Christianophobia in the United States – Part 2

This is the second entry of the blog series about my latest book – So Many Christians, So Few Lions – Christianophobia in the United States. I waited until the book was officially out before posting as I anticipated that it will be a little more controversial than my previous entry. Readers can look to the book for a fuller explanation and for more evidence of the processes I will discuss. Last time I looked at contours of the basic animosity towards conservative Christians in the United States. This time, I qualitatively explore the nature of the worst of such attitudes. For those of you who have not read my first entry, I defined Christianophobia as unreasonable hatred or fear of Christians.

I have established that those with animosity towards conservative Christians tend to have more per-capita social power than those with animosity towards other religiously based groups. They are more likely to be white, educated and wealthy. The education advantage creates a unique dimension in this group as one may contend that highly educated individuals are unlikely to engage in unreasonable level of hatred or anger. The common social image we have of highly educated people is that they are measured and tolerant. This is why merely documenting that animosity towards conservative Christians is fairly common is insufficient for producing evidence that this animosity is unreasonable hatred or fear. To assess whether generalized animosity towards conservative Christians can lead to what I have defined as Christianophobia, we need qualitative data whereby those who have this hostility are allowed to express their potential animosity.

My previous research allows me to possess such data. That research was the examination of cultural progressive activists conducted by David Williamson and myself. I wrote about that study in an earlier blog. In that research, we asked our respondents to fill out an online survey with open-ended questions. The questions dealt with their attitudes towards the Christian right. However, for many of the respondents, it was clear that they were also exhibiting attitudes towards Christians in general. Indeed several respondents commented that there was no difference between Christians and political conservatives. We also replicated our thermometer technique used with the American National Election Studies data so that our final sample only contained individuals who would have been found to have had anti-Christian animosity in our original quantitative sample. We used a series of “liking” thermometers for a variety of religious groups and evaluated if Christian fundamentalists were scored a standard deviation below the average of those thermometers. Those that did were coded as possessing animosity towards conservative Christians. Our original sample contained 2,859 respondents who filled out at least one of the open ended questions, but the final sample included 2,061 respondents, or 72.8 percent, who qualified by indicating anti-fundamentalist animosity with our thermometer measure.

Since this is a qualitative sample, it is fair to ask whether our results can provide generalizable information. But I have already demonstrated with a probability sample that this type of general animosity towards conservative Christians is quite common. I also showed that those with this animosity tend to be white, educated and wealthy. Our sample also was disproportionately white, educated and wealthy. So the sample can be used to do what qualitative work is supposed to do and go more in-depth to understand the nuances and perspectives of those with animosity towards conservative Christians.

Since Christianophobia concerns having unreasonable hatred, fear and/or anger towards conservative Christians, the first order of business is to assess if this can characterize a significant number of comments by the respondents. Perhaps the negative emotions they exhibit are due to a reasonable assessment of the failures of conservative Christians. Many of these respondents did talk about concerns that I and other Christians have enunciated previously about conservative Christians. Thus, it is inaccurate to assert that the comments of the respondents were devoid of any reasonable content.

However, I now must confess about why I named the book So Many Christians, So Few Lions. When I looked over the comments of the respondents, several respondents made comments about lions in some form or fashion that implied the desirability of feeding Christians to lions. Even as a joke, it is indeed a sick joke and the sickness of the joke is illustrated if we consider how Jews would feel about jokes of having them put into ovens. When I went back and counted how many times lion references occurred, I found that it happened seven times. Okay, this is more than once or twice, but it is not an overwhelming amount. Perhaps if those were the only times of an expression of an unreasonable hatred, I could let that go. But alas, this was not the case. Here are three examples of other expressions of such hate:

I want them all to die in a fire. (Male, aged 26-35 with Doctorate)

They should be eradicated without hesitation or remorse. Their only purpose is to damage and inflict their fundamentalist virus onto everyone they come in contact with. (Female, aged 66-75 with Master degree)

They make me a believer in eugenics….They pollute good air…I would be in favor of establishing a state for them… If not, then sterilize them so they can’t breed more. (Male, aged 46-55 with Master degree)

These are only a few of the responses that I found quite distasteful. If they are not enough evidence, then one can read more in the first chapter of my book. If the number of comments in the book does not convince one of unreasonable hatred, the data can be located at the ARDA website. People of good will can disagree with conservative Christians on issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, church/state separation, religious freedom etc. But these comments are indefensible and an excellent illustration of an unreasonable level of animosity. Thus, the term Christianophobia applies to at least some of my respondents.

