Why Did Grant Walk?

It has been a long time since I have watched any award shows. To be honest they are just boring to me. I can just read who won what the next day and I am fine. So I guess I had no idea about the quality of entertainment that occurs at these shows. Or according to the actions of Natalie Grant, I had no idea of the lack of quality in that entertainment.

Grant is a gospel singer nominated for 2 Grammy awards. After attending the ceremony last week, she left as she did not want to expose herself to the “entertainment” that was presented. According to reports, there were several candidates for being the type of entertainment that may turn off a Christian woman. Beyonce seem eager to reveal her rump to the world. Katy Perry decided that a simulated burning at the stake of a witch was entertaining. We have a mass wedding ceremony including same-sex couples. And then there was a song about a guy just hoping to get lucky. It is feasible that any one of these “performances” was the one that put it over the top for Grant and convinced her to call it a night.

Her exit has evidently led to hate mail being sent to Grant. In response to that hate mail she replied: “We left the Grammy’s early. I’ve had many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head…I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.” Thus, ultimately we do not know why she chose to leave the event. It is possible that some are angry that she may have left due to the mass wedding, but since Grant has decided to keep that information to herself, they are only speculating. Yet, even if that is the reason she left, we should respect her right to not watch something with which she is uncomfortable, and yes perhaps even disagrees with. Has the new politically correct standard become that individuals must attend same-sex weddings? Seems to violate the assertion that allowing same-sex marriages comes with no costs to those who do not agree with them.

But I do not want to focus on that issue since we do not know why Grant decided to leave the ceremony. Rather I am more interested in the Katy Perry act. From what I have been told Perry took the stage as a witch and after some singing and dancing was “burned at the stake.” What!!!! How did this get approved by whoever decides what goes on the stage? I am not blaming Perry. I get it. She grew up a Christian and now she hates Christians. Maybe it is daddy issues. I leave that between her, her family and God. But there had to be more mature individuals involved in the planning of the program who would see the offensive nature of this act.

I know one of the critiques is that art is supposed to push the limitations. Art is about being cutting edge and challenging the status quo. If you do that then sometimes you are going to be offensive. Let us test that little argument. Instead of simulated burning a witch at the stake how about a performance where we reenact someone machine gunning down a group of Palestinians. Do we think that Jewish performers in the audience would have the right to be offended and walk out? Or perhaps we can have an act simulating a terrorist cutting the head off of a captive. Would a Muslim singer be in the right to be disgusted and to walk out of the award show? Putting issues in this perspective allows us to see why a Christian singer has a right to be offended by an act based on Christians murdering accused witches.

Furthermore, do we seriously think that any performer would do one of these latter two acts no matter how badly he or she wants to be cutting edge? I may be wrong. Perhaps there are media acts in the United States that are as rude to Jews, Muslims, the nonreligious, Buddhists, etc as this one is to Christians. I am open to being proven wrong in my assertion of the exceptional nature of offending Christians as opposed to other religious groups if someone can post some links illustrating my error. So ironically, the Perry act is not all that much of a cutting edge act after all. Does it really take much bravery to blast Christianity in Hollywood?

Someone helping to run the Grammys should have anticipated just how offensive Perry’s act would be, but they failed to do so. We can speculate why they were unable to foresee the insulting nature of this act. The organizers of the Grammys likely have few friends who are Christians or who at least take their Christianity seriously. So they had no one to give them some perspective of why such a performance would be insulting. I found it interesting that many of Grant’s critics automatically assumed that the mass wedding motivated her to leave. When I heard of all of the acts I immediately assumed that it was the witch burning that convinced her to go. I suspect that most of her critics also do not have Christian friends to give them perspective on why that act would be so offensive. I know from my research concerning interracial contact that not having friends from different groups can contribute to a level of ignorance and insensitivity towards members of those groups.

Another reason why the organizers of the Grammys did not foresee how offensive this act is concerns the general propensity of some individuals to dehumanize Christians. I recently finished up a blog series based on my latest book Dehumanizing Christians. The focus of that book was to indicate that ethnocentrism by certain groups of non-Christians lead to similar characteristics tied to previous theories of authoritarianism. I am doing other research investigating a more generalized examination of anti-Christian animosity. Needless to say anti-Christian hostility is an explanation that is underused by academics to explore social events. But it seems very viable that animosity towards Christians explains why the producers okayed an anti-Christian act that I do not think they would have okayed if it was as potentially offensive to members of other religions.

At the end of the day, having distasteful acts at the Grammy awards is not even close to being one of the more important problems in our society. I suspect that such performances will decrease the number of viewers of award shows over the next few years, but that will not be the end of the world. However, these episodes do provide insight into certain social dynamics occurring in the United States. So deconstructing these events provides us more insight into the religious atmosphere in our society.

