Christianophobia and Racism – The Similarities

In my last post, I discussed the differences between racism and Christianophobia. I am often asked if I think Christianophobia is the same as racism. I am always careful to note that there are critical differences between the two. I do not want to create the false impression that to be Christianophobic is the same as to be racist. I have seen this emotional, but overly simplistic, technique of conflating different types of bigotries used too much and so I have taken great care to make sure I do not employ it myself.
However, this is not to say that there are not similarities between those who are Christianophobic and those who are racist. Because those with Christianophobia (higher educated, politically progressive, wealthy) are quite different from those who tend to be racist (lower educated, more rural), it is reasonable to argue that similar qualities of Christianophobia and racism reflect similarities in all sorts of intolerances. There is no subculture free of bigotry and intolerance. As such the real question is not whether the group you hang out with is intolerant, but rather against whom are they intolerant. Once we know that, then the similarities in this blog suggest how that intolerance is likely to play itself out.
Unreasonable Hatred – The first similarity is that both racists and Christianophobes have an unreasonable level of hatred for those who they reject. This is pretty clear when discussing racists. Clearly, racists make unreasonable demands that people of color be denied their freedom to work where they want, to live where they want and even in extreme cases to live. While today we do not see a lot of racists making extreme statements, the undercurrent of racism is the treatment of people due to their skin color, or other superficial physical characteristics. It often plays out in unreasonable stereotypes and assertions about people of color. All reasonable people can see this as unjustified.
The dynamics of Christianophobia are a little different in that people are hated for what they believe instead of what they look like. But Christianophobia is also based on unreasonable hatred. My research indicates that people with Christianophobia do not believe that conservative Christians should be able to have a place in the public square. They do not deny this right to other groups, and it is not reasonable to deny it to conservative Christians. Of course there are other ways this unreasonable hatred can manifest itself such as joking about feeding Christians to lions, or refusing to hire them for academic positions, but that may be the most impactful way this hatred manifests itself.
Justification of Bigotry – Another similarity between racists and those with Christianophobia is their willingness to justify their bigotry. Indeed often they assert that what they are doing is for the good of the society and sometimes even for those they are discriminating against. Historically, racists justified enslaving blacks or placing Indians on reservations since these were people who needed the “guidance” of whites. Racists today do not tend to use such arguments but rather talk about the good of society. Thus, they may ban Middle Easterners from the United States because they believe that we need protection from those outsiders.
The tendency to justify bigotry is not limited to racists. Those with Christianophobia would argue that they must ban Christians from the public square for the good of the nation. My research indicated that one of the ways people with Christianophobia de-humanize Christians is by envisioning them as childlike and unable to think for themselves. Such stereotypes allow those with Christianophobia to justify treating Christians in ways they would not treat other groups. After all, I seriously doubt they would see a child’s onesie with a statement about too many Jews and not enough ovens as acceptable. Yet someone is buying this for their kid.
Let me be clear that I know that both the racist and the Christianophobe are sincere in their beliefs that their bigotry is justified. The racist truly believes that those of “inferior” races are dragging our society into the gutter and must be controlled. Likewise, the Christianophobe truly believes that those of “inferior” religious beliefs are taking our society backwards into a Dark Age whereby all who do not have the true faith will be harassed and punished. They contend that conservative Christians must be controlled or they will set up a theocracy that will end science and reason. The fact that both of these beliefs are nonsense does not mean that those who have these ideas are not sincere in their beliefs. I do not accept the rhetoric that people with bigotry only maintain that intolerance due to their own self-interest. Rather they really believe that they are doing the right thing. In the end, that may make it all the more difficult to deal with such bigotry.
Dehumanizing of the Other – I have already briefly talked about how those with Christianophobia sometimes dehumanize conservative Christians. In my research, I identified several patterns of their dehumanization. This type of dehumanization was based on seeing conservative Christians as more animalistic than human. But rather than go through all of those patterns, I can simply point out the way those with Christianophobia often use the imagery of animals when talking about Christians. They speak of Christians as sheep and lemmings as well as zombies (though that is technically not an animal, it is still pretty dehumanizing). These comments came up so often in my respondents’ answers to my question that it is hard for me not to believe that it is not commonplace to talk of Christians as if they were animals.
Unfortunately, animalistic descriptions are also quite common among racists as well. What differs is the type of animals used to describe those in the minority racial groups. Apes and beasts are terms that racists may use to describe people of color. Thus, the animals used to describe racial minorities denote a savagery, whereas the animals used to describe Christians denote a mindless passivity. Neither description is what we would call flattering. Both descriptions have the effect of making the targeted group seem less than human. We know that when minority racial groups have been seen as less than human, it then becomes easier to justify the removal of their human rights. Perhaps this animalistic tendency on the part of those with Christianophobia is also necessary for them to justify differential treatment due to religion such as attempting to remove Christians in the public square or being less willing to hire Christians in academia.
Deny that they have a problem – This is a similarity that is not quite accurate if we are talking about traditional racism from our past. Those racists had no problem admitting that they were racist. Indeed they sometimes were proud of being racist. But today there are few who will admit to being racist even if it is clear that they are. They will struggle to find a way to explain their actions and attitudes in ways that deny the potential racism motivating them. Race and ethnicity literature is full of efforts to denote this type of modern racism with concepts such as colorblind racism, aversive racism and symbolic racism. Ultimately, they describe a version of racism by someone who will deny that they are racist.
This same issue comes up when we look at Christianophobia. Those with Christianophobia are quick to deny that they have a problem. I have been amused at the sort of gymnastics some have employed when I have pointed out situations where it is clear that the behavior would not have taken place, or if it had it would have been seen as unacceptable, except that the person victimized was a conservative Christian. For example, when I point out my research that shows that academics are willing to discriminate against hiring someone because they are a fundamentalist or evangelical, the most common response is not to criticize how the research was done. Instead the person generally accepts the findings of the research but then justifies such occupational discrimination with anti-Christian stereotypes (i.e. Christians are not able to critically think). It is quite obvious that such discrimination would not be justified if used against Jews or Muslims based on Anti-Semitic or Islamophobic stereotypes. It is a classic case of denial when it is quite clear that there are Christianophobic tendencies on the part of a non-trivial number of academics.
These similarities suggest important lessons about the nature of intolerance. They indicate that intolerance and bigotry lead to unreasonable emotive and dehumanizing patterns, even among those who envision themselves as rational. It leads to a denial of the problem at a personal level and ironically attempts to justify mistreatment of the out-group. These are tendencies that I do not believe are relegated to only certain subcultures. Our ability to hate and mistreat out-groups seems to be part of the human condition. Only by recognizing this reality can we have the ability to engage in the level of introspection necessary to combat the intolerance residing in our hearts.