Some respondents have an unreasonable hatred, fear and/or anger towards Christians. But how do these emotions manifest themselves in my respondents in ways that differ from other populations? Since the population that tends to have Christianophobia have progressive social and political proclivities, it is possible that these qualities negate their ability to develop many of the socio-psychological dysfunctions we see with other types of out-group hatreds. In the book, I discuss elements of dehumanization, prejudice, bigotry and hatred within these comments. Space does not permit me to go into depth on any of these qualities. However, I will partially illustrate one of these qualities – dehumanization – to better show how animosity among those with Christianophobia can manifest itself.

Several researchers and social thinkers have written about dehumanization. But the best conceptualization of dehumanization comes from Nick Haslem. He identified two types of dehumanization: animalistic and mechanical. A cursory reading of the answers from the respondents indicates that animalistic dehumanization fits their responses better than mechanical dehumanization. He identified five qualities of animalistic dehumanization – lack of culture instead of civility, coarseness instead of refinement, amorality instead of moral sensibility, irrationality instead of logic and childlikeness instead of maturity.

I do not have the space to explore all five of these qualities within the answers of my respondents (I did such an exploration in the book). But I will look at the last characteristic which is the notion that Christians are childlike instead of mature. Indeed my respondents tended to paint a picture of Christians being immature individuals led by powerful, manipulative leaders.

The leaders are deceptive and power hungry individuals who invoke “God” in a political sense to rally their supporters…They play to people’s emotions, daily. (Female, aged 26-35 with Bachelor degree)

Their movement’s leaders are the worst type of manipulative authoritarian scum and their millions of followers are sad, weak people who are all too willing to give up their self-respect and liberty for a fantasy. (Male, aged 26-35 with Bachelor degree)

In this way the respondents take away the agency of Christians by suggesting that they are weak individuals unable to resist the desires of evil leaders. Rather the respondents support an image of Christians as being children misled by bad parents.

This type of stereotyping fits quite well with some of the insults that my respondents used in describing Christians. For example, some variation of the term “brainwash” came up 137 times, from 125 respondents. Almost every time the term was used, it was to note the inability of Christians to think for themselves. For example, a female, aged 56-65 with a bachelor degree wrote, “I believe that this group is in general poorly educated and often brainwashed to the point of seeing no perspective but their own. Many allow themselves to become tools of charismatic, self serving leaders because they have been deprived of the education and tools to ever think otherwise.” This respondent, like many other respondents, have a stereotype of Christians reflecting them as unthinking imbeciles. It is a dehumanizing stereotype creating an image of Christians as not having full human capacities.

Beyond the notion of brainwashing, 66 of our respondents use the terms sheep and 5 of our respondents used the term lemmings to describe Christians as well.

…they’re lemmings that despite factual evidence to the contrary, will usually follow the guidance of their pastors and church leaders. (Male, aged 36-45 with Doctorate)

A gullible group of poorly educated dupes, willing to allow themselves to be herded like sheep, to be shorn or slaughtered by unscrupulous con men wearing clerical garb. (Male, aged 56-65 with some graduate school)

These numbers seem low considering that I have a sample of almost three thousand respondents; however, it should be noted that these comments comparing Christians to animals are unprompted. (It is also instructive to consider which terms were not used at all. For example, ape or gorilla was not used by any of the respondents to describe conservative Christians.) Closed ended questions providing respondents with the opportunity to characterize conservative Christians in animalistic terms would likely garner a nontrivial level of support. The comments about Christians as passive animals, combined with the relative willingness of the respondents to use the term brainwashed, occur often enough to provide some confidence that characterizations of Christians as unthinking passive followers are accepted within subcultures with high levels of Christianophobic animosity. If there is any doubt that there is an animalistic element to the type of dehumanizing occurring among my respondents, the use of these animals clearly indicates that Christians are not always seen as human. Obviously what lemmings and sheep have in common is that they are animals that easily follow a leader. This is different from the dehumanization of minority racial groups as vicious animals, and there are distinct aspects of how conservative Christians are dehumanized relative to minority racial groups. Racial minorities are perceived as physically dangerous by those who dehumanize them while conservative Christian are perceived as mindless non-thinkers by those that dehumanize them. However, the use of animals to describe humans is dehumanization nonetheless.

