way all other societies accomplish such tasks then it does not make sense to change our families or economies. Societies cannot be efficient if they are consistently altering their social structures. Having some confidence that the way our societies accomplish important tasks is important to allow for the development of a viable level of societal continuity.
We often think of ethnocentrism as a social dysfunction. But if it is universal then it may be vital for a healthy society.

Ethnocentrism in and of itself may be natural and not necessarily an evil commodity. Yes ethnocentrism can lead to oppression and prejudice. But it can also lead to societal stability and healthy social norms. Even those desiring to change society advocate certain social norms on how they want our society to be run and possess the ethnocentrism needed to maintain those norms. Whether we like it or not, ethnocentrism is a part of how all of us perceive social reality. A moderate amount of ethnocentrism is normal and may even be helpful. It is when we have too much ethnocentrism that we start oppressing out-group members. It is healthier to recognize that we all have ethnocentrism and that is not bad as long as it is a moderate amount than to try to deny that ethnocentrism is a component in our social outlook.

Merely asserting that all subcultures have some degree of ethnocentrism should not be controversial. But tolerance can be conceptualized as the opposite of ethnocentrism and some progressive subcultures pride themselves as being tolerant. They ironically see their value of tolerance as superior to other values and use the value of tolerance to condemn those they perceive as “intolerant.” Those focusing on tolerance quite often see themselves as only intolerant of intolerance. Thus they define intolerance in such a way that intolerance just happens to look like people different from them. Such individuals are not likely to be any more ethnocentric than others, but they may not be any less likely to be ethnocentric. We are intellectually better off recognizing that ethnocentrism infects those across different political, religious and social dimensions than attempting to show that its effects are limited to those who disagree with us. The fact that those who conduct research on social attitudes, and thus on RWA, are likely to be part of subcultures that pride themselves on tolerance can account for some of their inability to pick up intolerant attitudes against conservative Christians.

Ethnocentric attitudes take place in a particular context in the United States. Previous scholars have discussed the culture war in the United States and argued that we have two major ideological groups with a great deal of disaffection to each other. Previous research has utilized RWA scales to operationalize the disaffection cultural and political conservatives have towards their opponents in the culture war. That work is accurate in that it looks at the processes of dehumanization and authoritarianism when perpetuated by political and religious conservatives. But until recently there has been very little work documenting the hostility cultural progressives have towards their opponents (although see this blog series for one example of such work). Since conservative Christians are often conceptualized as the embodiment of the conservative opposition to cultural progressives, my scale of Christian dehumanization is a way we can assess the degree and nature of the hostility within cultural progressives.

Am I arguing that the way ethnocentrism manifests itself is exactly the same regardless of whether it is ethnocentrism by those with conventional perspectives as opposed to those with unconventional perspectives? No, because context does matter. I showed in my last post that those with unconventional attitudes are less supportive of the death penalty than those with conventional attitudes. So the willingness to use the death penalty has to be taken into consideration as we look at how vindictiveness can manifest itself in the ethnocentrism in either group. We have to understand the social context in which this ethnocentrism exhibits itself to fully understand it.

Another key context is the sort of authority figures used. Both those with conventional and unconventional attitudes are quite willing to use authorities to punish out-group members. But those high in RWA tend to concentrate on using the law and justice apparatus of the government to go after political, cultural and sexual minorities. Those who dehumanize Christians seem to prefer using educational institutions to marginalize and stigmatize conservative Christians. This difference may be important in helping us to understand what ethnocentrism looks like when we see it in religious/political progressives. If we want to protect individuals from the misuse of authorities by conservatives then we have to look at the potential misuse of legal apparatuses. But if we want to protect individuals from the misuse of authorities by progressives then we have to look at potential misuse in the educational system. It is in this context that my previous work documenting the willingness of professors to discriminate against conservative Christians can be better understood.

