Is Forgiveness a Secular Value?

Over the past few years I have heard some Christian apologetic speakers make a fascinating argument about secular societies. They argued that these societies have borrowed much of their morality from the previous Judeo-Christian culture from which they emerged. For example, a value of honesty is not based on a secular understanding of reality but because it has been rooted in the Judeo-Christian history, individuals in secular societies still appreciate honesty as much as when they lived in a religious culture. This argument implies that it will take quite a long time for us to see what sort of moral values are truly connected to a culture devoid of religion. I do not pretend to know exactly what that culture will look like. Truly secular societies are relatively new in our global society, and it is too early to know all of the consequences of a secular society. But with some speculation, it might be possible to get a preview of some values that may emerge in a secular world.

So I will predict one value that may develop over time and has already begun to surface in our society. I do this with the necessary caveat that social scientists often make lousy forecasters. However, it can be an interesting and useful exercise to consider the potential implications of a society without religious legitimation. Looking at a few social science studies and considering the ramifications of a secular philosophy may help us to anticipate what may happen in secular places like Europe and Canada and what might happen if those advocating secularization theory are right about the United States.

In the past, I have blogged about the lack of forgiveness in my society. When I first blogged about that, it did not occur to me that this may be linked to our growing secularization. However, as I consider the implications of a less religious society, it has occurred to me that what I was observing in the lack of forgiveness was consistent with the new attitudes that have developed in a secular ideology. Thus, one potential value that may change over time as we become more secular is a movement away from forgiveness and towards an expectation of performance. I struggle to find a good term for this and after a time decided on the term “mercilessness.” It is not a perfect term as there is an implication of cruelty that I do not wish to make. However, this term does explain the unwillingness to forgive that I do wish to enunciate. I am open to a better term, but for the remainder of this blog entry, I will use mercilessness as the description of this new secular value.

To see if forgiveness is compatible with a secular society, it is useful to see if there is a difference of willingness to forgive on an individual level. I did not want to do an extensive assessment of all available research on this research question but there are some studies indicating that religious individuals are more forgiving than secular individuals. I am open to being shown other research to the contrary, but it does not surprise me that the religious are more forgiving as I consider forgiveness to be a more innate quality for people of faith. There may be other religious systems where forgiveness is not seen as salient as it is in an evangelical Christian framework and I cannot speak for them. But there is a powerful motivation to forgive within Christianity. In my faith tradition, there is an emphasis on introspection and grace that naturally leads to a value of forgiveness. Of course this is not to say that all of us, or even myself, are perfect in implementing that value. Ironically, if we were perfect in implementing any of our values, we probably would not need to be forgiven.

I do not perceive forgiveness an important part of secular ideology is because it is based on the notion that humans are perfectible. So if humans are perfectible, then we must ask why we are we not perfect? The answer depends on what variation of secular ideology one accepts. Marxists envision class issues as corrupting the human spirit while feminists see the culprit as patriarchal values. And of course other variations of secular ideology will locate other possible barriers to human perfectibility. But the key common component is that humans are perfectible, or at least can become close to perfect, and thus in secular ideology, we must make an effort to obtain perfectibility. This creates little tolerance for those that are not towing the line of how humans should act. Society must change to support the new ideal human. Those who do not head towards that new ideal should face sanctions that encourage them to head towards that ideal. The sanctions would not only influence those individuals to act in an acceptable manner but would serve as a warning to others who may be future violators of the required norms.

This is where mercilessness comes into play as forgiveness can interfere with our ability to apply those sanctions with sufficient force. I have heard secular individuals complain about individuals who seek forgiveness after being caught in a transgression. They complain that this is an easy way out and, more importantly, that it allows people to continue to do what is wrong. I think this interpretation misses the point of what true repentance is about but that is not surprising since such individuals looking at the value of forgiveness from outside our faith likely lack the context of what is meant by repentance and forgiveness. But this attitude is reflective of how to handle shortcomings when using a value of mercilessness. People must be punished and ostracized so that we have sanctions that are powerful enough to allow the emergence of our ideal society. Forgiving those individuals weakens the sanctions and gets in the way of their effectiveness.