These responses, along with the other qualities of dehumanization found among the respondents, indicate that a significant percentage of them generally perceive conservative Christians as a set of negative characteristics instead of as fully formed humans. Furthermore, the data also indicates powerful patterns of anti-Christian hatred, bigotry and prejudice among my respondents. In my data set, I found that those who are most likely to have strong hostility towards conservative Christians also tend to have relatively few conservative Christians in their social networks. Previous research suggests that intergroup contact tends to encourage humanization of members of social out-groups. My data does not allow me to accurately assess all of the sources of Christianophobia; however, it appears that a lack of contact with conservative Christians is part of the source of this phenomenon. This lack of contact would explain the ease by which many of these respondents were able to develop unflattering caricatures. This is not likely the only explanation and ideally future research will further explore the sources of Christianophobia.

So now what do we know? The information in the first blog informed us that there is a significant minority of relatively powerful individuals who have anti-Christian animosity. In this blog entry we learned that many of them have an unreasonable hostility towards conservative Christians. The joking about putting Christians to death combined with the willingness to dehumanize Christians speaks to a propensity of these individuals to devalue Christians. This sort of devaluation can precede some of the worst treatment of out-group members in human history. But we cannot assume the inevitability of such treatment unless we have more than unpleasant comments. Furthermore, those with these attitudes towards conservative Christians tend to be well-educated, supporting notions of multicultural and tolerance. These qualities may ameliorate their willingness to convert their animosity into public or private actions that disproportionately punish Christians. This research can only document the attitudes of the respondents and not their actions. However, we did ask the respondents about what measures they would like to use to control conservative Christians. That information, combined with the results of other research and informed speculation, leads to my assessment of the possible implications of Christianophobia. That assessment will be the focus of my last entry in this blog series.

Christianophobia in the United States – Part 1

Over the next three blog entries, I am going to discuss the content of my latest book – So Many Christians, So Few Lions – Christianophobia in the United States. Actually the book has not come out yet, but will officially come out later this month. Obviously the focus of the book will be the nature of anti-Christian attitudes in the United States. In this first entry, I look at the contours of a basic level of animosity towards conservative Christians in the United States. My next entry will qualitatively explore the nature of Christianophobic attitudes. In my final entry I will consider the implications of this work, as well as other research and social events, for what it means about this type of anti-religious bigotry. For the balance of these blog entries, I will define Christianophobia as unreasonable hatred or fear of Christians.

First, we should ask whether to even look at anti-Christian animosity. Is it not the case that Christians are a majority group in our society? Well yes and no. To date, Christianity has been the religion with the most influence in our society. I will leave it to others to argue about whether we began as a Christian nation. However, it is clear that most of the early founders were Christians and their Christian faith has been an important factor shaping their attitudes. The advantage of being a Christian is still with us today in that all Presidents of the United States have been part of the Christian faith. Finally, although recent surveys suggest that their numbers are shrinking, Christians still remain the most popular religious group in the country.

But numbers are not everything. Majority group status occurs when a group has disproportionate power relative to their numbers. It is why we think of men having majority group sex status even though there are fewer men than women in our society. It is not abundantly clear that Christian have disproportionate power relative to their numbers when we look at data on SES and educational status. Conservative Christians tend to score relatively low on those measures. Furthermore, I will show that those with animosity towards Christians have higher than average per-capita economic and social power.

Although Christians do not have the sort of majority group status that we think about when we consider men and whites, they do have the type of advantages in our society that normally neutralize the social effects of out-group hatred. Until recently there has been an assumption that Christians experience a high level of acceptance from almost all quarters of society. Very little research analyzes animosity towards men and whites due to the assumption that while individual men and whites may experience anti-male or anti-white prejudice, they generally live in a social system that still works to their advantage. By the end of my work, I realized that while conservative Christians do still live in a society where they have advantages, there is a real level of animosity that can also work against them. Understanding anti-Christian animosity provides insight about some events and institutions in contemporary America.

