Ferguson, Staten Island, What’s Next?

So when will we have our next racial controversy? We know that there will be more after Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We will see another issue of racial conflict, confusion and miscommunication again. It may not involve the police but it will happen. Activists of color will flock to the area where it occurred. Conservatives will minimize the racialized component of it. We will argue. Fox News will take the side of white conservatives and moderates while MSNBC takes the side of activists of color. The event will be interpreted by the particular racial perspective one has and indeed all of the racial animosity we see today we will see all over again. Treyvon Martin, Sean Bell, and Ramarley Graham all suggest that future racial controversy is inevitable.

The sad part is that even though our progress towards racial understanding has stalled, the way we are handling our past racial controversies has not really changed,. So when we have the next racial incident where individuals at the extremes of the racial argument will reinforce previous biases and speak mostly to only those who already agree with them. They will demonize and blame those who disagree with them. Calls for a national conversation on race will be met by conservatives with derision. Calls for minority personal responsibility will be met by activists of color with anger. This pattern is all too familiar because this is how we have dealt with our past racial conflict, and this is how we are dealing with these current racial disputes. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting a different result. On racial issues we are an insane nation.

We have an opportunity to deal with the simmering racial wounds that have damaged our society. But then again this was the case with any of the dozens of other racialized controversies that have taken place over the past decade or so in the United States. We did not use those controversies to have the dialog we need, so why would any reasonable person expect us to have that dialog today? Are we willing to take the hard steps necessary to make Ferguson and Staten Island more than just the latest racial incidents but rather to make this time the opportunity to change our sick race relations? Our history indicates that we are not.

No matter what we do, at some point people of different races will have conflict in a given situation. Whether that conflict morphs into a racial controversy depends on our ability to work through our current racial arguments. If we can use Ferguson and Staten Island to create an atmosphere whereby future incidents are evaluated with limited racial baggage then we have a chance to stave off a future racial explosion. But as it is clear by my initial comments, I highly doubt that we will use them in that manner.

Michael Emerson and I wrote Transcending Racial Barriers – a book where we argued for a healthier approach towards fostering interracial dialog. We contend that people of different races have to learn about the concerns of those with whom they disagree. We have to consider what we have in common as well as where our opinions differ. We argued that people of good will should work towards devising solutions that address the worries brought up by those of different races and not just their own complaints. In doing so, we believe that real solutions can be devised that have legitimacy from a broad range of individuals. Attempts to force solutions that do not address the concerns of those of other races upon the large society will only be met with resistance and ultimately are unsustainable.

So what does this mean for situations such as Ferguson and Staten Island? Conservative and moderate whites need to realize that these racial deaths are not about the character of the particular victims. It is about the larger context in which racial violence takes place. In the Ferguson case, questions are asked about why the police force is so overwhelmingly white in a town with such racial diversity and why the body was left in the street for so long? In the Staten Island case, questions are asked about the need for such force in such a minor crime and why an alleged chokehold was used? People of color are not just concerned about the possible misuse of police force in these particular incidents, but also for how the systematic propensities in the criminal justice system work against them. Many people of color have life experiences that confirm some of their fears that they will be mistreated by law enforcement agents. Of course there is also quantitative data collaborating their worries.

White conservatives and moderates generally cling to a colorblind perspective that is usually confirmed by their life experiences. It is understandable that they would use this perspective to try to understand contemporary racial issues. But they often halt communication by clinging to colorblind narratives that dismiss the lived realities of people of color. Many believe that we live in a race neutral society. But people of color know that their racial identity has a negative impact on their lives. To be told that our concerns are insignificant so often feels like we are being lied to by those with societal power. Any healthy conversation will require whites to suspend their racial assumption of colorblindness so that they can honestly hear about the struggles that still exist for people of color. If they fail to respect the perspectives coming from people of color, then they foster a conversation whereby they are attempting to force people of color to accept the perspectives of the majority group before the discussion even begins.