Christianophobia and Racism – The Differences

I find myself in a very unique position. I have done quite a bit of recent research on anti-Christian attitudes and biases. In the past, I have also done a lot of scholarly work dealing with racial issues. I do not know of anyone who has an expertise in both Christianophobia and racism. That places me in a position to understand both social dysfunctions.
When I have publically discussed my work I am often asked whether Christianophobia is like racism. I have always answered in the negative. In my writing, I make it clear that there are important differences between Christianophobia and racism. However, this is not to say that are no similarities between these two types of intolerances. There are certain commonalities within expressions of bigotry regardless of whether that bigotry is triggered by race or religious hatred. In that sense, understanding the differences and similarities between Christianophobia and racism can provide insight into human nature. In this current blog, I will look at the differences between the two, and my next blog will deal with the similarities. It will by no means be an exhaustive survey of such distinctions, and similarities, but hopefully I will touch on the main ones and generate an opening conversation about differences between racism and Christianophobia.
Violence – An important difference between racism and Christianophobia is the level of violence associated with each. As it concerns racial issues, we have a history of violence perpetrated against people of color. Even today when we look at what troubles activists of color, it is often tied to fear of violence or actual violence. For example, much of the recent conflict of late is tied to the criminal justice system and the shooting of black men. People of color fear for their lives and physical safety due to the racism they continue to address.
On the other hand, there is little fear of violence as it pertains to Christianophobia. This is not true if we are talking about some of the horrors that occurred to Christians historically or if we look at how Christians are mistreated in some countries. However in the United States, with the exception of some church burnings, there is little evidence that violence is a concern that Christians must face. I believe that this difference is tied to contrasts between who tends to possess racism and who tends to have Christianophobia. The powerful individuals who tend to have Christianophobia do not need to use violence to punish their outgroup while those who are racist tend to come from more violence-oriented cultures.
Innate versus Choice – Another clear difference is that race is innate whereby religion is a choice. Now I have to be careful about what I mean by innate. Any good race scholar will tell you that race is a social construction. Our notions of race identity are tied to how society decides to differentiate between the various races. I do an entire lecture on the social construction of race in one of my first classes in my race/ethnicity course, but I do not have the space to really go into it here. Just trust me that the social construction of race is well-established in race/ethnicity literature. It is also useful to point out that religion may not be as much of a choice as we like to think that it is. We are highly likely to wind up in the religion that we grew up in. It is true that many people convert in and out of different religions and some, like myself, have a crisis of faith that forces them to seriously consider whether the religion they are in is right. But honestly most people drift through life and accept it without much introspection. The religion one finds oneself in is clearly more of a choice than the race one is assigned. While society decides how to define race, I cannot easily change that decision. I can go around all I want saying that I am white, but I will still be treated as a black. There is pressure on us to maintain the religion we grow up in, but we still can pick an identity that differs from that religion. While there may be costs associated to making that decision, it still will be a decision that most will abide by. If a Christian deconverts to an atheist, there are not many people who will insist that he or she is still a Christian. So in the aggregate, this distinction is still very important.
It is an important distinction because we tend to treat those with innate qualities different than those with characteristics associated with choice. If it is a choice, then we tend to hold them more responsible for the situation they are in. That does not mean that we can mistreat people due to a status they choose. Note the condemnation of Islamophobia. But it does mean that we can ask them to stop doing what they did to create that status. People may ask me to stop being a Christian or at least to stop advocating for Christians. Nobody is going to ask me to stop being black. If they did, they would get a funny look from me and from anyone else who heard this request. It seems much more unfair to punish someone for a status (race) they had no say in possessing and there is more room to legitimate some discrimination for a status (religion) where people do have a choice.