A reasonable question to ask is whether there is a sufficient degree of anti-Christian animosity in our society. Given that more than half of the country identifies themselves as Christians, it is not clear that there are enough individuals with this type of animosity to even matter. However, there may be enough individuals with this type of animosity when we look at what type of Christians are most likely to experience unreasonable hatred and fear from others. My previous research indicates that conservative Christians are the object of anger and fear from cultural progressive activists. It is logical to assert that conservative Christians may be the ones most likely to be the target of Christianophobia. If that is the case then, depending on how we measure who is a conservative Christian, we now have a group that is around 25-30 percent of the population, leaving the majority of the population as those who may potentially treat them as an out-group.

But merely because conservative Christians are a minority group in number does not mean that there are sufficient number of individuals who have hatred and animosity towards them. To measure this, I decided to partially replicate a previous experiment. In that experiment I investigated which groups are most likely to experience disaffection from other Americans. I averaged the thermometer ratings (each respondent was asked to rate their level of affection towards each group on a scale of 0 to 100) of several different religious groups and documented which individuals ranked a particular religious group at least a standard deviation below that average. I found that atheists were the religious group experiencing the most disaffection with Christian fundamentalists ranked second.

In my replication, I used American National Election Studies 2012 data instead of 2008 data. But I did not want to merely compare different religious groups. Since so much intergroup animosity in our society has been, and continues to be, based on racial differences, I wanted to include racial groups in my new analysis. Therefore I could compare animosity based on religion to that based on race. To this end, I first averaged the thermometer ratings of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Atheists, Fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Christians (in general), and Catholics. I then compared each rating to the mean to see if they ranked at least a standard deviation below the mean. Once again I found that Atheists was the group with the most disaffection – 45.5 percent of the respondents ranked them a standard deviation below the mean. They were followed respectively by Christian fundamentalists (32.2 percent), Muslims (31.2 percent) and Mormons (19.6 percent).

It is clear that quite a few individuals have animosity towards Christian fundamentalists. However, there is little animosity towards the general Christian category. It is useful to consider how the respondents define who is a Christian fundamentalist. If Christian fundamentalists are seen as those who bomb abortion clinics or as members of the Westboro Baptist Church, then not many Christians fall into those categories. This animosity may be targeted at so few Christians that it does not have much of an effect in our intergroup relationships. Although I do not have information on how the respondents in the ANES define fundamentalist Christians, I do not believe that their definition is this narrow. In another research project that I am currently working on, we asked college teachers how they would define a fundamentalist and how they would see a fundamentalist as different from other Protestants. Beyond basic stereotypical descriptions, these individuals tended to label fundamentalists as those who believed the Bible to be the literal word of God. According to the 2012 ANES, about a third of Americans have such a belief. If the respondents in the ANES use a similar definition of fundamentalism then the animosity exhibited by them is not directed at an extreme Christian fringe but against a substantial portion of the population.

What is as important as the extent of this animosity is who tends to possess this animosity. Those who listed Christian fundamentalists a standard deviation below the mean of the other groups are 79.4 percent white, 47.6 percent with a bachelor degree, 64.5 percent make at least $50,000 a year and 29.2 percent make at least $100,000 a year. All of these numbers are significantly higher than the percentages in the population without this animosity. Thus, those with anti-Christian hostility are whiter, better educated and wealthier than others in our society. These are majority group qualities indicating that those with anti-Christian animosity have more per-capita social power than the average person.

Remember that we not only explored animosity towards conservative Christians but also animosity towards other social groups. I found that those with relative hostility towards atheists are older, non-white, undereducated, political conservatives. Those with relative hostility towards Muslims tend to be older, nonblack political conservative males. Those with relative hostility towards Mormons are younger, non-whites political progressives. This provides some complexity to this discussion of potential religious bias and bigotry. For example, there appear to be just as many people with anti-Muslim hostility as there are with hostility towards conservative Christians. However those with potential Islamophobia do not seem to have a great deal of per-capita political power, unlike those with potential Christianophobia. Except for their sex, none of the characteristics of those with Islamophobia confer on them majority group status and the race of those with anti-Mormon attitudes may bring about minority group status. The way Islamophobia manifests itself would be different than the way Christianophobia manifests itself due to these contrasting social positions. The comparison to those with anti-atheist perspectives is also noteworthy. Those not liking atheists tend to lack racial or educational status. They outnumber the relatively powerful individuals with anti-Christian animosity, but do not have the individualized social power of the latter group. As such we understand why atheists may be at a disadvantage in running for political office since numbers matter in who gets elected. However, as I will show in the last blog entry of this series, there are disadvantages for conservative Christians related to the relative social power possessed by those with animosity towards them.

