Lately I’ve had the idea of essays pairing Hollywood movies with scholarly works I am reading: American Sniper, say, with the classic book On Killing, for example. By some strange coincidence I walked out of a showing of Kingsman just days after completing sociologists George Yancey and David A. Williamson’s new book, So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States?
I don’t like that word “Christianaphobia.” The evil and disturbed progressive man who killed three Muslims last week did not hate Christians in particular; he hated God-lovers in general. As the New York Times reports:
Mr. Hicks appeared to have a deep dislike of all religion. On his Facebook page, nearly all of his posts expressed support for atheism, criticism of Christian conservatives, or both. Last month he posted a photograph that said, ‘Praying is pointless, useless, narcissistic, arrogant, and lazy.’
At her news conference, Hicks’s wife Karen felt the need to assert that her husband, while clearly a murderer, was not a bigot. As proof she offered that he supported abortion and gay marriage. (Note here the peculiar dominant cultural assumption that progressive views inoculate a person against all charges of bigotry or hatred by definition.)
The phenomenon emerging among the educated left-wing classes is better dubbed theomisia, or the hatred of God, and by extension God-lovers. I did not coin the term “theomisia,” but it is a good word for the kind of animus on display in the Facebook page of the Chapel Hill murderer.
Kingsman’s otherwise innocuous and comic plot involves a billionaire villain who decides that, to save Earth and mankind from global warming, he will depopulate the Earth. His plan is to offer the world a free cell phone containing a chip that can excite the hatred centers of the brain and remove inhibitions. Phones in hand, the earth’s people will slaughter one other, leaving only a handful of powerful and rich people whom our villain saves on his version of the Ark, a bunker in the snowy mountains.
Before our villain launches his plan to wipe out almost all of mankind, he decides to test his device on what appears to be a small Southern Baptist church, incongruously located close to London (maybe I missed something). Naturally, this congregation is identified as a hate group, a sort of fictional Westboro that hates gays, Jews, fornication, divorce, abortion, and black people, openly and generally.
But Kingsman dwells long, lovingly, and lasciviously on these Christians, with a cross and an altar behind them, hacking, shooting, and axing each other, while the hero (temporarily under the influence of the villain’s evil machine) joins even more efficiently in killing Christians and emerging unscathed. These are the only religious people in the movie, and the stage for their violent deaths is full of icons of ordinary Christianity — an altar, a cross, pews.
The violence is both voluptuous and visceral, and the audience is clearly meant to libidinously enjoy it, watching our suave hero massacre Christians with maximum blood and gore, our enjoyment made more complete and excusable by the fact that the villain’s machine made him do it.
Just a bit of harmless fun, you might say?
Maybe I would have passed over the scene, notwithstanding that I’ve never seen anything like it from Hollywood before, except I had just read Yancey and Williamson’s book, which documents the presence of such murderous fantasies among a vocal minority of progressive educated elites. Stay with me a moment more.
Yancey in particular is a widely published scholar, most of whose work focuses on racial prejudice, and how to overcome it. In particular, he studies the effect on prejudice of boundary-busting identities and institutions, such as integrated church congregations and interracial marriage. (I suspect being a black Christian scholar like Yancey in America may bust boundaries in some people’s heads all by itself.)
The new book begins with a quantitative analysis of the American National Election Survey (ANES) in 2012, examining relative animosity based on race and religion among voters. The scholars defined relative dislike as people who listed a particular racial or religious group one standard deviation lower in warmth than other groups in America. What they found is that religious prejudice is much more prominent than racial prejudice — which I believe is a signifier of its greater social acceptability, among other things. Surprisingly to me, dislike of “fundamentalists” was even higher than dislike of Muslims. Islamaphobia is acknowledged at least as a possibility, but prejudice against conservative Christians doesn’t even have a name.
But the difference that leapt out for Yancey and Williamson is between the social groups who are anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim or anti-black, and those who dislike conservative Christians: the anti-fundamentalist animus was the prejudice of the powerful, not (like hatred of Muslims or Jews) of the relatively powerless. “Our research confirms the finding of our 2010 study that people who harbor animosity towards conservative Christians hold relatively high levels of social power.”