Whites willing to engage in an honest conversation will encounter painful racialized social facts. Naturally at times they will feel attacked when confronting those facts. When that happens, there is often a defensiveness among whites which makes conversation difficult. I want to challenge whites to work through that defensiveness. Chances are the person of color is not accusing you personally of racism. That feeling of accusation originates from the individualism European-Americans tend to possess. Many times people of color are expressing concern about larger social structures, which do not require individual racism to disadvantage people of color, creating frustration for them. If majority group members can remember this and take the concerns of people of color seriously, then we can gain from a beneficial conversation. But if whites insist that people of color adopt the same type of colorblind, individualistic mindset they possess, then productive conversation becomes impossible.

But it is not merely whites who are hindering productive communication. I looked at the titles of some online articles written by racial progressive activists.

Listening Well as a Person of Privilege
What White People Need to Know and Do, After Ferguson
12 Things White People can do now Because Ferguson
8 Things White People Really Need to Understand About Race

Do you notice anything missing here? The progressive activists are paying attention to what whites need to learn and doing so with the assumption that there is nothing for people of color to learn. I know where this mindset comes from. This is a mindset based on the notion that people of color understand the problems of racism in our society since they have to live through them. Thus their only responsibility is to teach whites about the horrors of racism. It is a perspective that totally discounts the perspectives of majority group members. Those who express this perspective, whether intentionally or not, are advocating for a conversation where whites are expected to merely listen and agree with people of color.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone only trying to get you to agree with them and who puts forth no effort to listen to you? Did you ultimately agree with them? Yeah me neither. It is understandable that many people of color will not agree with the perspectives of majority group members. However, if they want an honest dialog with such individuals then they will have to respect the point of view of those majority group members. They will have to invest some of their energy to listening for understanding, and not merely for counterargument. Otherwise, it is unlikely that such activists of color will pick up support from whites who do not already share their racially progressive ideology.

One of the consequences of such a one-sided approach is that some activists of color really do not understand whites, even though they may think that they do. Whenever I hear an activist of color talk about white supremacy as the motivation of large groups of whites in our society, then I know I am listening to someone who has failed to listen to whites for a long time– if ever. White supremacy was a real problem in our society and is still a problem among a small group of whites today. But a simplistic attribution to white racism is not an adequate description of the sources of contemporary majority group members’ attitudes. If activists of color have such a low opinion of whites, then it is easy to understand why whites are unwilling to dialog with them. Would you want to dialog with someone who thinks the worst of you and does not want to listen to you?

Emerson and I pioneered in our book what we called a mutual accountability approach towards racial issues. We contend that both whites and non-whites have responsibilities towards communicating in ways where we can find solutions acceptable across different racial groups in our society. What passes for interracial conversation today is quite laughable and sad. White conservatives/moderates and activists of color spend more time demonizing each other than trying to find solutions everyone can accept. Whites tend to do it by attempting to force people of color to accept their own colorblind reality while people of color tend to do it by refusing to consider the perspectives of whites. In both cases we have groups talking passed, and not to, each other. They certainly are not listening to each other. Instead they seem to be focusing on ways to put their group on top no matter what the consequences are to the larger society. This is an all or nothing strategy whereby each side is attempting to force its will on the rest of society. It is a strategy that will ensure that our racial fighting will continue. We can change our current racial climate. However, having the conversation we need is painful and there is plenty of tribal incentive to avoid it.

Our racial dialog cannot start with either side predetermining the outcome. Rather, individuals will have to both talk and listen so that compromises can be made that lead to the alterations in our racial relations which can prevent the next racial controversy. The conversation will be messy. There is no way that a conversation this sensitive in nature and has been postponed for so long will be anything but messy. The participants will have to exhibit a high degree of patience and persistence to make progress with such conversations. It will not be easy but such conversations can break the cycle of one racial controversy after another that has plagued us. Yet, I do not see such conversations occurring in the near future. That is a shame. Short-term strategies that provide temporary power to one’s own in-group will prevail over longer term changes that might actually make a difference.