It is an important moral question on whether forgiveness or mercilessness should be the higher priority in our society. Like any value, there is a downside to forgiveness when it is misused. There have been times when we have forgiven others before it was even asked by them. In those situations there is no real repentance and little chance for the person to learn from what they did wrong. And then there is the tendency to forgive those we like or agree with more readily than those we do not like or agree with. In that case, forgiveness merely becomes another weapon to use in intergroup conflict. As much as forgiveness is part of my belief system, I recognize that it is not a panacea nor is it a value that cannot be abused. The abuse of forgiveness is why there is a certain appeal for mercilessness to correct these externalities.

While there are times where forgiveness gets in the way of what is needed in our society, I am not sure if we want to live in a society where forgiveness is not easily available. Consider how easy it is to be in trouble today. If we do wrong when we are young, then that can cost us a job many years later. Ask Josh Dugger. If we make a bad joke, we can lose our current status. Ask Martin Brashir. If we get in a fight with our daughter and say awful things it can cost us our reputation. Ask Alex Baldwin. In no way am I defending the actions of these men (or woman like Paula Dean). And of course when we are caught doing wrong once, we should be watched more carefully to see if we have truly repented. This justifies continual criticism of Dugger and Baldwin who are multiple offenders. But let us be honest and stipulate that there are those who will never offer forgiveness after the first transgression as they subscribe to a type of mercilessness that discounts any relief from punishment. And I wonder if people must pay for the rest of their lives because of a past failing?

It is so tempting to condemn individuals who have done admittedly horrible stuff. But, here is the question we should ask ourselves. What if the moment you did the worst thing you ever did, or said the worst thing you ever said, was caught on a camera and then played for the entire world to see? Would that action or that statement be as bad as some of the actions alluded to in the previous paragraph? Should you lose your job and be treated as a leper the rest of your life because of that action or statement? I am guessing most of us would be very ashamed to have the worst moment of our lives recorded for the entire world to see. Most of us would want to be forgiven for that transgression. As a Christian I know that I enjoy a grace I do not deserve and have been forgiven for my transgressions against God and against others. So while I want to be careful not to misuse the value of forgiveness, I know that it is something I should not withhold from those who honestly repent and truly seek it from me.

So I do mourn the loss of that quality in our society. Perfectibility demands perfection and if our society is going to become more secular, then I envision a loss of an ability to forgive as one of the costs of that transition. But I do not know if we really consider how much it costs our society. We might think that if we are not caught on camera engaging in an awful act or saying something terrible, that we will be alright. But already I am catching myself being extra careful in what I say and how I say it. Even as I write my blogs I am very careful in how I express my ideas (I am certain that one day someone will pull a statement out of context to make me seem like a monster. That is one of the reasons why I use qualifiers in my writing). For some individuals, that may be pleasing in that I am kept in line with the current orthodoxy. But something great is lost. As an academic, I know how to write for scholarly journals and books. One must be careful to frame assertions with the proper qualifiers and passivity to allow precision in one’s arguments. However, I have also written Christian books where I can be more personable and am free to make stronger assertions in my language. The freedom I gain when writing to non-academics is part of what is lost when I feel the need to be so careful with my language that I cannot be truly myself in public. In a merciless society, we will see individuals work harder at managing their self-presentation, and it will be more difficult for us to get to know them on an intimate level because they will be afraid to show others aspects of themselves for which they will not be forgiven.

In some ways, this trend is a paradox. For years, I have heard how judgmental and how intolerant Christians are to those who do not follow Christian morals. Naturally, I do not deny that there are some judgmental Christians. I still remember, soon after I became a Christian, talking with those who seemed way too concerned that I dared to go to dance clubs or listened to rock music. Yet, in the past few years, I have seen a great deal more judgment come from non-Christian segments of society. Dare not affirm one of the tenets within education dogma and you will be stigmitized as Islamophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist or whatever the new “ist” or “phobic” is today. Engage in the wrong microaggression and prepare to be stigmatized. As bad as I have seen in some Christians as it concerns being judged, I never felt as on guard as I am today around certain secular individuals. And it is not just myself who feels this way. Many individuals understand that perfection is to be expected from those who have some degree of status.

