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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myths of Christianophobia Part 2 – It is about Persecution

This is my second post dealing with the myths surrounding Christianophobia. In my last blog, I dealt with the myth that Christianophobia does not exist and/or has no impact on American Christians. The next myth I will tackle may be a natural outcome of researching the problem of Christianophobia. Whenever we start exploring attitudes of bigotry and bias there is the possibility of individuals reading more into the work than it is intended. Some people have taken my research and used it to talk about anti-Christian persecution. Some have accused me of promoting the idea that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. I have never used the word persecution in discussing the plight of Christians in the United States and the notion that Christians in the United States are being persecuted is the second myth I will tackle.

This issue became clear to me after I did an interview for the Christian Post. During the interview I wanted to illustrate the intensity and irrationality of the anger some individuals had towards Christians. In my book there is a quote from a respondent in my research who stated that Christians should be eradicated. I think it was the next day when I saw the headline, “They should be Eradicated”, for a story in the Blaze that was based on that article. I was not contacted ahead of time and disliked the headline as it implied that violent killing of Christians was a major focus on those with Christianophobia – a totally incorrect conclusion as anyone who read my book would see. This brought home to me the point that some conservatives and Christians would take my findings much further than they should.

In the past I have blogged about how unwise it is for Christians to talk about being persecuted in the United States. In comparison to real persecution Christians in certain countries face, it was almost insulting for American Christians to complain about facing persecution. Furthermore, I have admonished Christians about looking at the Charleston shooting as an example of religious bigotry when clearly it was driven by racial animosity. While I maintain the conclusion in my last blog that Christianophobia is real and has an impact on Christians in society, I also have a track record of pushing back against efforts to promote an anti-Christian persecution narrative. Despite my efforts I have read comments about my work from irritated individuals who state that I advocate the idea that U.S. Christians are being persecuted. Whenever I hear someone make such a claim I know that they have not bothered to read my books or blog writings where I have clearly made the case that Christian persecution in the United States is a myth.

Why are Christians so eager to embrace the mantle of being persecuted? The initial answer is that Christians are similar to a lot of other social groups in that they want to use claims of victimhood to increase their ability to gain social resources. I am not proud of this tendency within Christians and it is especially problematic because such desire for victimhood inhibits our ability to accurately assess the way Christianophobia impacts our society. But if we are honest this is not a tendency limited to Christians as many social groups seek out an image of being victimized as a way to gain social power.

Beyond this tendency to use a victim status to gain social resources, there is also a history within Christianity that feeds into a willingness to take research like mine to justify claims of being persecuted. Historically, it was fairly common for one segment of Christianity or another to face real persecution. This means that they were vulnerable to being thrown in jail or killed because they believed the wrong thing. Sometimes other Christians were the culprit, but this was not always the case. Furthermore, the origin of Christianity occurred in a society where Christians faced persecution for following a “discredited” Messiah. So from the very beginning there is a cultural understanding that to be a Christian is to face persecution. I suspect that Christians who have grown up with this general understanding about their faith are especially sensitive to detecting potential persecution, even when it does not exist.

This is not an excuse for some of the persecution claims made by Christians. However, it is an explanation that helps show why Christians are quick to use the results of research on Christianophobia to validate their own presuppositions about social reality. In the United States individuals with Christianophobia are no more likely to show violent tendencies towards the eradication of Christians than Christians are to show violent tendencies towards setting up a theocracy. The fear of both possibilities is irrational and supply reasons for Christians and those with Christianophobia to hate their religious out-groups. Christians would do well to recognize what those with Christianophobia want to do, such as keep Christians out of the public square, rather than become concerned about persecution.

A great example of a tendency for Christians to seek out persecution often occurs when making complaints about being wished “Happy Holidays.” I agree that there is likely a certain level of symbolic hostility by some people who do not want to wish others “Merry Christmas.” I will go as far as to say that some individuals have Christianophobia which motivates their hesitation to say “Merry Christmas.” Okay, but so what? As long as people are not compelled to wish others “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” then this is not a big deal and it is definitely not persecution. If someone wished me “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” then I have a two word answer for them – “Thank you.” If someone gets mad at me for wishing them a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” then that indicates their lack of maturity rather than an attack on my Christian faith. Christians seeking to turn such occasions into opportunities to complain about persecution trivialize real persecution.

What would real persecution look like? According to Webster’s online dictionary to persecute is: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs. So in the context of Christianophobia, actual persecution would be to punish someone directly for being a Christian. I acknowledge that there is an unreasonable anger and/or fear of Christians exhibited by some members of our society. But they rarely, if ever, directly advocate throwing Christians in jail or fining them simply because they are Christians. They want to use measures with disparate impact that hamper the ability of Christians to have influence in the public square. They promote dehumanizing stereotypes about Christians. Are these things wrong? Yes. Are they examples of persecution? No. The day may come when there is real persecution against Christians in the United States. If that day comes I hope to be brave enough to speak against it. But for now, given how persecution is defined, there simply is not credible evidence of anti-Christian persecution in the United States today.

Some may argue that stating that future anti-Christian persecution in the United States is possible is an example of being paranoid. Of course those making such claims are also claiming to know what is going to happen in the future. None of us can say with certainty that we know future events. Groups that at one time were quite powerful in a society may eventually fall into such disfavor that members of those groups face persecution. In communist countries many religious groups that were once quite powerful found themselves persecuted when communism became the dominant cultural ideology. So it is not unreasonable to consider that there may be a future where Christians truly are persecuted in the United States. My guess is that this will not happen in the United States but I consider it foolish to dismiss such an occurrence as impossible. Unfortunately, silly articles like this one can feed into fears about persecution as this author basically advocates labeling religious individuals “insane” – a policy straight out of the anti-religious persecution that occurred in the Soviet Union.

But for now I make a strong plea to Christians to stop talking about being persecuted in the United States and instead to focus on the real issues that have developed due to Christianophobia. There are some individuals who will always deny the existence of Christianophobia and others who already know it exists. However, a yet undetermined number of individuals are open to learning that Christianophobia is a problem. They will not be influenced by an excessive crying of wolf. Honest appraisals of anti-Christian bias, and an acknowledgement of the advantages that Christians still enjoy, will present a much better case.