When I was younger, I was fairly optimistic that at some point we would overcome our awful racial history and develop a society that matched the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. But as I have watched the pattern of racial controversies followed by recriminations and demonization of the racial/political other, I have become more pessimistic. I want that optimism of my younger years, but my observations of a human nature that hinders our ability to see perspectives other than our own makes it harder for me to recapture that optimism. I hope that events in the coming days will prove my pessimism to be wrong and help me to regain that optimism. But so far I have not seen anything to warrant such hope. I expect that once everything calms down that we will merely wait for the next racial confrontation continuing our cycle of racial hostility because we will talk, but we will not listen.

Christianophobia in the United States – Part 3

This is the third and final entry of the blog series about my latest book – So Many Christians, So Few Lions – Christianophobia in the United States. In the first two entries I went over the data used to document Christianophobia. I refer any new readers back to the first and second entries if they want to see the basis of my assertion that Christianophobia is a real factor in our society. I will not take the time here to reargue my evidence for Christianophobia, but for the purpose of this blog entry will assume that it is a real phenomenon in this entry. So now I consider the implications of this social phenomenon. In my book I did engage in some speculation, but since I sent in the final draft I have had an opportunity to think further about the ramifications of Christianophobia. I hope to spark further conversation about such implications.

Obviously prejudice, bigotry and hatred are not new. Scholars have done an excellent job documenting these qualities in past research. Generally such work has focused on groups (i.e. atheists, racial minorities, sexual minorities) rejected by those who are less educated and/or politically conservative. However, those who tend to have bigotry and hatred towards conservative Christians tend to be highly educated and politically progressive. Such individuals likely have a value of tolerance that may protect conservative Christians from the practical effects of such hostile attitudes.

To assess if this is a possibility, we asked our respondents about what changes they would like to make in society to deal with the Christian right. Most were reluctant to endorse explicit restrictions aimed at Christians. However, some exhibited a willingness to have rules that have a disparate negative impact on Christians. The concept of disparate impact has been used by legal scholars to illustrate how racial disparities can be perpetuated by policies, such as voter ID laws, that on the surface are race neutral. I found it to be a useful concept for explaining some of the responses. Indeed several respondents indicated a desire for laws that they knew would have a negative impact on Christians.

I don’t think we should pass laws that are directed towards any particular group of people. However, if a particular *good* law happens to negatively affect practices or beliefs of the Christian Right, but protects the freedom of most Americans, then I would be in favor. (Female, aged 46-55 with Bachelor degree)

I do not believe laws should be passed that affect any one religion over another. I do believe that existing laws should be enforced that could have a negative impact. (Male, aged 26-35 with some graduate school)

Our respondents have values inhibiting them from expressing direct religious discrimination, in much the same way most white Americans today have values inhibiting them from expressing direct racial discrimination (If you doubt this comment then please find a survey where a majority of European-Americans advocate a policy that is overtly racist). However, in both cases there is a willingness to support rules that have the effect of putting racial minorities or conservative Christians at a disadvantage if those rules can be justified in non-bigoted ways.

It is in this context that we can analyze certain social events occurring in the United States. There are current controversies concerning the limits of religious freedom on issues of homosexuality and abortifacients. I do not have the evidence to argue that Christianophobia is a major reason why there has been so much energy invested in forcing conservative Christians to act against their own stated values. However, it is naïve to believe that such hostility and the willingness of my respondents to express that hostility through measures that disproportionately impact conservative Christians plays no role in this debate. Now that anti-fundamentalist hostility have been identified among educated progressives (In the 2012 American National Election Studies nearly three fourths of political progressives with at least a bachelor degree has anti-fundamentalist animosity), it is reasonable to factor in the possible effects of this hostility in particular social and political issues.