Once again I understand that many individuals want a society where we are “on guard.” Perhaps such fear will make us better citizens. There is an argument that we should be merciless against certain social evils. I really am not trying to make a strong argument against this perspective. Indeed, if I were more secular I might want to have this perspective. I might not have the values of forgiveness and grace my faith has provided for me. I could see why I would want to make sure we have the proper social sanctions to produce whatever my idea of a utopian society is at that current time. So while my preference is for a society where we understand human frailties and shortcomings, I understand why others feel we need to punish those who do not measure up. I understand why the value of mercilessness is so desirable. But it simply is not the sort of society I want.

This has been an interesting thought experiment as to what a truly secular value system may look like. If mercilessness is, as I believe it to be, a value tied to a secular society then we should see more of this quality emerge if the percentage of irreligious individuals continues to increase. I do not know what other values might become part of a secular moral system. I envision mercilessness as an early precursor of other possible secular values. It would be fascinating, and useful, to consider what those values are as well as consider if this is the sort of society we want to have.

Introducing Heterodox

Okay I know this is a bit on the lazy side. But trust me that I will have a controversial post here soon. In the meantime I just want to introduce you to Heterodox. It is part of a group that I have joined to help deal with the lack of political diversity in academia. This is not just about taking on the PC crowd. There is an atmosphere in academia that stifles rational inquiry. So I am proud to be part of this group and if this is an issue that is important to you then please come check it out. Okay the next post will have more meat on it and drive some of you crazy. I will have to do that to maintain my reputation.

Myths of Christianophobia Part 4 – Christians Deserve it

This is my last post dealing with the myths concerning Christianophobia. In the first blog of this series I dealt with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist. In my second blog, I addressed the myth that Christianophobia is an indicator that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. For the third blog, I looked at the myth that Christianophobia is merely about the loss of Christian privilege. In this last entry of the series I will look at the myth that Christianophobia has emerged because Christians deserve it.

In some ways this may be the most difficult myth to address. It is the sort of myth that cannot be dispelled with only logic and research. It depends on a sense of fairness from those who hold onto this myth. Sometimes events have occurred in our lives that make such fairness very difficult to achieve. For example, if a white man was accosted by several African-Americans he may afterwards believe that African-Americans are a bunch of savages and should be treated as such. I can show that white person all sorts of data indicating that after social and economic controls that blacks are no more violent than those of other races. I can argue with that person about the moral inadequacy of promoting a racist view. But emotionally that man may never get there and will hold onto his beliefs about how blacks should be treated.

Likewise, there are certainly individuals who have had negative encounters with Christians. Those encounters may have had such a damaging emotional impact that it is very difficult for them to consider what most people would envision as a fair treatment. Nothing I say can overcome this sort of emotional baggage. I honestly hope that they, and the man who was attacked by blacks, seek out the type of counseling and help needed to overcome their perceptions. I state that as an honest, and not pejorative, statement. Holding on to old hatreds and anger is a big source of ill mental health. It is much healthier to work through our emotions towards those who have legitimately harmed us rather than retain our bitterness towards them but, we live in a confrontational society that does not encourage such steps towards wholeness. So I do not write to convince someone with those emotional walls as I fear they have larger personal issues to address.

Before I explore components of Christianophobia, I would be negligent to assume that everyone knows about my research. My respondents’ comments, which you can read in more depth in So Many Christians, So Few Lions, were collected from a sample of cultural progressive activists who were members of organizations that have as part of their purpose opposition to the Christian or religious right. The respondents answered an online survey of closed and open ended questions. It is a qualitative sample that I used to help flesh out the quantitative results from a probability sample. How I operationalized Christianophobia in that sample can be seen in an earlier blog.

