Myths of Christianophobia Part 1 – It does not exist

This post will start a series concerning the topic I have been studying the last few years – Christianophobia. I have watched the reaction to the concept and seen major criticisms that laypeople have of it. So I am going to tackle the different myths that have developed as it concerns Christianophobia. I am not going to address the methodological questions from my research since this is not the proper forum for that discussion. But rather I will deal with common arguments I have noted from time to time on the entire idea of Christianophobia. This entry will deal with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist.

Let me clarify what I mean when I talk about whether Christianophobia exists or not. I am not talking about whether there are people who do not like Christians. Obviously that is the case for any social group. Christianophobia is the unreasonable hatred and/or fear of Christians. In the United States this has usually manifested itself against conservative Christians. Indeed given the results of research I recently blogged about, it is reasonable to consider whether there is significant Christianophobia among progressive Christians. My argument is that the level of hatred and fear is nontrivial and that we can see some of the effects of this Christianophobia in the larger society. I am not arguing that Christianophobia is worse than other types of intolerances. Indeed my contention is that it is worse in some situations but irrelevant in others. But I do argue that it exists and is a factor in our society. In this entry, I will document its existence and show a couple of examples of how it has manifested itself.

Let us start with assertions that are beyond dispute. First, some of the sentiments towards Christians are clearly over the top and offer face validity of Christianophobia. In my book, So Many Christians, So Few Lions I documented several times when respondents “joked” about feeding Christians to lions. Jokes of torturing people to death can be seen as hyperbole; however, such jokes are also rightly seen as immoral when launched against other social groups. One needs not look at my respondents to see other distasteful hyperbole towards Christians that are distasteful and unreasonable. Review of comments place at Patheos and other Christian blogs often reveal comments that are as demonizing and depersonalizing as comments of some of my respondents. So yes those with unreasonable hatred of Christians do exist. The second undisputable fact is that there are a lot of people with at least lower levels of disaffinity towards conservative Christians. In my book I documented that around a third of the country have some animosity towards them and other work show a fourth of all Americans are unwilling to vote for an evangelical Christian.

A more disputable question is what percentage of those with disaffinity towards conservative Christians also possess the type of unreasonable attitudes connected with Christianophobia. It may be that only a tiny percentage of all Americans have the sort of dehumanizing attitudes that find pleasure in thinking about lions tearing Christians apart. It may be up to about a third of the country that dehumanizes conservative Christians in such a manner, yet with our current data we cannot determine the extent to which Christianophobia characterized social attitudes. We do know, from my quantitative results, that those with Christianophobic attitudes are more likely to be white, male, wealthy, and highly educated. Thus the people with Christianophobia tend to have a high level of per-capita social power.

Statements about feeding Christians to lions are unreasonable expressions, but I want to go beyond hyperbole when assessing the unreasonableness of Christianophobia. There were certain patterns of thought that, while not as mean-spirited, also were unreasonable. For example, many of my respondents talked about Christians wanting to bring about a theocracy. Conservative Christians want what other interest groups want, which is to push forward the issues they care about. This does not make what they want a theocracy where they would appoint clergy to rule in the name of God. The conservative Christians I know want people to become Christians but are not attempting to use the government to force such a conversion. And attempts to push one’s theological ideas do not end with Christians. Indeed one could argue that the recent statements by Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United, that Christian schools should house same-sex married couples in their schools as attempts to impose theological changes in those schools. Why should this not be considered the imposition of a theocracy while efforts of conservative Christians to end a practice (abortion) they consider to be murder are consider theocratic? The claim that conservative Christians are uniquely attempting to set up a theocracy is the type of irrationality one would expect when individuals are motivated by hatred and anger instead of mere disagreement.

There are other assertions that seem to come from an unrealistic hatred or fear of conservative Christians. Remember that those with Christianophobia are more likely to be white than others in society? Yet one of their criticisms of conservative Christians is that it is a religion for whites. Comparing the population of those with some level of anti-Christian disaffinity to Christians who believe that the Bible is the word of God indicates that those with anti-Christian disaffinity are significantly more likely to be white (71.3% v. 50.9%). It seems to be a misplaced criticism to talk about conservative Christians being too white when the subculture the criticism comes from is even more “white.” Yet this lack of introspection is understandable if the criticism comes not from a reasonable assessment of those conservative Christians but from an unreasonable hatred that simply seeks to locate negative stereotypes to attach to those Christians.

My quantitative research also indicated that those with high levels of Christianophobia are more likely to be politically progressive and to have low levels of religiosity. These factors are important when I qualitatively explored these attitudes. Part of the social identity of those with Christianophobia is the notion that they are tolerant. The notion of religious neutrality is also part of this ideology. Thus they are relatively hesitant to directly punish Christians for their faith. Yet there is not a need for such individuals to directly threaten their religious out-groups. Some of my respondents talked about using rules that disproportionately punish conservative Christians as long as a rule can be justified for non-bigoted reasons. In studies of race and ethnicity this has sometimes been called symbolic, or aversive, racism. Just like Americans today want to avoid being labeled as racist, those with Christianophobia want to avoid being labeled as bigoted. In similar ways to see whether there is an effect in society, we have to assess whether institutionalized disparate impact results from the efforts of those with Christianophobia. Given that they have high levels of per-capita social power, many of them may be in a position to support such institutional efforts.

