“An Increasing Demonization of Christianity in Our Culture”

“An Increasing Demonization of Christianity in Our Culture” October 31, 2015

In a World Net Daily article about the Oregon shooting a while back, I came upon this:

Some reports suggest that the killer’s focus was “religion” instead of Christianity. But Michael Brown, talk radio host, WND columnist and author of “Outlasting the Gay Revolution,” says the question of whether or not Harper-Mercer asked students if they were Christian misses the larger point.

“This much we do know: There has been an increasing demonization of Christianity in our culture,” Brown said.

To start out with the obvious, the Oregon shooter was focused on neither Christianity nor religion. He appears to have asked his victims about their religion as a form of small talk, not as a deciding (or even relevant) factor in choosing his victims. But what I want to discuss, here, is the larger point—Brown’s argument that “there has been an increasing demonization of Christianity in our culture.”

First, a quick story. Recently, on a visit to my very religious hometown, I found myself in a Barnes & Nobles looking for a Bible for my daughter. More specifically, I wanted a book of Bible stories that she could read that would provide more detail than the Bible story book my mother had given her several years ago, but that also would provide the historical context and scholars’ ideas about the development of the Bible from a scholarly perspective. I was going to ask the children’s area employee but decided against it, because you just don’t do things like that in my hometown. 

This idea that Christianity is being increasingly demonized in the U.S. probably sounds ridiculous to anyone else who grew up in the Bible belt, and to anyone who lives in the Bible belt today, and indeed, much of the rest of the country. I am open about being nonreligious in the hippie midwest college town where I live, but elsewhere in the midwest, I tend to keep that to myself—the response I’d get just isn’t worth it.

I suspect Brown is actually talking about public opinion of evangelicals specifically, not Christianity overall (evangelicals have a problematic tendency to equate evangelicalism with all of Christianity). I further suspect that Brown is referring to an increasing willingness on the part of the public to call evangelicals out on their bigotry toward various groups, and especially on their bigotry toward the LGBTQ community. Remember that evangelical opposition to homosexuality has manifested itself politically, in attempts to limit LGBTQ rights.

But lets look at some data, shall we? According to a 2014 Pew Forum report, Americans view evangelical Christians more positively than they view Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, atheists, or Muslims, and only one or two percentage points less positively than they view Jews or Catholics. If you lump evangelicals and Catholics together and simply label them “Christians” (I have no idea why the study doesn’t include mainline Protestants, but okay), you find that Christians are viewed more positively in the U.S. than any other group except for Jews. So much for the demonization of Christianity.

But actually, I suspect that what Brown is really talking about is that “Unaffiliated” line in the figure above. An increasing number of Americans are not affiliated with any religion—the much talked about “nones.” These individuals aren’t necessarily atheists—in fact, most of them aren’t—but I suspect they’re the group Brown is thinking of when he talks about the increased “demonization” of Christianity. And if you look at the above figure, you’ll see that unaffiliated Americans view evangelical Christians more negatively than they view any other group. But even this does not back up Brown’s argument, because unaffiliated individuals are far more positive toward Catholics than they are toward evangelicals, and Catholics are Christians too.

To the extent that unaffiliated individuals have negative perceptions of evangelicals, it’s not about theology, per se. It’s more about some serious problems in the way evangelicals have been treating other people over the past several decades. They don’t just believe homosexuality is sin, they’ve also actively opposed allowing same-sex couples to marry. They don’t just believe the rapture is coming soon, they actively work against efforts to mitigate climate change. They don’t just believe abortion is the taking of a life, they are also working actively to make it harder for women to access birth control regardless of their beliefs.

If evangelicals have a PR problem, they only have themselves to blame. But rather than evaluate their own role in creating a negative public image, evangelicals are more likely to simply fall back on tried and true persecution narratives. It’s like telling a group of executives that their company and an image problem, and having them respond by railing against the public and then saying there’s no way to fix their image problem anyway, because it’s predestined. With that mindset, these executives would never take steps to improve their image—and in failing to do so, they would only ensure that their negative public image continues.

Actually, it’s an odd situation. Evangelicals like Brown decry the “demonization” of Christianity, but having the world view Christianity positively is literally against their theology. Growing up in an evangelical community, I was often reminded of Jesus words that Jesus told his disciples that “ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” To not be hated would mean one was not following Christ. In fact, give the centrality of these teachings to my evangelical upbringing, I’m rather surprised evangelicals like Brown aren’t rejoicing in this perceived “demonization” of Christianity. After all, shouldn’t that mean they’re truly following Christ?

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