As I look at whether Christianophobia is deserved or not I also do not want to go after low hanging fruit. Many respondents made atrocious statements such as feeding Christians to lions or blowing up churches. I think it does not have to be stipulated that right thinking people do not agree with such statements (however, if you do think that feeding Christians to lions is a good thing then once again seek counseling). Using such statements to talk about those with Christianophobia is as fair as using the Westboro Baptist nuts to talk about Christianity or terrorists to talk about Islam. We can talk about how such religions might create an atmosphere where such sentiments can develop, but to paint all of those in such faiths with the stigma richly deserved by extremists does not say much about the mainstream ideology in these religions. (However, it should be noted that these extreme views are not rare among Christianophobes and you can even purchase a t-shirt celebrating your desire to torture Christians to death.) Likewise, I intend on addressing central elements of Christianophobia rather than extreme statements. The components that I argue are morally unfair will be ideas that many, if not most, individuals with Christianophobia readily accept.

One of the key beliefs of Christianophobia is the fear that Christians are setting up a theocracy. I dealt with the illogical nature of such a claim in the first blog in this series. But I also recognize that because of such a belief there are efforts by those with Christianophobia to remove conservative Christians from the public square. This desire was quite common among the respondents in my research.

I see religion as a personal matter that has no place in the public square let alone in the halls of congress, the halls of justice, or in the various departments of government. (Male, aged 46-55 with Master degree)

Keep all religion in your church, in your home, out of the public square, and most of all, out of my face. (Male, aged 56-65 with some college)

Deeply suspicious of their intent and hypocritical, self-righteousness. Intrusive into the public square and intent on subverting the constitution. (Male, aged 56-65 with Bachelor degree)

The calculus is quite simple. Conservative Christians are seen as a threat to move our society back to the dark ages. To stop them intelligent, progressive citizens have to keep Christians out of the public square. Christians cannot be allowed to influence others in the public square. Christians cannot have influence in government, education, media or any other dimension where they may shape popular societal opinion. There is a perception among many with Christianophobia that most Christians are dumb followers being misled by corrupt leaders. My respondents indicated a desire to limit the impact of these evil leaders and keep them from influencing more naïve Christians. Keeping Christian influence out of the public square is seen as the way to limit the impact of Christianity and of these manipulative leaders.

So if Christians are supposed to stay out of the public square then, what are they allowed to do in society? I have mentioned before that direct oppression that can be linked to religious bigotry is generally not advocated by those with Christianophobia. I suspect that this would create cognitive dissonance if they tried to directly punish conservative Christians for being Christians. However, this desire to avoid being seen as bigoted is coupled with the desire to keep Christians out of the public square. This has led to a common assertion about the place for Christians in our society.

Christian Right people can do what they want in their churches and homes, but not in the public arena. (Female, aged 66-75 with Bachelor degree)

Keep your religion at home and in your church. Why oh why isn’t that enough?!? (Male, aged 36-45 with some graduate school)

If they want to be crazy in their own homes and not bother me, then I wouldn’t mind. (Male, aged 26-35 with Master degree)

Christians are allowed to be Christians in their homes and their churches. But in no other place in society are they to live out their Christian values and ideals. Not in their businesses, their politics, their education or any other dimension outside of churches and homes are Christians to use their faith to influence their actions. Christians can keep those with Christianophobia satisfied by staying in their families and churches while leaving the rest of society for the “rational” individuals to run.

This is the ideology within Christianophobia that I want to assess for “fairness.” This ideology is at the core of the motivation for many with Christianophobia. This is not the extreme comment of a sick fanatic who fantasizes about feeding Christians to lions. The comments of my respondents indicate that this belief of stupid followers of wicked leaders who must be kept from the public square by restricting them to their church and family was the rule, and not the exception, to how those with Christianophobia think. Of course there are other aspects of Christianophobia not captured by this statement, such as the dehumanization of Christians or valuation of science, but the preceding sentence incorporates the basic legitimation structure of Christianophobia. So as I critique this philosophy I am critiquing a core of Christianophobic thought.

