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.