Let’s Boycott – Not

About a week ago I decided to pick up a little lunch. I was trying to avoid red meat so I decided to go to Chick-Fil-A. However, the drive-through line nearly circled the store. I did not feel like going into the restaurant so I went to a close by WhataBurger and ordered a grilled chicken salad. But I really wanted that chicken sandwich so while I was in line at the WhataBurger I began to think about the boycott. You remember the boycott. The one launched against Chick-Fil-A because of their support for traditional marriage. That boycott certainly was not working given the number of people waiting to place their order. Chick-Fil-A is not going out of business any time soon.

The boycott against Chick-Fil-A has worked about as well as the boycott against Starbucks. Starbucks was supposed to feel the wrath of Christian conservatives due to their support of same-sex marriage. Ever see an empty Starbucks? I probably have but it has been a long time. The boycott against them seems to have no effect whatsoever. It probably helps some conservatives to feel good and they can console themselves with the fact that none of their money is going to be used by the leaders of Starbucks to support causes they oppose. However, it is clear that Starbucks is not feeling pressure to alter their political advocacy. Like Chick-Fil-A they are not going out of business any time soon.

What can we learn from these failed boycotts? These failed boycotts indicate the degree of cultural division in our society. Generally speaking, boycotting an organization for supporting a culturally conservative cause is likely to fail since cultural conservatives are going to financially support that organization. The reverse is true when it comes to boycotting an organization that supports a culturally progressive cause. The exception to this is if an organization’s product especially caters to one group or the other. The show Duck Dynasty caters to individuals who tend to support culturally conservative causes. Thus when GLAAD fought against those cultural conservatives over the Duck Dynasty controversy, there is no question who the producers at A & E needed to keep the successful show going. There are limited times where a boycott can work but if the opponents of those doing the boycotting can support the business being boycotted, then a boycott is doomed to fail.

My observation about boycotts has important implications about our society. There is often talk about a culture war. It is a war fought not only about cultural political issues but also over lifestyles and theological presuppositions. It seems that both sides in this war are of roughly equal strength. Thus, both sides of the war are strong enough to protect businesses supporting their causes. Since cultural conservatives and cultural progressives are of equal strength, they view each other as threats that must be stopped. This helps to explain the degree of vitriol we often pick up between cultural conservatives and cultural progressives. Those of us who perceive ourselves in neither camp have to watch them attack each other and this type of hostile attitude is not going away in the near future. Lucky us.

Over the last few years I have done quite a bit of work documenting the type of bias and intolerance found within cultural progressives. There is a lot of previous work documenting these qualities within cultural conservatives. Both sides believe that they are locked in a war they must win. Cultural conservatives believe that if they do not win then society will fall into the hands of immoral secularists who will end the traditional social structures that have sustained us. Cultural progressives believe that if they do not win then society will become a theology that oppresses all non-Christians. This reminds me of work on religious terrorists by Juergensmeyer who pointed out that those terrorists feel that they are in a cosmic war that they dare not lose. They feel free to engage in terrorism as they are desperate to win their social struggles. Neither cultural progressives nor cultural conservatives are terrorists, but both are desperate to win their social struggles and they are not only willing to avoid a Chick-Fil-A sandwich or a caffe latte but also will try to stigmatize those who do eat or drink those products. But, as I have pointed out, the energy on the other side of the struggle prevents those boycotts from succeeding.

The deep concern of those on both sides of the cultural war is creating an interesting phenomenon. We are becoming a society not only divided by the traditional cultural/political issues, and our lifestyles but also by the very products we purchase. As I looked at that car line at Chick-Fil-A, I could not help thinking that those in the line were likely to be cultural conservatives. When I look at a Starbucks I tend to think that those customers are probably cultural progressives. Since I buy at both Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks, obviously I am an example that such assumptions are not always correct. But I do fear that we are becoming a society that culturally divides itself in every way possible. That divide is not just on the overt cultural elements such as media consumption, religious tradition, entertainment choices but even in our most basic decisions such as where we purchase our food and drink. If we link a division with even more basic ways about how we divide ourselves such as where we live (cultural progressives tend to live in big cities while cultural conservatives tend to live in small towns and certain suburbs) then we can gain more of an appreciation of just how much our society is segmented.

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.

Dehumanizing Christians Part 3 – The Vindictive Nature of Christian Dehumanization

Discussions about authoritarianism are not merely about the use of authority figures to take away the civil rights of others. They are also about the personal characteristics of individuals who support oppressive regimes. One of the qualities linked to those individuals is vindictiveness. Individuals high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) have a willingness to punish those who do not adhere to conventional ideals and lifestyles. It is that willingness to punish others that theoretically allows oppressive leaders of those with RWA to take away the rights of others.

When I first read about RWA and vindictiveness I questioned whether RWA was a reliable source of vindictiveness. I had such questions because of the actions and attitudes I had seen among those who should not, according to the theory of RWA, have vindictiveness. For example, do you remember the Duke Lacrosse rape case? Do you remember that 88 of the faculty members, largely from the humanities such as Women’s Studies, African-American Studies and Cultural Anthropology, signed a controversial advertisement two weeks after the alleged event that strongly implied that the students were guilty? They wanted the students to be punished even before those students were given their day in court. This is the sort of vindictiveness that often is linked with RWA, but such faculty members are unlikely to be the type of political/religious conservative that RWA is typically linked to.

