This is my last 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 second blog, I addressed the myth that Christianophobia is an indicator that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. For the third blog, I looked at the myth that Christianophobia is merely about the loss of Christian privilege. In this last entry of the series I will look at the myth that Christianophobia has emerged because Christians deserve it.
In some ways this may be the most difficult myth to address. It is the sort of myth that cannot be dispelled with only logic and research. It depends on a sense of fairness from those who hold onto this myth. Sometimes events have occurred in our lives that make such fairness very difficult to achieve. For example, if a white man was accosted by several African-Americans he may afterwards believe that African-Americans are a bunch of savages and should be treated as such. I can show that white person all sorts of data indicating that after social and economic controls that blacks are no more violent than those of other races. I can argue with that person about the moral inadequacy of promoting a racist view. But emotionally that man may never get there and will hold onto his beliefs about how blacks should be treated.
Likewise, there are certainly individuals who have had negative encounters with Christians. Those encounters may have had such a damaging emotional impact that it is very difficult for them to consider what most people would envision as a fair treatment. Nothing I say can overcome this sort of emotional baggage. I honestly hope that they, and the man who was attacked by blacks, seek out the type of counseling and help needed to overcome their perceptions. I state that as an honest, and not pejorative, statement. Holding on to old hatreds and anger is a big source of ill mental health. It is much healthier to work through our emotions towards those who have legitimately harmed us rather than retain our bitterness towards them but, we live in a confrontational society that does not encourage such steps towards wholeness. So I do not write to convince someone with those emotional walls as I fear they have larger personal issues to address.
Before I explore components of Christianophobia, I would be negligent to assume that everyone knows about my research. My respondents’ comments, which you can read in more depth in So Many Christians, So Few Lions, were collected from a sample of cultural progressive activists who were members of organizations that have as part of their purpose opposition to the Christian or religious right. The respondents answered an online survey of closed and open ended questions. It is a qualitative sample that I used to help flesh out the quantitative results from a probability sample. How I operationalized Christianophobia in that sample can be seen in an earlier blog.
As I look at whether Christianophobia is deserved or not I also do not want to go after low hanging fruit. Many respondents made atrocious statements such as feeding Christians to lions or blowing up churches. I think it does not have to be stipulated that right thinking people do not agree with such statements (however, if you do think that feeding Christians to lions is a good thing then once again seek counseling). Using such statements to talk about those with Christianophobia is as fair as using the Westboro Baptist nuts to talk about Christianity or terrorists to talk about Islam. We can talk about how such religions might create an atmosphere where such sentiments can develop, but to paint all of those in such faiths with the stigma richly deserved by extremists does not say much about the mainstream ideology in these religions. (However, it should be noted that these extreme views are not rare among Christianophobes and you can even purchase a t-shirt celebrating your desire to torture Christians to death.) Likewise, I intend on addressing central elements of Christianophobia rather than extreme statements. The components that I argue are morally unfair will be ideas that many, if not most, individuals with Christianophobia readily accept.
One of the key beliefs of Christianophobia is the fear that Christians are setting up a theocracy. I dealt with the illogical nature of such a claim in the first blog in this series. But I also recognize that because of such a belief there are efforts by those with Christianophobia to remove conservative Christians from the public square. This desire was quite common among the respondents in my research.
I see religion as a personal matter that has no place in the public square let alone in the halls of congress, the halls of justice, or in the various departments of government. (Male, aged 46-55 with Master degree)
Keep all religion in your church, in your home, out of the public square, and most of all, out of my face. (Male, aged 56-65 with some college)
Deeply suspicious of their intent and hypocritical, self-righteousness. Intrusive into the public square and intent on subverting the constitution. (Male, aged 56-65 with Bachelor degree)
The calculus is quite simple. Conservative Christians are seen as a threat to move our society back to the dark ages. To stop them intelligent, progressive citizens have to keep Christians out of the public square. Christians cannot be allowed to influence others in the public square. Christians cannot have influence in government, education, media or any other dimension where they may shape popular societal opinion. There is a perception among many with Christianophobia that most Christians are dumb followers being misled by corrupt leaders. My respondents indicated a desire to limit the impact of these evil leaders and keep them from influencing more naïve Christians. Keeping Christian influence out of the public square is seen as the way to limit the impact of Christianity and of these manipulative leaders.
So if Christians are supposed to stay out of the public square then, what are they allowed to do in society? I have mentioned before that direct oppression that can be linked to religious bigotry is generally not advocated by those with Christianophobia. I suspect that this would create cognitive dissonance if they tried to directly punish conservative Christians for being Christians. However, this desire to avoid being seen as bigoted is coupled with the desire to keep Christians out of the public square. This has led to a common assertion about the place for Christians in our society.
