By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
What’s the Big Deal about the New Study on Christianophobia in the U.S.?
Two professors of Sociology just published their rigorous research on whether there is what may be called Christianophobia in America. They define Christianophobia as unreasonable hatred or fear of Christians. Their book: So Many Christians, So Few Lions, is printed by a mainstream academic publisher. This is significant in that the study is coming from the professional academic world versus what otherwise might be written off as incidental musings over isolated occurrences.
Isn’t this a biased study since at least one of the professors is a Christian?
No more than the fact that Yancey is black means he cannot say anything scientifically valid about racism. He has done significant studies on racism, and now, on Christianophobia.
So what did the authors, George Yancey and David Williamson, find?
First, they are finding that it is conservative Christians who are singled out. “Anti-Christian hostility is a phenomenon that conservative Christians have to deal with, but Christians in general usually escape this level of animosity” (p. 33).
Second, the authors observe : “Surprisingly, religious groups in general experience more animosity than racial groups” (p. 33; “As we have already seen in the … data, that animosity toward Christians is more prevalent than animosity toward people of color … “ p. 123, bold mine).
Third, a personal observation is that their work is based on a large national survey which helps toward having a valid research sample versus the common unscientific type polls by news groups we hear every day which tend to work with 1) too small a sample of people to draw larger conclusions, while often 2) self-selecting participants that already lean the way they hope the survey turns out (thus sample bias)!.
Yancey and Williams summarize what they have learned thus far.
An unknown percentage of individuals hate, mistrust, and/or fear conservative Christians to an extensive degree. We know from the information provided by the American National Election Survey [2012; involving 3,067 respondents] that their number is not likely miniscule since nearly a third of the country feels substantial relative hostility toward conservative Christians. The extent of relative hostility directed toward this group is at least as high as that directed at Muslims; thus those concerned about Islamophobia in the United States have as much reason to be concerned about this relative hostility toward conservative Christians—especially since those with this antipathy are more likely to be wealthy, educated, and white, thus to have greater per capita social power than the average American.
Our deeper exploration through qualitative data [open ended questionnaires with 3,577 reponspondents] indicates that at least some with relative hostility toward conservative Christians despise what they see as this group’s intolerance and homophobia. They [those exhibiting anti-Christian hostility] rely on stereotypes every bit as potent as those based on race, ethnicity, sex, or sexual preference. They show a personal mistrust of conservative Christians and consider them evil; as the opposite of respect and tolerance, this can be seen as bigotry. They fear Christians will take over our society and think of them as mindless sheep led by manipulative leaders. This dehumanization leaves some of them open to a societal rules that disparately impact conservative Christians. (p. 109).
Who is it that holds this animosity toward conservative Christians?
Basically, the hostility is rooted in an elite subculture involving those who may be generally described as: highly educated, white, wealthy, not highly religious, and identified as progressives (defined as an understanding of morality that minimizes traditional religious justifications and is determined by what the individual decides is best for him- or herself).
According to this elite subgroup, what is wrong with Christians?
Co-author George Yancey answered this question in an interview on the book with the Christian Post. He responds:
“In the minds of many of the respondents Christians are ignorant, intolerant and stupid individuals who are unable to think for themselves. The general image they have of Christians is that they are a backward, non-critical thinking, child-like people who do not like science and want to interfere with the lives of everyone else.
But even worse, they see ordinary Christians as having been manipulated by evil Christian leaders and will vote in whatever way those leaders want. They believe that those leaders are trying to set up a theocracy to force everybody to accept their Christian beliefs. So, for some with Christianophobia, this is a struggle for our society and our ability to move toward a progressive society. Christians are often seen as the great evil force that blocks our society from achieving this progressive paradise.”
What’s the big deal—how can such a small group be a problem for a Christian majority?
The concern arises from this being an elite small group with great formative power in our society due to wealth, along with influential positions in education, government, law courts, entertainment, journalism and media. The group forms an influential, and sometimes censoring, core of the “talking class” in our world. Yancey explains: “If you want to get elected to political office, then atheists are at a disadvantage since more people do not like them. But if you want to get a higher education, then you will run into a lot more people with power who hate Christians than who hate atheists.”
How are the findings on Christianophobia helpful?
Firstly, the study validates the experience of Christians who encounter anti-religious bigotry. There is a tendency, even among Christians, to minimize reports of those who experience anti-Christian hostility. I recall one Christian commenting on the movie God’s Not Dead, which follows the experience of a college freshman who encounters blatant and dogmatic attacks on his faith from his Philosophy professor. Her comment was, “The premise is so lame. That does not happen.” Unfortunately, this Christian is socially desensitized to the plight of her fellow believers. It really does happen, and is not merely accidental to academic life. It even happened to the present writer who was shocked speechless by one Professor of Anthropology’s hostile off the wall rant directed his way. Fortunately, a Jewish Anthropology graduate teaching assistant took up for me and redeemed the day. The study by Yancey and Williamson puts all this in reliable perspective. There is measurable anti-Christian hostility in our society.
Secondly, it is a matter of being truthful about what is going on in our time and place. The study documents “that some level of Christianophobia is present among certain powerful subcultures in our society. This helps us understand some actions in our society.”
Thirdly, in Yancey’s words: “People do not like to admit that they are biased or bigoted but often those disaffinities come out in other ways. Because of the attention rightly paid to bigotry . . . there is social pressure on those who take actions that may harm those groups to engage in introspection to make sure they are not being unfair.
I have seen a dearth of such introspection by those who make decisions that may harm Christians. I hope that this work will encourage such critical thinking among those with Christianophobia and perhaps help some to confront a bigotry they did not realize they possessed.”
Give me a good illustration of what’s going on in America!
The last question for Yancey during his Christian Post interview offers a helpful illustration. (I used editorial license to convert one phrase from crass to non-offensive.)
CP: Sociologist Peter Berger famously remarked that if Sweden is the most secular country and India is the most religious country, America has become a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. [Berger] added how many of the problems of America have to do with the fact that the Indians have become increasingly angry at the Swedes. In some ways, your book seems to present a correlate to that: the Swedes have become increasingly angry at the Indians. Do you agree?
Yancey: I think that is a great way to think about it. I would put it this way: Because of their numbers the Indians historically had a lot of political and cultural power in our society. They may not be in the elite political positions but the Swedes in those positions could not afford to ignore what they wanted. The Swedes for years documented the excesses and biases of the Indians. Over time, they begin to look down on the Indians. But they also gained educational and cultural power and begin to ignore the concerns of the Indians. But the Swedes never considered that many of the social processes that produce bigotries in the Indians also can produce bigotries in themselves. They became quite adept at seeing social dysfunctions in the Indians but not in themselves. While part of the reason for this book is to provide some insight to protect the Indians, I also see it useful for helping the Swedes engage in the introspection they need to deal with their own failings and to live by their own stated values.
For more information, besides reading their book, there is a three-part interview with George Yancey starting here:
** As always, the opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way reflect the philosophies or principles of Williamson County Public Library, its staff members, their parents, children, friends, or housepets.