So I decided to test to see if those high in Christian dehumanization (to see how I measured dehumanization look at my first post in this series) also show vindictive attitudes. I used two different methods to do this. First, I used a question I adapted from Robert Altermeyer. He used the following question with a sample of Canadian students.

Suppose the Canadian government, sometime in the future, passes a law outlawing the Communist party in Canada. Government officials then stated that the law would only be effective if it were vigorously enforced at the local level and appealed to every Canadian to aid in the fight against communism.

He then gave the students a nine point scale for the following statements so that the students could either agree or disagree that each of the six following statements is true of them.
1. I would tell my friends and neighbors it was a good law.
2. I would tell the police about any Communist I knew.
3. If asked by the police, I would help hunt down and arrest Communist.
4. I would participate in attacks on Communist headquarters organized by proper authorities.
5. I would support the use of physical force to make Communists reveal the identity of other Communists.
6. I would support the execution of Communist leaders if the government insisted it was necessary to protect Canada.

I adjusted the question for my American sample. Instead of communist party, I used four versions of this question with religious cults, communist activists, protestors at abortion clinics and pastors who preach against same-sex romantic relationships. Initially I found similar results to other researchers in that those high in RWA were more likely to support oppressive measures against religious cultists, communists and abortion protestors but not the pastors. Those high in Christian dehumanization exhibited such support when it came to oppression against protestors and pastors. I figured that part of this difference may be due to choices 5 and 6 in the questions. Indeed those high in RWA are more supportive of use of the death penalty than other individuals. When I tested these results with a shortened scale that eliminated those final two choices, I found what I expected in that those high in RWA are more likely to oppress cultists and communist but not the other two groups while the results were reversed for those high in Christian dehumanization. With the context of capital punishment taken into account those who dehumanize Christians, who as we saw in my last blog entry are likely to be religious/political progressives, act in a similar manner as those who score high in RWA.

My second test is even more illuminating. I constructed two scenarios. In the first scenario I wrote about a case where a man is accused of robbing another man at gunpoint. The respondent was asked to assess a punishment for this individual or to decide that he was not guilty. It is the same scenario that has been used before to show that those high in RWA have vindictive attitudes and are eager to punish those seen as deviant. In the second scenario I wrote about a couple accused of discriminating against a same-sex couple as it concerned renting out their room. The respondent was asked to assess a level of fine for the couple or to decide that they were not guilty.

The results were surprising considering previous research on RWA. Those with high levels of RWA were surprisingly less willing to punish the couple (r = -.484: p < .001), but they were not significantly more likely to punish mugger (r = .075: ns). While not significant my respondents did show some willingness to punish the mugger and considering previous research suggesting that those high in RWA are more punitive in punishing criminals, I accept that RWA is linked to a tendency to punish criminal deviants. But the level of vindictiveness may not be as strong as I had been led to believe.

I found that those who dehumanize Christians are very willing to punish the couple (r = .425: p < .001) but did not care nearly as much about punishing the mugger (r = -.058: ns). Those who dehumanize Christians are not automatically vindictive as they do not go out of their way to punish a man who likely is a robber. But their desire to punish the conservative Christians is so great that 48.3% of those who scored in the upper 25% of the Christian dehumanization scale assessed the maximum fine of $10,000 on that Christian couple. Clearly, a desire to punish social out-groups is not limited to those with high levels of RWA.

A reasonable person may believe that the couple should be heavily punished. But a reasonable person may also believe that a mugger should be heavily punished. However, a willingness to vindictively punish others is not tied to measures of authoritarianism, but rather it depends on who is being punished. This is indicative of the reality that the characteristics (In my book Dehumanizing Christians I also illustrate how lack of an ability to critically think, another attribute tied to RWA, is linked to attitudes of Christian dehumanization) tied to RWA are not unique to those deemed to be authoritarians. These characteristics are not tied to individuals with certain religious and/or political beliefs. We must be careful to look for the characteristics of authoritarianism in all religious and political groups.

Given my research, I find many of the assertions tied to RWA unconvincing. This is not to say that the RWA scales do not measure something. The multiple times the scales have shown themselves to be statistically reliable indicates that there is some dynamic being assessed here. What I doubt is the assertion of researchers that they are assessing RWA. I do not think they are assessing some unique quality more likely to be found among those who have conventional beliefs. They have found a characteristic that is more universal and can be found in all, or almost all, social groups. They did not see how it applied to those with unconventional beliefs due to using references groups that were not relevant to political and religious progressives. My use of conservative Christians as the reference group has allowed me to document the universal nature of what has been called RWA. In my final entry to the blog series I will discuss what I consider a superior explanation and some implications of that explanation.