Christian Right people can do what they want in their churches and homes, but not in the public arena. (Female, aged 66-75 with Bachelor degree)
Keep your religion at home and in your church. Why oh why isn’t that enough?!? (Male, aged 36-45 with some graduate school)
If they want to be crazy in their own homes and not bother me, then I wouldn’t mind. (Male, aged 26-35 with Master degree)
Christians are allowed to be Christians in their homes and their churches. But in no other place in society are they to live out their Christian values and ideals. Not in their businesses, their politics, their education or any other dimension outside of churches and homes are Christians to use their faith to influence their actions. Christians can keep those with Christianophobia satisfied by staying in their families and churches while leaving the rest of society for the “rational” individuals to run.
This is the ideology within Christianophobia that I want to assess for “fairness.” This ideology is at the core of the motivation for many with Christianophobia. This is not the extreme comment of a sick fanatic who fantasizes about feeding Christians to lions. The comments of my respondents indicate that this belief of stupid followers of wicked leaders who must be kept from the public square by restricting them to their church and family was the rule, and not the exception, to how those with Christianophobia think. Of course there are other aspects of Christianophobia not captured by this statement, such as the dehumanization of Christians or valuation of science, but the preceding sentence incorporates the basic legitimation structure of Christianophobia. So as I critique this philosophy I am critiquing a core of Christianophobic thought.
Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the problem of this ideology is by placing different groups as the subject of this treatment. What if we stated that feminists should only keep their philosophy in their homes and their feminist organizations? What if we stated that LGBT activists should keep their philosophy in their homes and activist organizations? What about socialists, gun rights enthusiasts, environmentalists, civil rights activists, those concerned with animal rights or labor unionists? One may say that these individuals are not basing their assertion in religion and thus have a right to the public square. But when did we decide in our society that religious individuals have fewer rights than other individuals. Does having a faith mean that one must now be silent on political and social issues in our society?
Now we begin to see the real problem of the philosophy driving Christianophobia. Purporting to be religiously neutral it is instead highly religiously biased. It is not lost on me that although philosophically the barriers to public square interaction are supposed to apply to all religions that there is a tremendous focus on certain Christian groups. None of my respondents indicated hesitation to support political action from Christian progressives such as Al Sharpton or Jim Wallis. Only Christian conservatives are deemed unworthy to participate in our public square. The attempt to eliminate them from the public square fails the argument of fairness. Of course individuals should be, and are, free to criticize the public and social programs offered by conservative Christians. However to suggest that conservative Christians do not have the right to argue in the public square while this right is reserved for other Christians, those of other faiths and those of no faith is the very definition of unfairness. It is treating a group one does not like in a way that one would not treat others. Contrary to the myth, conservative Christians do not deserve to be treated in that way anymore than other social groups.
However, some will argue that Christians are being treated differently because they have brought this upon themselves with their intolerance and unwilling to allow others to express themselves. Of course those individuals do not seem to be concerned about the intolerance of a city’s council attempt to remove a business because they do not like the beliefs of the business’s owner. They also do not seem motivated to penalize a social movement that at times attempts to physically silence those that disagree with them. No one is arguing that the groups connected to these illiberal actions should be barred from the public square. Indeed, all social groups and movements have individuals who act in an unbearable manner. To single out conservative Christians for removal from the public square because of their worst offenders is unfair and undeserved for the vast majority of conservative Christians. I suspect that such singling out is due more to disagreement with Christian tenets than to any systematic assessment that Christians are qualitatively worse actors than those in other social movements.
I acknowledged that some individuals are emotionally preordained to not accept arguments that Christians can be unfairly treated. Even though these individuals have these emotional motivations, I am still obligated to make the logical observation that if Americans are supposed to have equal access to the public square then that access should not be taken away because one does not like what a group advocates. It is not adequate to seek to remove individuals from the public square because we do not like them. It is not fair. Fairness is debating individuals in the public square instead of excommunicating them from it. I can respect that some individuals are emotionally inhibited to accept this notion of fairness when directed at Christians, but I am not going to let these perceptions be used to justify religious bigotry without challenge. Decisions on how groups should be treated should not mostly rest on the opinions of those with unpleasant encounters with those groups. Instead, rational assessment on what is a fair treatment must be the strongest factor in determining such treatment.
I have found that a desire to remove Christians from the public square, and not merely disagree with them, is tied to the worst excesses of Christianophobia. I have touched on some of these excesses in previous blogs. For example, I pointed out in my first blog of this series that a powerful academic bias against conservative Christians exists (If you do not think it does exists then look at the evidence I discussed in a previous blog. If you argue in the comments that such bias is nonexistent and you have not read that blog then do not expect me to respect your arguments.) Christianophobia predicts, accurately in my opinion, that this unfairness is motivated by a desire to keep Christian ideas out of academic discourse. If we believe that people should be treated equally then we have to see the myth that conservative Christians deserve mistreatment in academia as a false moral claim. Only if someone accepts the idea that Christians deserve to be excluded from the public square due to their particular religious beliefs can we accept the notion that Christians deserve Christianophobia.