Historical Status – Historically, people of color have had lower levels of social status than European-Americans. I, along with most other race scholars, would argue that this is still the case even though we have a black president. Nevertheless, it is clear that people of color have never enjoyed majority group status. This is not the case for Christians. Clearly throughout much of our history, Christians have had majority group status. In certain aspects of our society, they still have majority group status. However, in other areas, such as academia, the mounting evidence suggests this majority group status is a thing of the past.
When I teach race and ethnicity, I tell my students that we cannot understand contemporary race relationships without also understanding the history that contextualizes those relationships. Indeed if we want to understand much of the current conflict over police shootings, we have to understand the larger historical context of how the criminal justice system has been used to control African-Americans. It is a mistake to look at a single shooting and come to conclusions about racial conflict. Likewise, the history of Christians as the majority group has contextualized the current religious conflict we see in our society. Because Christians at one time had majority group status in most, if not all, of the sectors of society, there is a buildup dam of resentment they face today. Is that resentment justified? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But its existence creates a different element in anti-Christian bigotry as opposed to racial bigotry.
Who Hates – This is a key difference which really positions Christianophobia to be distinct from racism. Research indicates that those who tend to have overt types of racism tend to be lower educated, lower SES, politically conservative and, of course, white. My work in Christianophobia indicates that those with it tend to be highly educated, wealthy, white and male. In many ways, these are the people with powerful societal positions. Those with Christianophobia have an ability to punish Christians in ways that most racist individuals are not able to do.
This difference affects many of the dimensions shaping Christianophobia and racism. Remember the discussion on the differing roles of violence? Individuals with powerful positions in society are not likely to directly engage in violence. If they are caught engaging in violence, they often have more to lose in terms of reputation and status than those with lower levels of education and wealth. Furthermore, those with Christianophobia are more likely to have progressive political values, which would increase the possible loss they would experience if caught engaging in violence. This does not mean that they are above mistreating Christians, but they will do it through their institutional power rather than a violent attack. This and many other differences, are tied to who has Christianophobia and who has racism.
Goals – A final difference is the goals of those with Christianophobia and those with racism. The goals of racists can vary over time and place, but it is fair to say that generally they want to either eliminate the inferior race or subjugate them to do the necessary dirty jobs in society. In old fashioned racism, there is not much hiding of these goals. As racism has fallen out of favor as something to be desired in society, we have less of the old fashioned racism although the tendency to see one’s racial group as superior has not completely disappeared.
The goals of those with Christianophobia are different. Their social identity as progressives prevents them from overtly planning the elimination of Christians. However, they have developed the stereotypes and fears about Christians. Because of those stereotypes/fears, they can justify trying to control and subjugate Christians. Many of the comments from the respondents in my research have focused upon trying to keep Christians out of the public square. I have discussed in a previous blog why such a goal is unfair and will not waste space here. But just as the racist believes that he or she is in a superior belief, those with Christianophobia believe that they are superior in religious belief to conservative Christians. But how they want to reinforce that feeling of superiority is quite distinct.
Many of these differences work together to create the unique challenges we have with Christianophobia and racism. That is to be expected as each is a phenomenon that has to be understood on its own. However, each also touches on dimensions that are all too common among humans. Looking at some of those commonalities is the focus of my next blog.