If I have a final takeaway from this particular study, it is that dysfunctional social attitudes tend to transcend different groups but they manifest themselves within the context of those groups. We tend to assert that those we disagree with are uniquely immoral and that helps feed our ethnocentrism as we feel better about those who support our beliefs. A more humble, but ultimately healthier, attitude is to recognize that the shortcomings we see in those who are different from us can often be found within those who agree with us. This self-introspection is difficult to do for a variety of reasons, perhaps some that I will discuss in a future blog, but this introspection can help us corral some of our worse demons. Such an attitude does not mean that we have to abandon our deeply held beliefs but it can help us to recognize that those with whom we disagree may not be the monsters we can sometimes make them out to be.

  • Andrew G.

    High-RWAs are (slightly) more likely than low-RWAs to accept as valid a fallacious argument leading to a true conclusion, even when the content of the argument is politically neutral. High-RWAs are also more likely than low-RWAs to maintain mutually incompatible beliefs. High-RWAs have more trouble handling evidence generally. (All of the above taken from ch.3 of Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians.)

    How would you link those to ethnocentrism, or conventionality?

  • georgeyancey

    Actually I dealt with that argument in the book but choose to look at my evidence concerning vindictiveness rather than those surrounding confirmation bias. Generally whether high or low RWA individuals accept fallacious arguments depends on whether the arguments support or opposes particular religious ideas (possibility political ideas but I did not test for those). To answer your theoretical question ethnocentrism makes us more vulnerable to confirmation bias and thus more likely to overlook bad arguments if those arguments support our viewpoint. If you want you can look at the book to see the data surrounding that assertion or later this year I have a paper coming out that shows the same thing and I will do a blog on that paper once it is out.

  • UWIR

    “In my first post I showed that willingness to use authority figures to take away the rights of others is not limited to those high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA).”

    No, you didn’t. You showed that the willingness to take away what you consider to be the rights of others is not so limited.

    “In my second post I showed that religious/political progressives are the ones most likely to agree with the characteristics of Christian dehumanization correlated to the willingness to use authority figures against conservative Christians.”

    You never defined “Christian dehumanization”, term that is wildly biased and given no founding. Your attempts at a scholarly tone is belied by your word choice. I will instead use the term People You Don’t Like, since as far as I can tell, that is a more accurate term.

    “In my last post I showed that those with attitudes of Christian dehumanization are also likely to have vindictive attitudes against conservative Christians.”

    You didn’t really define “vindictive”.

    “Thus, the qualities of authoritarianism generally linked to religious/political conservatives can be found in religious/political progressives when we measure them using conservative Christians as the targeted group.”

    The qualities of RWA are authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism. Your list of previous observations doesn’t address submissiveness at all. You assert that People You Don’t Like exhibit aggression, but authoritarian aggression is more than simply aggression. It is aggression motivated by adherence to social norms, not social justice. Unless you can show that People You Don’t Like desire heavy penalties for people who engage in discrimination due to external influence of authority figures and adherence to social norms, rather than concern for social justice, you point fails. Similarly, conventionalism is an adherence to convention for its own sake, and does not include adherence to an internal sense of justice that coincidentally happens to match an external social norm.

    “The theory of RWA paints a picture of vengeful, irrational individuals looking for an authoritarian leader to follow. That leader tells them who to hate and oppress which they promptly decide to do.”

    No, RWAs do not hate and oppress merely on the basis of what their leaders say; to a large degree, the causality runs the other way, with leaders being chosen based on to what extent they comply with social norms.

    “Rather, ethnocentrism is a better way to understand what has occurred.”

    Yet another term you’re not presenting a definition for.

    “why religious/political conservatives are willing to use authority figures to suppress political radicals and why religious/political progressives are willing to use authority figures to suppress conservative Christians.”

    Those aren’t really comparable categories. Progressives pass laws against discrimination that interfere with conservatives wanting to discriminate. Conservatives then claim they are being “oppressed” by their inability to discriminate. That’s simply not the same thing as actually being oppressed, and it’s offensive to pretend that it is.

    “The fact that those who conduct research on social attitudes, and thus on RWA, are likely to be part of subcultures that pride themselves on tolerance can account for some of their inability to pick up intolerant attitudes against conservative Christians.”

