Anti-religious bigots threaten freedom in U.S.

From: R. Andrew Robertson


A handful of Christian church leaders recently wrote in favor of amending Indiana’s civil rights code to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They seem to have adopted the fashionable conceit that the way to relieve societal discord is to divide us into an ever-expanding number of discrete groups, each with its own narrative of grievance, and to embed those groups and grievances permanently in law and policy.

Though absurd on its face, that notion has guided public policy at all levels of government for the past 50 years. Had it been successful we would not now have crybullies afflicting U.S. college campuses with increasingly trivial complaints and assertions of “microaggressions.” We would not see craven administrators supinely accommodating them and would not have social networks aflame with calculated group-based indignation. Perhaps it is time we tried something different.

The writers are too generous in presuming good intentions in all parties to this debate. An obvious counter-example is Apple CEO Tim Cook. During the “Two Minutes Hate” directed at Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he whined that Apple might not be able to continue doing business in our state, even as it operated in countries where homosexuality is a crime, punishable even by death.

Such patent moral posturing may be easy to identify and dismiss, but the letter writers would leave us exposed to a more insidious threat to religious freedom. I mean the existence of a small but very passionate group of anti-religious bigots, as identified by social scientists.

Two of these researchers, George Yancey and David A. Williamson, have covered this subject in a number of commendable books, most recently in “So Many Christians, So Few Lions.” They find that anti-religious bigots in the United States, whom they term Christianophobes, tend to be white, older, relatively wealthy and relatively well-educated.

That describes many people who certainly are not bigoted at all. What distinguishes some of them as having an anti-religious animus? They believe Christians, and particularly evangelicals, to be childlike, poorly educated, intolerant, easily led, sexually repressed and desirous of theocracy. They dehumanize these Christians, describing them with terms like “sheep” and “lemmings.” They also avoid contact with them, reinforcing their stereotypes.

These anti-religious bigots largely inhabit a social environment in which advocating the direct proscription of religion would be uncomfortable. Their high socioeconomic status, though, gives them opportunities to express their biases in more subtle ways. Most importantly here, they are very willing to twist existing laws and regulations for the explicit purpose of suppressing others’ religious expression.

As noted, these bigots tend to spare mainline Protestants from their contempt, and it is interesting to see that the letter writers all represent such Christian denominations. They believe that changing Indiana’s civil rights code will not weaken “the free exercise of our religious faith.” Just so. It is not their religious expression that is at risk. For now.