Want to fight Islamophobia? Deal with Christianophobia.

My article on Islamophobia and Christianophobia can be found at The Stream. As many of you know I will respond to some comments here if you want to make them. But I will also eliminate comments that are merely argumentative and do not move the conversation forward. Have a Happy New Year!!!

Is our Religious Freedom Connected to whether we are Christian or Not?

I have caught a certain amount of grief arguing that some individuals do not want to provide religious freedom to Christians unless they are in their own churches and homes. I have pointed out that such restrictions are not applied to non-Christian groups. However, when I illustrate this differential treatment with examples of punishment of Christians and non-punishment of non-Christians, many detractors work to find differences from the incidents involving Christians and those involving non-Christians. Ultimately these detractors are arguing that nearly every time Christians express their basic freedom of religion or conscience (in the case of the nonreligious) rights then they are wrong, but every time non-Christians do so then they are right. This is a position you realistically cannot ask Christians to accept.

The latest example concerns Muslim truck drivers who recently won a case for $240,000. These Muslim drivers did not want to transport alcohol as they felt that it went against their religious beliefs. The Obama administration supported the drivers and it was ruled that Star Transport, their former employer, should have made accommodations for them. This is the latest of cases in which freedom of religion matters as long as the group seeking to exercise that freedom is not Christian. Therefore, I have a hard time believing that such protection would have been offered to Christian truck drivers. Indeed, the only recent case that I can remember where Christians had their freedom of conscience rights affirmed was the Hobby Lobby case and we all remember the hysteria following that ruling. I can think of no recent case in which a non-Christian did not have such rights affirmed, but I am open to being wrong if someone can show me a recent ruling when that occurred.

My point is this. It really does not matter if one can find procedural reasons for Christians losing their case and non-Christians winning theirs. If Christians almost always lose their case and non-Christians always win their case then we have a systematic institutional problem where one religious group is not being treated as well as others. Either the rules are shaped to work to the disadvantage of that group or they are being selectively enforced. This is why rules of disparate impact are so important. We can always find a reason to justify punishing out-groups and supporting in-groups. It is human nature to have confirmation bias whereby our team never commits a penalty whereas the other team is always fouling (Yes, I used to play pickup basketball). When only one group is being punished then introspective thinkers have to seriously consider why this is the case beyond finding reasons to justify the punishment.

Perhaps a different example will illustrate the folly of the approach my detractors have taken. We have recently seen the activism of black lives matter (BLM) movement. The basis of this movement is the blacks are more likely victimized by the police. They are not arguing that only blacks are so victimized, as I can argue that only Christians are being victimized in freedom of religion or conscience cases. But they point out that blacks are more likely to be victimized by our criminal justice system than whites, relative to their numbers in society. Does this mean that police officers are KKK racists? Not really. It is more likely that our criminal justice system is constructed in such a way so that blacks are more likely to be harmed. The activism of BLM will enjoy success when they are able to make systematic changes that reduces racial disparity. While I disagree with the tone of BLM, I do not doubt the validity of their general critique. Likewise, when only Christian are denied freedom of religion or conscience rights then there is a systematic problem behind this issue. If BLM has a justifiable case with law enforcement then Christians certainly have a justifiable case with religious freedom.

I support a generous level of freedom of religion. But, as I look at the case of the Muslim truck drivers even I find myself relatively unconvinced by their cause. The drivers were hired to do a job. If they could no longer do the job then perhaps they should find another one. It is similar to the Kim Davis situation (For the record, I think Davis is wrong in what she was doing. I would prefer that she merely allow others to do what she is unwilling to do herself or resign). Or perhaps another illustration is that a pro-life Christian nurse should not work at an abortion clinic and then not expect to help perform abortions. But it was ruled that accommodations should have be made for these drivers. If that is the proper ruling, given relative weakness of this case, then it makes sense that accommodations should also be made so that Christian bakers and florists can have their freedom of conscience rights. But, I seriously doubt that the Obama administration believes that accommodations should be made for Christians. If in the past the administration had shown itself to be sensitive to the freedom of religion for Christians, then this particular ruling would not be problematic. But it is hard for me to believe that they have the same concern for accommodations for Christians that they do for Muslim drivers.