    That’s one explanation. Another explanation is that they aren’t self-entitled Christians who consider it “intolerance” every time someone objects to their behavior. You talk of “intolerance against conservative Christians”, but you don’t explain what you mean, and Christians have a HUGE track record of crying wolf on this matter.

    “But those high in RWA tend to concentrate on using the law and justice apparatus of the government to go after political, cultural and sexual minorities. Those who dehumanize Christians seem to prefer using educational institutions to marginalize and stigmatize conservative Christians.”

    In other words, RWAs respond to opposing views with violence, while People You Don’t Like prefer persuasion and consensus-building. Those fighting RWAs can articulate the general principle that governmental force should not be used to impose conformity. The opposition to the methods of People You Don’t Like is premised on … what, exactly? Every point of view should be given equal respect? Authorities should be neutral on all issues? What’s interesting is how much difference there is in the literalness of martial metaphors when speaking of conservative and liberal policies. Conservatives want organized groups of armed men to impose their will on women. Is that a literal “War on Women”? Not exactly. But it sure is a darn sight closer to a literal war than is the so-called “War on Christmas”, which involves no weapons or violence whatsoever, just people not doing what Christians want them to do.

    “A more humble, but ultimately healthier, attitude is to recognize that the shortcomings we see in those who are different from us can often be found within those who agree with us.”

    That’s an incredibly vague and meaningless platitude. It doesn’t change the fact there are specific charges that can be made against conservative Christianity that cannot be made against opposition to conservative Christianity. Conservative Christians want people to be put in prison just for engaging in homosexual acts, but gay people don’t want to put people in prison just for being Christian. Conservative Christians want to pressure school children into participating in daily religious conduct, but atheists don’t want to pressure school children into denying the existence of God.

    “This self-introspection is difficult to do for a variety of reasons,”

    How is it self-introspection to acknowledge shortcomings in others?

    • Steve31

      do you think if RWA’s supported the legalized murder of unborn babies they would be less authoritarian?

    • georgeyancey

      1) Rights are a socially constructed term and so this critique can be made by any claim of rights. However, I am comfortable arguing that people should have the right to choose their own leaders of their groups or those they want to room with. If you disagree with those basic rights then we will simply agree to disagree.
      2) The term is based on the ideas of dehumanization developed by Haslem and operationalized based on previous qualitative research. You can complain if you wish about the terminology but once again you can do that with any terminology such as authoritarianism. This seems merely argumentative.
      3) I did not define the term vindictive in this blog but I used the previous claims of vindictiveness promoted by supporters of RWA. They claim that individuals high in RWA are vindictive because they give heavier punishments than other individuals. Using that same metric it is clear that those high in the Christian Dehumanization scale provide more punishment in a contextualized scenario. If we want to use a different definition of vindictiveness that if fine but then I need to see research by showing that those higher in RWA are also high according to that definition.
      4) So you think that people want to punish others more simply because of social justice? you think there is no authorities pushing this notion of punishment. Did you not read about the professors in the Duke rape case. Authorities do not merely come in the garb of the police and submission to educational and media authorities who can stigmiize those who are political incorrect is seen in a lot of public examples.
      5) No I did not define ethnocentrism in this blog but I do explore the concept in my book. A blog is not going to have the space to do everything.
      6) I find it interesting that you think conservatives are merely pretending to be oppressed. Why cannot conservatives argue that progressives are pretending to be oppressed? Oppression claims is not really the point here but what is important is what people are willing to do to their out-group members. Certain individuals are willing to financially punish conservative Christians more than others would, take away the ability of conservative Christians to choose their roommates, leaders of their own organization and force them to undergo training to remove them from having their own beliefs (as per the scenarios in the book). I am guessing you are not a conservative Christian and perhaps it is of no concern of yours if they lose these rights. But the willingness to take away such rights is qualitatively the same as taking away the rights of feminists, atheists, radicals. The mechanisms by which those rights are taken away vary. The willingness to take away the rights is the same.
      7) I think it is fair to say that all groups complain about rights. This makes my point that the fact that academia is not made up of individuals from certain groups there is less sympathy to the claims of those groups and more towards those who are in academia.
      8) I would take the claim of persuasion and consensus building more seriously if I have not seen so many attempts to shut people up who disagree with political correctness. It is not consensus building to go on a witch hunt when someone does research that does not fall along the proper political ideals. You give progressives far too much credit for being open to all ideas. If you are a moderate like myself you can clearly see that this is not the case.
      9) And there are specific charges being made against progressives that today cannot be made against conservative Christians. Many progressives do not want conservative Christian to choose their own leaders of their own on-campus organizations. They want Christians to stay in churches and homes. This is not a demand conservative Christians make of progressives. The fact that the way ethnocentrism manifest itself differently in distinct groups is a big part of my argument.
      10) The definition of self-introspection is the look at one-self and not focus on others. There is a degree of intolerance among progressives that they are unwilling to acknowledge because they are so certain that they are correct. Yet they are eager to point out this same attitude among those they disagree with. Self-introspection would help deal with this inconsistency.