Yet, I already hear my critics complaining that this assertion proves nothing. I do not have proof that anti-Christian hostility plays a factor in how Christians are treated. Perhaps educated progressives are able to overcome their own bias and to accurately assess political and social issues apart from their bigotry. But if they are able to do so, then they would be the first social group that is able to act without emotional bias. I find myself skeptical that they have been able to achieve that feat given all of the previous research on the effects of social bias and prejudice on our decision making.

Research into the possible bias against conservative Christians in academia seems to confirm my skepticism. It is well established that academics tend to be more politically progressive and secular than the general population. It is obvious that they are highly educated. So academia theoretically should be a place where we would find a higher than normal level of Christianophobia. This Christianophobia may manifest in discrimination against conservative Christians. A few years ago I conducted research suggesting that this is the case. I found that academics were willing to discriminate against a prospective candidate for an academic position if they found out that the candidate is a conservative Protestant. In fact, they were more willing to discriminate against conservative Protestants than against any other social group included in my survey. Their willingness to discriminate against those Protestants was even more powerful than their willingness to discriminate against political conservatives. Religious intolerance trumps potential political intolerance among academics.

Of course simply because academics state that they are open to discriminating against conservative Protestants does not mean that they actually engage in such discrimination. A survey is not sufficient evidence. However, Rothman and Lichter conducted research documenting that academics with socially conservative beliefs tend to be located in lower status occupational positions even after controlling for demographic variables and their level of productivity. If conservative Protestants are more likely to have socially conservative beliefs than other academics, a reasonable belief, then this research suggests systematic evidence that there are occupational disadvantages in academia to having conservative Christian beliefs. Since academics have a willingness to discriminate against those Christians, this disadvantage cannot merely be due to their inability to do science, as the common stereotype of Christians seems to imply, but discrimination from academics who may be motivated by Christianophobia is likely an important factor.

But even this systematic data, in combination with my previous research, may not be enough evidence to convince some individuals that anti-Christian discrimination is a problem in academia. Unless we have possible examples of such discrimination, then there may be confounding variables not captured by the Rothman and Lichter analysis. I have heard of several examples where there was very powerful evidence of religious discrimination, but most of those I have learned in confidence and cannot discuss in a public forum. However, the Mike Adams story is a public court case that I can freely discuss. Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. He was denied promotion to full professor. He found out that part of the reason for this denial is his non-academic writing based on his Christian faith. He sued and won his lawsuit indicating that religious discrimination was a factor in his denial of promotion. This case is at least one example of our judicial system documenting anti-Christian bigotry connected to attempted discrimination.

I know that there are still individuals who refuse to believe that religious discrimination can be found within academia. They require absolute proof before accepting the reality of religious bias in academia. Of course there is little, if anything, in society that can be “proven.” Social scientists cannot demand proof before making assertions. Can we prove that racism plays a role in our current culture? No. There is a lot of evidence that racism still matters, but there is not absolute proof. The same type of evidence used to assess the possibility of discrimination based on race, sexuality or non-Christian religious status should also be viable in our assessment of the possibility of religious discrimination.

So let us pretend that a large number of engineers state that they are less willing to hire somebody if they are Jewish. Furthermore, we have data indicating that Jews are more likely to find themselves in lower status engineering positions even when we control for demographic factors and for the achievements of the engineers. Finally, assume that we have anecdotal court cases where engineering firms have been caught denying promotion to Jewish engineers because of their religious beliefs. If academics had this level of evidence of anti-Semitism within the engineering occupation, there is little doubt that social scientists would be convinced by this evidence. If that would be the case with anti-Semitism, then it is fair to say that a similar conclusion should be drawn given the evidence I have highlighted about academia bias and conservative Protestants.

Conservative Christians pay a price for their faith in academia. The Christianophobia documented in my research offers a plausible explanation why they may pay such a price. To the best of my knowledge, there is not any similar evidence for other occupations or fields of endeavor whereby we would expect to find the progressive, highly educated individuals who tend to have Christianophobia. However, academia is one of the institutions we use to document incidents of prejudice and bias. If academics have a propensity to accept Christianophobic prejudices and stereotypes then it is not surprising that we do not have very much previous research documenting that social dysfunction in academia or other institutions where it may play a significant role.