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the problem of this ideology is by placing different groups as the subject of this treatment. What if we stated that feminists should only keep their philosophy in their homes and their feminist organizations? What if we stated that LGBT activists should keep their philosophy in their homes and activist organizations? What about socialists, gun rights enthusiasts, environmentalists, civil rights activists, those concerned with animal rights or labor unionists? One may say that these individuals are not basing their assertion in religion and thus have a right to the public square. But when did we decide in our society that religious individuals have fewer rights than other individuals. Does having a faith mean that one must now be silent on political and social issues in our society?

Now we begin to see the real problem of the philosophy driving Christianophobia. Purporting to be religiously neutral it is instead highly religiously biased. It is not lost on me that although philosophically the barriers to public square interaction are supposed to apply to all religions that there is a tremendous focus on certain Christian groups. None of my respondents indicated hesitation to support political action from Christian progressives such as Al Sharpton or Jim Wallis. Only Christian conservatives are deemed unworthy to participate in our public square. The attempt to eliminate them from the public square fails the argument of fairness. Of course individuals should be, and are, free to criticize the public and social programs offered by conservative Christians. However to suggest that conservative Christians do not have the right to argue in the public square while this right is reserved for other Christians, those of other faiths and those of no faith is the very definition of unfairness. It is treating a group one does not like in a way that one would not treat others. Contrary to the myth, conservative Christians do not deserve to be treated in that way anymore than other social groups.

However, some will argue that Christians are being treated differently because they have brought this upon themselves with their intolerance and unwilling to allow others to express themselves. Of course those individuals do not seem to be concerned about the intolerance of a city’s council attempt to remove a business because they do not like the beliefs of the business’s owner. They also do not seem motivated to penalize a social movement that at times attempts to physically silence those that disagree with them. No one is arguing that the groups connected to these illiberal actions should be barred from the public square. Indeed, all social groups and movements have individuals who act in an unbearable manner. To single out conservative Christians for removal from the public square because of their worst offenders is unfair and undeserved for the vast majority of conservative Christians. I suspect that such singling out is due more to disagreement with Christian tenets than to any systematic assessment that Christians are qualitatively worse actors than those in other social movements.

I acknowledged that some individuals are emotionally preordained to not accept arguments that Christians can be unfairly treated. Even though these individuals have these emotional motivations, I am still obligated to make the logical observation that if Americans are supposed to have equal access to the public square then that access should not be taken away because one does not like what a group advocates. It is not adequate to seek to remove individuals from the public square because we do not like them. It is not fair. Fairness is debating individuals in the public square instead of excommunicating them from it. I can respect that some individuals are emotionally inhibited to accept this notion of fairness when directed at Christians, but I am not going to let these perceptions be used to justify religious bigotry without challenge. Decisions on how groups should be treated should not mostly rest on the opinions of those with unpleasant encounters with those groups. Instead, rational assessment on what is a fair treatment must be the strongest factor in determining such treatment.

I have found that a desire to remove Christians from the public square, and not merely disagree with them, is tied to the worst excesses of Christianophobia. I have touched on some of these excesses in previous blogs. For example, I pointed out in my first blog of this series that a powerful academic bias against conservative Christians exists (If you do not think it does exists then look at the evidence I discussed in a previous blog. If you argue in the comments that such bias is nonexistent and you have not read that blog then do not expect me to respect your arguments.) Christianophobia predicts, accurately in my opinion, that this unfairness is motivated by a desire to keep Christian ideas out of academic discourse. If we believe that people should be treated equally then we have to see the myth that conservative Christians deserve mistreatment in academia as a false moral claim. Only if someone accepts the idea that Christians deserve to be excluded from the public square due to their particular religious beliefs can we accept the notion that Christians deserve Christianophobia.

Myths of Christianophobia Part 3 – It is about Loss of Privilege

This is my third post dealing with the myths concerning Christianophobia. In the first blog of this series I dealt with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist. In my last blog, I addressed the myth that Christianophobia is an indicator that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. For the third myth I will look at one of the ways some attempt to justify Christianophobia. They argue that Christians are not experiencing bias or discrimination, but instead Christians have been privileged in the United States and are now losing that privilege. Therefore, Christians feel mistreated when in fact they are only now being treated the same as the rest of our society. For simplicity sake let us call this the privilege argument which contends that Christianophobia is merely the loss of Christians’ privileged status. It implies that Christianophobia is a correction of previous mistreatment of non-Christians. The privilege argument that Christianophobia only reflects the loss of privilege for Christians is the third myth I will tackle.