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        Hm. Possibly there’s an additional factor, where the law is judged before its transgression? Possibly there’s room for someone else to follow up.

        But the results seem very interesting indeed.

  • Jakeithus

    Prof. Yancey, thank you so much for presenting this research. The authoritarian tendencies present in certain progressives has been evident to me for some time, and it is nice to see it demonstrated in a more quantifiable and concrete way.

  • Laura

    Thank you for your thought provoking research. I am not surprised that your study is the first looking at the left’s oppression of out groups, given that, as you say, “Those who dehumanize Christians seem to prefer using educational institutions to marginalize and stigmatize conservative Christians.” It makes sense that those individuals who dehumanize Christians would not want to study that dehumanization, and who else is going to do it if all those in educational institutions buy into that dehumanization? This dehumanization is not a surprise to all those individuals who have experienced, and I want to thank you for giving their experience a voice. I feel like your research provides a great conversation around the universality of ethnocentrism.

  • StraightGrandmother

    This is why your survey is bogus.
    You are saying that progressive people, let;s just call them Lefties are vindictive towards Christians. I don’t think it is all Christians jsut Conservative Christians who fight to deny Equal Civil Rights to sexual Minorities.

    If you asked the same questions and substituted the word Christian for Muslim you would get the same responses. See it is not a particular Religion, it is ALL religions that are in the political sphere trying to force their anti gay doctrine into our civil laws. Orthodox Jews would be treated vindictively but Reformed Jews who 80% support Civil Marriage for Sexual Minorities would not.

    You have claimed this Christian Persecution complex and I don’t think it is directed exclusively at Christians. The reason is quite simply there is no rational reason for your efforts to harm sexual minorities other than it is your religion.
    We all have to learn to live together and it can’t be both ways. One side is going to win and one side is going to loose. The winning side will be and should be Equality for all citizens.

    If you don’t bake the wedding cake you will be punished and I support that. You may call it vindictivness, I call it treating everybody equally out on Mainstreet, and if oyu don’t do that you will be punished. The onus is on you to get a job that does not conflict with your religious beliefs. Jew, Muslim, Christian, Gay, or Straight we should all be able to walk into any stroe and be served equally. No special rights for Christians to Discriminate.

    • georgeyancey

      Where did I say Christian Persecution complex anywhere? Did you even read the blog? Did you even read the other blogs where I describe my methodology? Nowhere was there a focus on homosexuality. Seriously you seem to be fixated on these issues and seem to project them everywhere. If you have a legit critique of what I have done then I will respond. Otherwise have a good day.

      • StraightGrandmother

        Yes I read all 4 parts. Sure did. You used a question about a christian woman who could not advertize that she wanted a Christian roommate. And a gay marriage question also.

        I will be so delighted when this subject will be closed, when it is decided by our Courts and we can all move on. Dehumanization is close enough to Christian persecution in my book, but you have a good day. Bless your heart.

        • georgeyancey

          So I take it that you think that people should not be able to choose who their roommate is. Good to know how far you are willing to oppress those you disagree with.


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