My current research can only document the presence and nature of Christianophobia. At this time, we do not have sufficient research on how this type of anti-religious animosity impacts our larger society. I refer back to my earlier comments about the recent controversies pitting conservative Christians against the highly educated progressives with a relatively higher propensity to have Christianophobia. These controversies have been influenced by religious bias on both sides of those issues. Generally, there is sufficient attention paid to the religious bias of political and religious conservatives. This is related to an often unspoken assumption that only conservatives are motivated by religious prejudice. It is unrealistic to assert that political and religious progressives have been able to avoid the same propensities to engage in hatred and prejudice against out-group members documented in political and religious conservatives. My research strongly indicates a need for more attention to religious bias of progressives and how that bias impacts our society.

Beyond social conflicts, there may be other ways in which Christianophobia has a yet unknown effect in our society. It is possible that some certain social institutions and movements are also partially shaped by Christianophobia. Ideally future research will investigate these possibilities. But, I want to be very clear that I am not arguing that Christianophobia is rampant in all areas of our society. The characteristics of those who tend to have anti-Christian animosity do not describe all individuals, and it is a mistake to associate Christianophobia with the type of overarching racial prejudice that used to be endemic in our society. I suspect that certain powerful businesses and political institutions are relatively unlikely to be affected by Christianophobia. However, institutions important in shaping our culture (i.e. media, art and academia) tend to consist of the highly educated progressives most likely to have Christianophobia. Those with Christianophobia have a greater ability to shape our larger culture than those with other types of social intolerances. In some ways Christianophobia is less troublesome than other types of bigotry in that it may not be as widespread as those other bigotries, but in other ways, since it is most likely to be found among culturally and socially powerful individuals, it may be more troublesome.

Christianophobia offers us an opportunity to rethink our current approach towards dealing with intolerance. In the past, we have concentrated on intolerant attitudes that political and religious conservatives are most likely to possess. Christianophobia is an intolerance most likely to be possessed by progressives and the well-educated. I do not suggest the need for specific programs of “diversity training” to aid individuals in dealing with this Christianophobic bigotry. Instead, I wonder if now is not the time to consider developing diversity programs that aid individuals with confronting their illiberal feelings towards all types of out-groups.

Such a program would build on my presupposition that people from all subcultures have out-group members they tend to exhibit hatred and animosity towards, but identity of the out-group members changes between different subcultures. The idea of a totally tolerant subculture is a myth. It is the sort of myth that allows certain individuals to dismiss the possibility that they have to engage in the introspection necessary to confront their own bigotries and biases. That sort of myth allows the irrational hatred and anger that is part of Christianophobia to go unchallenged, and that sort of myth should be confronted by those who want to lessen the level of cultural conflict and bigotry too often a part of our society.

Of course there is more work to do. I do not wish to leave the impression that the research discussed in this blog series is the last word on anti-Christian animosity in the United States. But hopefully this work will give future scholars potential research questions they can explore. As funding permits, I would love to be one of those researchers.

Finally, I want to state the obvious which is that I am a Christian documenting Christianophobia and thus some individuals may discount my observations due to the bias I bring to the topic. I would wonder if such individuals would discount my previous work in the field of race and ethnicity due to my African-American identity. Nevertheless I acknowledge that part of my reason for embarking on this particular research project is due to my position as a Christian in academia and thus my ability to observe Christianophobia in several of my encounters. But that is not my only motivation. It is my belief that part of human flourishing is the ability to engage in introspection to a sufficient degree where we can understand some of the hidden biases that shape our thinking. We may not always be able to overcome those biases but recognizing them allows us to have a more balanced understanding of our own personal nature. If this research aids those with Christianophobia to undertake such steps of introspection then I will have accomplished another important part of my personal goals for this research.

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.