Looking more deeply at the concept of privilege and the way Christianophobia is manifested in the United States helps us to understand the viability of the privilege argument. Such an analysis is needed because I have not seen a well-developed articulation of the privilege argument. Generally, it comes out in comments responding to Christians, like myself, who point out Christianophobia or anti-Christian treatment. I speculate that those putting forward the privilege argument have not thought too deeply about the implications of their assertions or even what privilege really means.

Peggy McIntosh is generally given credit for the origin of the notion of privilege with her famous article on white privilege. She was attempting to communicate the gender advantages of men, but in doing so realized that she, as a white woman, benefits from racial advantages. Her conceptualizing of white privilege was done in the hope that by recognizing her racial advantages that she would also have a tool to talk to men about their gender advantages. The recognition of her own racial advantages could provide legitimation when dealing with gender issues since it would be clear that she does not merely look out for just people in her own social category. Her basic definition of white privilege is that it is an invisible package of unearned assets that whites can count on cashing in each day. In her famous article she provides several examples of this privilege. Several items such as the color of crayons, media representations, being asked to represent their entire race and wondering if the police are pulling one over for racial reasons are aspects that McIntosh considers to be some of these assets. Here is one of the lists of such racial privileges, or advantages. Basically whites can take advantage of racialized elements of our society and those advantages are often so subtle that they do not have to recognize their advantage. This creates an illusion of fairness which is used to justify the higher status whites enjoy.

In the original concept of privilege two important aspects emerge. First, it is clear that privilege is not a focus on overt forms of discrimination. McIntosh is not addressing the ending of Jim Crow or permitting Indians to leave reservations. The individuals she is trying to reach are not the type who would endorse overt racism. She is trying to show whites that they have advantages not tied to overt mistreating of people of color. Sometimes when I hear people talk about privilege they seem to be referring to previous laws of overt bias. That is not what is at play when issues of privilege are brought up. What is at play is the unspoken and subtle ways some groups have advantages over others.

Her second point is tied to the fact that McIntosh is a white woman. As a woman she realizes that men have privileges, but as a white she realizes that she has them too. In other words, she is not making the argument that she enjoys nothing but privileges or that she is always the victim of the privileges of others. Rather she is saying that her life is a mixture of statuses. Some of these statuses provide her with privilege and others do not. It is not as simple as merely saying that some people are always privileged while others are always disadvantaged because of the privileges of others.

I want to expand on this second point in ways that McIntosh probably would not support, but that I believe are closer to social reality. It is not just that we are a mixture of statuses, some of which are privileged and some of which are not. It is also the case that the statuses themselves are a mixture of being privileged or not. As an African-American it is clear that I will not enjoy the fruits of white privilege. But I am self-aware enough to realize that there are times where my racial status works for me. This can be from the mundane, such as more respect in a pick-up basketball game, to the important, such as a small advantage when seeking certain academic positions. I would argue that overall my racial disadvantages outweigh my racial advantages, but there are racial advantages even for one in a minority racial group.

This propensity towards a mixture of advantages and disadvantages in a given status is important when looking at the question of Christianophobia and privilege. Those who make the privilege argument seems to imply that we lived in a world where Christians had all of the privileges and now are only asked to give up those privileges for the sake of equality. This is an oversimplistic interpretation. A more realistic interpretation can be that Christians are leaving a status where they had more advantages than disadvantages towards one where their advantages and disadvantages are roughly equal. Furthermore, non-Christians are leaving a status where they had more disadvantages than advantages towards one where their advantages and disadvantages are roughly equal. This scenario best supports the privilege argument if it can be shown that Christians have to lose their advantages for non-Christians to lose their disadvantages. If this can be shown then supporters of the privilege argument can claim that what has been called Christianophobia is merely the development of an egalitarian society.

