Christianophobia in the United States – Part 3

Christianophobia in the United States – Part 3 November 30, 2014

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.


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