Some may say that they disagree with the ruling. They may argue that both the Christian baker and the Muslim truck driver should just get on with their job. Fair enough. That is a consistent application of a limited freedom of religion standard. But in the real world we do not have that consistent application. In the real world Muslim truck drivers have their freedom of conscience respected and Christian bakers do not.

I know some will try to defend these cases by pointing out differences from the Christian baker from the LGBT baker or the Muslim truck driver. Such arguments extremely unconvincing and the very illustration of confirmation bias. The overall results argue against the notion that these rulings are done in an environment of religious neutrality. If police review boards found every police shooting of a black justified but every police shooting of a white illegal, would you think that race played no role in the shooting? Me neither. If that was the case, then you would have an extremely difficult time convincing me, an African-American, that there is not some sort of racial injustice occurring in our society. Either criminal justice officials have racialized stereotypes or expectations contributing to this problem or there are institutional problems in our criminal justice system which unfairly target blacks. Do not try to go case by case to convince me that each shooting of a black was justified and then try to go case by case to convince me that shooting of a white is unjustified. Do you really believe that I can be convinced that it is all just “coincidences.”

Likewise, if almost every case of religious freedom involving Christians is found to be unjustified, but every case of religious freedom involving a non-Christian is found to be justified then why would we not think that religious identity played a role in such outcomes. We would have to be naïve to believe otherwise. The nitpicking done to justify fines in the six figures for Christian bakers is not very convincing. Given what I know about human nature, to ask me that Christians, and only Christians, abuse their freedom of religion or conscience rights strains all credibility. Or put it another way. If there is a supposedly neutral rule that only atheists or feminists are found guilty of violating then would not atheists and feminists be right to believe that either the rule, or the way the rule is implemented, is unfair? So do not be surprised that Christians do not believe that freedom of religion rules are fairly implemented given the reality of who they are used against.

There is a very good explanation for the source of this differential treatment. Christianophobia is the best explanation for what has occurred. When I studied Christianophobia I found that those with animosity towards conservative Christians tend to be highly educated and wealthy. Those with animosity towards Muslims tend to have lower levels of education and are not wealthier than average. So when a highly educated, and relatively wealthy judge makes a decision on religious freedom there is a much greater chance that this judge has Christianophobia than Islamophobia. The same can be said of officials in the Obama administration making decisions whether to support freedom of religion petitions of Christians or Muslims.

I suspect that some will contend that I do not recognized the problems of anti-religion bias unless those problems are directed at Christians. Those detractors would be mistaken. I recognize that there are more people with anti-atheist disaffinities than anti-Christian biases, which is one of the reasons why it is relatively difficult for atheists to win political office. My work also suggests that about the same percentage of individuals in the United States have Islamophobia as Christianophobia. So Muslims are just as likely to have to deal with an anti-religious bigot as Christians. However, those with Christianophobia are more likely to be in a position to punish their religious out-group through official channels. Noting this proclivity provides a powerful explanation for why freedom of religion is less important to legal and governmental officials when those wanting these rights are Christian.

Does this mean that Christians are intentionally target? The qualitative work I analyzed indicated that those with Christianophobia prefer to think of themselves as religiously neutral. I suspect that their higher level of education make it harder for them to admit to their religious bigotry. As such, I do not think that they go into a situation overtly thinking about how they can punish Christians. However, I suspect that over time they are able to find justification for treating Christian differently than other religious groups. Once a person has come to a conclusion about his/her beliefs or actions, then that person will be highly motivated to find justification for that belief or action. Those with Christianophobia are not looking to go control Christians in their churches and homes. They cannot rationalized such intrusions. However, they can rationalized keeping Christians out of the public square, even if they do so by treating them differently than other religious groups.

If we reject the notion that only Christians violate freedom of religion or conscience rights, and I do not see that notion as intellectually viable, then the unique problem of Christianophobia is the best explanation of this disparate impact. This case of the Muslim drivers is not the “final straw” to illustrate this point. There have been other cases in the past and I suspect that there will be more in the future. The Muslim drivers’ situation is simply one more case in which a non-Christian group has its freedom of religion rights respected in a way that is generally denied to Christians. For those who have decided to stick their head in the sand this case will not matter. Nothing can convince them that Christianophobia is a problem because they do not want to see it as a problem. Indeed, I suspect that a thousand cases of the affirmation of the religion/conscience rights of non-Christians while 1,000 cases of that right being taken away from Christians will not be sufficient evidence for some individuals. But in time I hope we take a realistic understanding of this problem and find ways to deal with the unique challenges offered by Christianophobia.