So let me take this argument with an issue where it seems to be quite strong. One of the arguments in the recent rulings against Christian bakers and florists is that they must work for same-sex marriages because public accommodations should be available for everyone. Theoretically in a free market society anyone who turns away business loses money and so the market regulates fairness. But in the spirit of privilege it can be argued that in such an economic environment Christians can turn away the business of non-Christians more easily than vice versa due to their larger numbers and societal influence. (Not sure if this is true anymore given the willingness of non-Christian groups to engage in boycotts of businesses they find unacceptable.) Therefore, a strict adherence to rules of public accommodations can take away unnecessary privilege enjoyed by Christians by forcing them to serve everybody. This theoretically levels the playing field between Christians with other religious or social groups by taking away the privilege of Christians and providing advantages to those non-Christian groups.

But reality is quite different from theory. The reality is that instead of eliminating a defacto differential treatment of Christians and non-Christians, where Christians have advantages over non-Christians, we have produced a dejure differential treatment of Christians and non-Christians, where non-Christians have advantages over Christians. The recent court ruling in Colorado is noteworthy not just for the sanction faced by the Christian baker, but also because in Colorado the rights of gay bakers to refuse work they did not want to do was upheld. David French argues that it was clear that the judges were eager to take sides in the culture war and were eager to find a solution that punishes the Christian bakers without also punishing the gay bakers. If this is correct then we do not have a situation where to gain the rights of non-Christians the privileges of Christians had to be short-circuited. Instead, we have a situation where non-Christians are given rights or privileges being denied to Christians. This is not the reality described by those who bring up the privilege argument. Christianophobia is not merely the loss of privilege for Christians so that others can have rights, but it is taking of the rights of Christians that are not taken from non-Christians. The disparate impact nature of this effort in Colorado is totally in keeping with the plausible deniability desires within those with Christianophobia. However, the unwillingness of the courts to punish non-Christian bakers in the same manner as Christian bakers exposes hypocritical claims of religious neutrality.

This is a situation where a seemingly neutral right, such as businesses turning away certain customers for a given event, can produce a subtle privilege for the majority group. Yet expressions of Christianophobia have not resulted in equality. The privilege argument of merely creating a level playing field does not hold weight. It is even harder to make the privilege argument when we look at some of the other expressions of Christianophobia. For example, I outlined in a previous blog the empirical evidence that conservative Christians face bias in academia. My own study shows that if an applicant for a position allows it to be known that he or she is a conservative Protestant, then many academics are less willing to hire him or her simply because of that religious identity. In no other religious, or any other social, group was this bias nearly as strong as it was against conservative Protestants. How does discriminating against conservative Christians in academia provide a fairer society for non-Christians? Clearly it produces advantages for them since they can obtain a position if their competitor is a similarly, or perhaps even higher, qualified conservative Protestant. But is it a privilege to be judged for an academic job based on one’s credentials, instead of one’s religious beliefs? Are we to believe that to be fair to other religious groups we have to be unfair to conservative Christians? Such questions illustrate that Christianophobia is not about the mere loss of privilege of conservative Christians, but rather it is the natural consequence of the irrational anti-Christian hatred and fear of those with social and cultural power.

All of this is not to say that Christians still do not have advantages in some areas of our society. More than once I have been accused of arguing that Christians are the most oppressed group in the United States. Since I have never made such an argument, this is a classical strawman approach. I fully recognize that Christians still have certain societal advantages. For example, while those rewards are shrinking, there are still political advantages for having a Christian religious preference. It is easier to get elected as President as a Christian than as an atheist or Muslim. Advantages for Christians in our society can be found and at times rightly challenged. However, the diminishment of Christian advantages is not always tied to the creation of an egalitarian situation. Christianophobia has motivated some individuals to create an unwarranted disadvantage for Christians in certain social dimensions. Stating that claims of Christianophobia are only attempts to keep Christian privileges have little merit unless one can illustrate how all of the ways Christians are punished is connected to the loss of unwarranted privileges. Space does not permit me to document other examples of Christianophobia failing to meet this test, but having the same rights to refuse service as other groups and not being punished for religious beliefs in academia clearly do not meet the standard of showing this connection.