What have we learned thus far? My research shows that there are a significant number of individuals in the United States with hostility towards conservative Christians. These individuals tend to have racial, economic and educational power. Some may argue that education and progressive political philosophy create tolerance that would short circuit a tendency towards religious bigotry. If this is true, then conservative Christians have relatively little to fear from those with anti-Christian animosity. However it can be argued that no matter what a person’s educational training or political philosophy, he or she will eventually develop bigoted intolerant attitudes towards those seen as members of out-groups. If such bigotry eventually results in efforts to disenfranchise those out-group members, then the superior social position of those with Christianophobia may provide reasons for conservative Christians to be concerned. It is important to look beyond general measures of animosity towards an examination of the specific attitudes of those with anti-Christian antipathy. In my next blog entry, I will move from a quantitative analysis that can only provide us with the general patterns of anti-Christian hostility in the United States to a qualitative analysis that will allow us to see how this hostility can manifest itself within certain individuals.

My Two Takes on Houston and the Subpoenas

If you have any number of conservative Christian facebook friends then your newsfeed has probably blown up concerning the subpoenas of the Houston pastors. For the rest of you let me briefly fill you in. Several months ago Houston passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Among other requirements, this ordinance would require public bathrooms to be open to those who identify with that particular gender. A male who identifies as a woman can use the women bathroom. This started a protest by Houston citizens, led by many area pastors. They gathered a petition to put the ordinance to a city vote. The city attorney threw out the petition stating that many of the signatures are invalid. The city was sued to allow the vote. As part of the lawsuit five Houston pastors were subpoenaed for their sermons and for any correspondence related to this issue. This description is not completely nuanced, and leaves out important details, but it is the best I can in a brief manner.

I have two takes on this situation. One is based on my academic expertise and one is just based on my observation as an educated citizen. First, my observation as a citizen. I am not a lawyer so there are likely legal issues I do not understand, but it is hard for me to see why these sermons and communications are relevant. If the Mayor of Houston was suing a pastor for slander then clearly his or her sermons would be fair game. But in this case it seems that the major question, the research question from my perspective, is whether the signatures are valid. If they are then we should have a vote. If they are not then the Houston city attorney is in the right.

Some individuals may argue that the signatures may be improperly collected since pastors should not get involved in politics from the pulpit. Let me put that issue off to the side for now, because ultimately it is unimportant. Let us assume the worst case scenario in that the pastors told their congregations that it was God’s will for them to sign the petition. So what? If the people signing the petition were registered voters from Houston then it really does not matter why they signed the petition. They signed it of their own free will and Houston should have a referendum on the ordinance.

This leads me to suspect that the subpoenas are not about this particular lawsuit but serve a larger purpose of stigmatizing the pastors. The subpoenas seem unlikely to produce evidence relevant to this case, but may be passed on to IRS agents to challenge the tax status of the churches. We have seen evidence of information sharing from the IRS to progressive activists before and it is not hard to imagine this sharing going in the other direction. It may be the case that these churches should be examined for possible non-profit status issues. But I would feel better having the IRS collecting the needed information and going through the proper channels than the obtaining of the information through the pretense of evidence gathering in a lawsuit.

But once again I am not a lawyer and perhaps a lawyer will respond with an answer that makes sense. I am a sociologist studying anti-Christian attitudes in our society. This brings me to my take that I am qualified to talk about – whether this legal strategy is tied to Christianophobia. There are reasons to believe that this attempt to obtain sermons and other information is part of a larger strategy to stigmatize Christians. Thus, I do not discount the possibility that Christianophobia plays some role in these actions.

However, it is work of another book I wrote a couple of years ago which I think is more relevant. That book is named What Motivates Cultural Progressives. In that book, I documented that cultural progressive activists tend to consider their political opponents to be irrational, religious individuals trying to move our culture backwards. They have little respect for their political opponents. They often express concerns about the ability of religious individuals to have influence on our political system. With this sort of mindset, it is easy to perceive a motivation from Houston officials, if they are cultural progressive activists, to gather sermons and other material in an effort to “expose” the irrationality and intolerance of their political opponents. Whether the documents are relevant to the current court case may be less important to these officials than stopping the efforts of those who would take our culture backwards.

