I enjoyed Bill Maher’s tirade on his show Real Time Friday night, during its “New Rules” segment, about the ridiculous notion of Christians being persecuted in the United States. He started off by quoting a number of influential conservatives on the subject of supposed Christian oppression and showing just how over the top their words were.
Rick Santorum says that the treatment of Christians in America is so bad, we should keep in mind Nazi Germany: “…where you go from Christians — Jews, obviously, but also Christians — being not just persecuted but put to death.” Again, 70% of America is Christian. Who’s going to put them to death? The Hindus?
Yes, once again, some conservative Christians are using hyperbolic language that perceives a slippery slope from a loss of Christian privilege to mass martyrdom. The idea is ridiculous, and I was glad to hear Maher (as usual) skewer such egregious overstatement. But as spot-on as Maher’s comments were, I know that they will, alas, not get this particular brand of conservative Christian to reconsider their claims. For I am certain that a conservative Christian (CC) will accuse Maher of quoting Santorum and company out of context.
CCs look at the world differently than a lot of other people do. To them, their faith isn’t just something that they practice on Sunday and then compartmentalize to live and work in the secular world for the rest of the week. CCs see their faith as pervading their entire life, especially the moments that they don’t spend in church. For this reason, they see everything they do as an extension of their religion, and if anything compels them to do something they believe is against their faith, they will protest against doing it.
CCs see themselves as put upon for a variety of reasons, but the two most prominent at the moment are the growing rights of LGBT people and the Affordable Care Act’s mandate of certain forms of birth control, which they feel infringe on what they consider moral. When Ted Cruz says, “There’s no room for Christians in today’s Democratic Party,” what he likely means is that there is “no room” (actually, there is) for Democrats against marriage equality and against Obamacare (among other issues). Of course, that’s a narrow definition of “Christian,” but it gets the red meat delivered to a conservative political audience.
Science is increasingly telling us that LGBTs are born with their sexual orientation in their DNA, so their homosexuality is part of who they are. Consequently, when someone discriminates against a gay person, the government more and more sees that as prejudice against an individual for something that can’t be controlled. However, many CCs say that they don’t discriminate against gay people as individuals but against “the homosexual lifestyle,” a lifestyle that to them is manifested by immoral acts. In this way, CCs view gay people’s homosexuality as what they do. For this reason, CCs bristle at the comparing the gay-rights movement to the racial-equality movement of the 1960s.
So, when a CC is asked to do something that (in however small a way) furthers the acceptance, equality, or visibility of LGBTs, they see that as an infringement upon their religious beliefs. If the government has mechanisms in place that penalize anyone for discriminating against gay people, religious conservatives see that as the heavy hand of government forcing a person to violate his or her faith. Devout right-wingers probably think about instances like this when they use the term “anti-Christian fascism.”
The same thing goes for the Affordable Care Act’s requiring employers of large companies to provide birth control and abortion services to their female employees: this kind of a scenario would be seen as the government “coercing” a business owner of faith who is against contraception etc. to violate their religious beliefs. The CCs codified that perspective in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case, which publicized the owner of any establishment seeing their business as an extension of their faith, that their faith was not something that they merely professed in church.
When Sean Hannity speaks of the “liberal” media as anti-Christian, he probably means, in part, the information industry’s recent acknowledgement and dissemination of the views of the so-called “New Atheists,” like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, whose views CCs find offensive and inflammatory. He probably also means the news media constantly couching the gains for same-sex marriage as a civil-rights issue for LGBTs and not as a governmental appropriation of an exclusively opposite-sex institution revered by most Christians.
And meanwhile, efforts to ensure that the government isn’t favoring one religion over another (say, by removing the Ten Commandments from a courtroom) are seen as another governmental attack upon Christians. While the First Amendment protects most forms of religious practice and speech, CCs feel put upon if they can’t use the government as some kind of vehicle for Christianity (or at least monotheism), so they view the government affirming its secular status as intolerance against religion in general, and Christianity in particular.
If everything is the work of the CC’s deity, then everything is an extension of their religion, and anything that impinges on their everything may be seen to negatively affect their First Amendment religious rights.
In short, many conservative Christians want to be treated as though their religion is akin to race — or for that matter, to sexual orientation — as something that is inherently part of their biology. So, CCs strive to portray disrespecting or criticizing religion as something tantamount to racial discrimination. It’s issues like this that conservatives of faith — misguidedly, I believe — think about when they say Christianity is under attack in the good ole U.S.A.
I wish that there were something to say to this kind of conservative Christian to reorient their view of the non-(devoutly-)Christian world as something that is (for all intents and purposes) contaminated by sin. This is not something that everyone believes, and conservative Christians, in this officially secular society, need to get along with people outside their denomination as best as they can — without feeling that doing so violates their faith.
I wish that there were something to say to this kind of Christian conservative to make them see just how hyperbolic and unnecessary such slippery-slope and argumentum ad Hitlerum rhetoric is. If there were, then maybe the conservative Christians and the rest of America would at least be on the same page and have something politically sensible to argue about — and maybe even to agree on.