Let us see if we can find an example of disparate impact. There has been an argument about public accommodations that state that businesses have to serve everybody. And several Christian businesses have gotten in trouble for refusing to serve same-sex weddings. These stories are so well known that there is little need for me to identify them. But I have yet to hear of a recent case where a non-Christian has been prosecuted for not serving the entire public. I did a quick Google search for public accommodations concerning weddings and only found accusations against Christians. In fact, it was hard to find any recent accusation of public accommodations where a Christian was not the accused. One way to interpret this fact pattern is to assert that only Christians refuse to serve the entire public. Yet that is simply not true.

So what is the conclusion even though others refuse service that basically the only ones running afoul are Christians? When we have seen laws that disproportionately impact a social group, we have talked about the disparate impact of those laws. Generally if it is a group we want to protect then we need strong justification for those laws. For example, immigration laws today are generally scrutinized because we recognize that they can disproportionately impact certain racial or ethnic groups. While Christians are not a recognized minority group, religion is a category by which we are not supposed to discriminate. So in theory, a Christian should not legally be subject to discriminatory behavior more than those of any other faith or nonfaith.

Given the legal requirements to not discriminate based on religion and the willingness of those with Christianophobia to use disparate impact measures, Christianophobia is at least part of the reason why only today it seems that Christian business are prosecuted as noncompliant with this particular offence. I have a hard time believing that these prosecutions are due to the principle of public accommodations since those principles should be content neutral. Clearly the different ways businesses are treated depend on whether they are a Christian business or not which shows that this principle is not being applied in a content neutral way. It is much more reasonable to assert that those with Christianophobia have helped to interpret public accommodation laws in ways to disparately impact the Christians they do not like. I am certain that some critics will work hard to differentiate between the actions of Christian businesses and others; however, when the only guilty businesses are Christian, then one should be suspicious. Indeed I submit that those who attempt to differentiate between the Christian and other businesses would act completely differently if atheists or Muslim businesses were the only ones being punished with the application of anything similar to public accommodations.

Does this mean that Christianophobia is the only explanation of these actions? Such patterns are generally too complex to be explained by a single factor. Yet, it is hard to image that Christianophobia does not play some role. I do not believe that racism is the only factor accounting for the immigration policy desires of conservatives. But given how “get-tough” immigration policy generally impacts certain groups of color, it is naïve to suppose that racism does not play some role in support of those policies. This is true even though there are Europeans, or whites, who occasionally are punished with immigration laws. When there are not Muslim or homosexual businesses punished, but clearly Christian businesses are punished, then we have even more evidence that part of the motivation is driven by anti-Christian animosity. Combine this observation with the tendency of those with Christianophobia to hide their animosity with disparate impact measure and their desire to drive Christians from the public square, then we see that Christianophobia may be the best, although not only, explanation for the way public accommodations laws have recently been enforced.

There are several social events or patterns that are explained, at least partially, by looking at theories of Christianophobia. Obviously, I do not have the time to illustrate all of them in this short blog. In So Many Christians, So Few Lions I provide a deeper discussion of possible ways Christianophobia can manifest in our society. The example above provides a situation where Christianophobia is an excellent explanatory theory. But most people are not working in an industry that deals with weddings and so it is limited in scope. So I look to education to see evidence that Christianophobia may influence our higher educational system. The reality affects not just those who attend higher education but just about everyone since highly educated individuals have significant societal influence.

In a previous blog I enunciated the evidence of anti-Christian academic bias. Research has shown that conservative Christians systematically face prejudice among academics, and this prejudice results in those Christians being in lower status positions, even after controlling for their academic accomplishments. We have documented cases, such as Mike Adams, that provide the anecdotal evidence of anti-Christian discrimination. I have heard arguments that there is not any significant anti-Christian discrimination since Christian colleges are able to discriminate against non-Christians. That is like arguing that there is not racial discrimination since there are a few black barber shops that do not hire whites. The evidence indicates that there is an institutional wide disadvantage for conservative Christians, and any small advantage they may gain from a few Christian colleges and universities is negated by the moderate to huge disadvantage they face due to de facto discrimination.

What is occurring in our educational system offers more evidence for Christianophobia. Higher education is an institution that prides itself on being open to other cultures yet does not seem to have the ability to recognize anti-Christian bias. Many of the stereotypes and fears documented in my research help explain this inability. This explains why research has documented that social conservatives have to be more qualified to obtain a similar position as other academics. This explains why there are documented efforts to sabotage the promotion of conservative Christians in academia. On the one hand, such efforts go against the desire of those with Christianophobia to portray themselves as religiously neutral. On the other hand, this discrimination usually happens behind closed doors where the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination is often allowed to flourish.

These are two examples of how Christianophobia is manifested in society. Future work can explore the degree to which Christianophobia impacts our society but these examples, as well as others discussed in my book, document that Christianophobia does have a real effect, and that effect is not trivial. I anticipate some who will say that these two examples are not proof that Christianophobia has a major impact in our society. They will argue that I do not have people admitting that they are discriminating against Christians. Yet few people openly admit that they are discriminating against blacks, and we still talk about racism. Methinks some critics have a different standard of evaluation for Christianophobia than for other types of intolerances. If there are rules that are disproportionately enforced on a given social group and there is powerful evidence that members of that social group face discrimination in an important social institution, such as higher education, then that is strong evidence that the group is being unreasonably treated in some quarters of the society. It is logical to assert that such unreasonable treatment is motivated by hate and/or fear.

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