My suggestion is that it is not as much a fear of Christians as it is the fear of the socially conservative culture linked to Christians driving these subpoenas. The lack of respect cultural progressive activists have for their political opponents allow them to rationalize using the legal system to “dig up dirt” on them. In my sample, I found several individuals who did not believe that religious individuals had the right to fully participate in our political progress. A good number of respondents also articulated a belief that religious individuals are brainwashed and cultural conservative political movements have developed due to the manipulation of ignorant Christians by evil leaders. Thus the political claims in this movement are not legitimate claims by people seeking to serve their own social and material interests, but are the result of manipulation whereby they have been persuaded to vote against their own economic and social interest. When we recognize that many cultural progressive activists do not see cultural conservatives as legitimate political players in our governmental system, then the overreaching request make a great deal of sense.

I am glad I waited a day or two before submitting this blog as new information indicates that the Houston mayor is backing away from some of the requests. Since she is a lesbian who is an activist on sexuality issues, it clearly would look political bad to have her requesting sermons from conservative preachers. Indeed this does look like an incredible political faux pas, one that an experience politician would not make unless blinded by previous stereotypes of her political opponents. The type of stereotypes I discovered in my cultural progressive activists research helps explain such a mistake.

Real Cultural Diversity

Since one of my areas of specialization is race/ethnicity, an important issue I address in my teaching is multiculturalism. Discussing multiculturalism is a good fit for some of the racialized issues that come up in my classes, but almost all teachers of sociology introduce the ideas of multiculturalism in their courses. Multiculturalism is a core principle in much of modern sociology. My guess is that this is not a phenomenon limited to the United States but that sociology, and other social science/humanity professors all over the world place a fairly high priority in introducing multiculturalism to college students. One would expect that highly educated individuals throughout modern societies would be at least somewhat versed in their understanding of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is theorized to be valuable in helping us appreciate cultural diversity. It is linked to notions of tolerance since we cannot appreciate and work to eliminate an alien culture at the exact same time. I assume that the organizers of the 2014 Asian Games are knowledgeable of multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity. Indeed the motto of those games was “Diversity Shines Here”. Yet, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think diversity means what they think it means. The Qatari women’s basketball team was commanded to take off their white headscarves before play. They refused and walked off the court rather than violate their expressions of Islam. The officials at the games did not relent in their request. Evidently, diversity is valuable as long as that diversity conforms to the cultural mandates of those officials.

I am not defending white headscarves out of an admiration of this custom. This is a custom that has been criticized as sexist and demeaning to women. I am partial to that criticism. But I also recognize that my criticism of the headscarf is shaped to some degree by the cultural assumptions that have developed in the United States. While I am free to offer my own criticism of the use of the headscarf, it is arrogant to ignore the cultural context of that objection. While I, as an American, perceive the scarf as a manifestation of the exploitation of women in an Islamic context, Muslims may envision the sexualization of women in American media as an example of exploitation of women in an American context. I consider myself to be right but the women of Qatari should be perfectly free to disagree with me and choose to wear their headscarf. As long as they are not being forced to wear the scarf, my objections should not be used to compel them to ditch the scarf.

My defense of the Qatari women is also not motivated by some great love for Islam. I am a Christian. On issues of theology, I disagree with the Muslim. This does not mean that I hate Muslims, but I believe them to be wrong as many of them believe me to be wrong. Even though I disagree with them, I respect their right to practice their religion as they see fit as long as they are not directly harming someone else. I am free to feel that it is silly for the Qatari women to play with scarves. But it is still their right to do so if it is their way of expressing their religion. They are not harming me. If I do not want to see it, I can choose to attend a different event.

Multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity are supposed to be conceptual ways we learn how to respect one another. In theory these concepts are not about whether we agree with those in our out-groups but rather our willingness to understand them in the context of the culture of others. Therefore, despite my theological and cultural disagreements with the Qatari women, I should attempt to understand why they may engage in a practice that I may not like. At the very least, I should not attempt to officially impose my cultural norms on them if they want to participate in an athletic contest. It seems to me that many people like to talk a good game when it comes to issues of tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism. However, when it comes to a time when the rubber must meet the road and they are dealing with a group with whom they strongly disagree, then they are not willing to extend the same level of kindness and openness they want for themselves.

In my book, Compromising Scholarship, I discussed the idea of tolerance – a critical component of multiculturalism. In my conceptualization of tolerance, we do not test this quality unless it is with a group where our disagreement is quite dramatic. The tolerance of a Baptist is untested if we are looking at his/her acceptance of a Methodist. It may be a little more tested if asking about a Catholic and definitely is tested if asked about an atheist. Tolerating someone we basically agree with does not tell us much. So if we are going to test tolerance, we have to find out what a person believes and then we can see how willing he or she is to tolerate those who’s beliefs are dramatically different. Tolerance of those who have dramatically different cultural and epistemological ideals is essential in a society where diversity and multiculturalism are core values.

However, the way we often talk about tolerance is the acceptance of certain cultural values or practices. For example, authoritarian attitudes can be conceptualized as the opposite of the tolerance needed for a successful multicultural society. Authoritarian attitudes denote a desire to use official sanctions to inhibit behaviors and attitudes deemed to be deviant. Yet, the way scales of right-wing authoritarianism are set up tests the willingness of respondents to accept atheists, homosexuals and feminists. One of my criticisms of the right-wing authoritarian scale is that it really a test for accepting the type of groups political and social conservatives are more likely to reject. Consequently, it does not test the ability of progressives to accept their out-groups. As long as we conceptualize tolerance as the acceptance of progressive groups or ideologies, we will not be able to measure tolerance and thus be unable to see if we have the attitudes that make a multicultural society possible.

Yet, there are groups we should reject and do not have to accommodate. It is reasonable that a group like the KKK does not have a place even in a multicultural society. The core goal of the group is the oppression of minority racial groups. It is a goal clearly incompatible with the ideals of a multicultural society. But the temptation is to easily envision those who are our out-groups as unacceptable when that is indeed not the case. In this situation, the officials at the Asian games put the Qatari women in the same place as the KKK as it concerns their scarf. The scarf was conceptualized as unacceptable in a setting that emphasizes “diversity.” Despite my own personal disagreements with the use of the headscarf, I have to ask why the officials accepted such an interpretation. The scarf did not hurt anyone but possibly the Qatari women in the game, and it allowed them to express their religion. It does not oppress others but merely helps the women set boundaries for their cultural behaviors. This is not a core issue that should have made those women’s cultural practices unacceptable in a multicultural society.

There is an argument that the scarves are a symbol of sexism and so should not be allowed in a multinational event. It has become more common for accusations of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. to be used to stigmatize out-groups. The challenge of those who want a legitimate multicultural society is to work to recognize when the use of accusations is due to a real concern of core values that eliminate the participation of others in our society or if those accusations are used in a McCarthy-like manner to make those we disagree with invisible. Officials of the Asian Games made a decision that made the religious expressions of the Qatari women invisible. It was an unnecessary decision since these women were not requiring other countries to wear scarves. They were not exhibiting core values incompatible with a multicultural society. They just wanted their piece of that society to be infused with their own cultural values. The fact that I find elements of their cultural expressions sexist does not give me the right to take overt measures to make their culture invisible. My interpretation does not rule the day for those in other cultures. Neither should the interpretation of the official of the Asian Games be the last word.

In my experience, usually what is worth having is very difficult to obtain. I believe that a true multicultural society is worth having. It is definitely going to be difficult to obtain. To obtain it, we will have to learn to deal with our own judgmental attitudes and propensity to stigmatize those with whom we disagree. This works against our own natural impulses, which is to defend our own ideas and disregard the perspectives of others. In my conceptualization of a multicultural society, there are passionate disagreements between different groups about our cultural, religious, and social values. But we learn to allow those with contrasting ideas to live out those cultural values as long as they are not attempting to overtly eliminate other groups in society. Some social groups will disappear over time as people move away from those groups. Discussion and debate that may facilitate such movement is fine since freedom of speech is one of our country’s conceptual treasures. But it is wrong to attempt to officially eliminate an out-group for ideological heresy. That is my dream of what a multicultural society would look like. Unfortunately, actions like those of the officials at the Asian Games make such a dream less, instead of more, likely to take place.