Note that this is nothing like a majority of progressives. In these scholars’ qualitative interviews, the vast majority of cultural progressives were quite civilized in expressing their political and moral disagreement with conservative Christians, but a significant minority of them felt free to express a dehumanizing hatred that was open, unabashed, and crude:
“I want them all to die in a fire,” said one man with a doctorate. “I would be in favor of establishing a state for them. . . . If not then sterilize them so they can’t breed more,” said a middle aged man with a master’s degree. “The only good Christian is a dead Christian,” said another under-45-year-old man with a doctorate. “I abhor them and I wish we could do away with them,” said a middle-aged woman with a master’s degree. “A tortuous death would be too good for them,” said a college-educated man between the ages of 36 and 45. “They should be eradicated without hesitation or remorse,” said an elderly woman with a master’s degree.
Who was Hollywood entertaining with Kingsman’s groundbreaking displays of orgiastic pleasure in witnessing a Christian massacre? All the good people above, who would never, I am sure, commit violence against Christians, but for whom the idea of doing so gives a guilty pleasure.
Neither the scholars nor I are worried about pogroms against Southern Baptists, to be sure. But the degree of dehumanizing hatred openly expressed by socially powerful people is telling us something.
Yancey and Williamson asked these anti-Christian progressives (who I remind you these scholars document are only a minority of progressives) what laws they would support to “deal with” conservative Christians. The majority of liberals acquitted themselves well in rejecting legal restraints, citing the First Amendment and core liberal values. But a substantial minority (37 percent) could think of many laws they wished to pass, from stripping churches of tax exemptions, to banning homeschooling.
Astonishingly, many well-educated progressives in this sample supported laws stripping conservative Christians of basic human rights:
“Restrict their ability to become judges, senators, representatives, member of Cabinet, military chief of staff and other powerful members of government,” said a man over 75 with a bachelor’s degree. “Should not be able to make decisions regarding the law, they should somehow have to be supervised if they are working with other people (drastic, I know),” said a woman under 45 with a master’s degree. “We should put in place mandatory extreme prison sentences for anyone or any group that attempts to take away civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution,” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. “Churches should not be allowed to provide orphanages and adoption programs,” said one elderly man with a doctorate. “I think we should restrict the indoctrination of children in religious dogma and ritual” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. Conservative Christians should “not be allowed to hold political office, be police etc., serve in the armed forces,” said another middle aged man with a doctorate.
“No academic inquiry has investigated how individuals from a highly educated and politically powerful subculture may express attitudes that dehumanize out-groups,” reports Yancey and Williamson. Until now.
So I am concerned when Hollywood begins to gratify the kind of hatred on display by the minority of progressives, and for the same reasons Yancey and Williamson are concerned about the minority of socially empowered progressives who express open hatred, dehumanization, and even murderous fantasies about Christians. The fact that such views are openly expressed by even a minority of educated elites likely means that they are acceptable expressions in powerful subcultures.
But I wish I were only concerned about a movie. The truth this research reveals is that a subset of socially powerful progressives really viscerally enjoy the idea of using the law to put conservative Christians in their place. This week a judge in Washington State threw the book at a Christian grandmother who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. World Net Daily described it aptly, “Judge Authorizes Personal Ruin for Florist.”
If you favor gay marriage, especially, go look at this video of Baronnelle Stutzman and consider whether this is the kind of person you want to ruin for what she did. Not only her business but her home, her savings, and the pension of this grandmother could be used to pay the lawyers and to reimburse the couple for what this judge surely feels is not just a violation of law, but a horrible moral crime that must be punished. Animus is the word for that kind of overkill, and the thing is, it is not being demonstrated by rednecks or the uneducated, but by judges.
What kind of person sees justice in or enjoys the idea of depriving someone of her home, her pension, and her savings for asking a gay couple to find another florist?
Meanwhile in another sign of the times, in San Francisco, government officials are responding with fury to news that the Archbishop is requiring Catholic teachers in Catholic schools to accept morality clauses saying that they will publicly abide by Catholic moral teaching.
“Catholic schools exist to affirm and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as held and taught by his Catholic Church,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said, explaining why the existing morality clause has been clarified to explicitly include publicly opposing by word or deed Church teachings against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, contraceptives, and artificial insemination.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “As San Francisco’s archbishop tries to make its Catholic schools more Catholic, city and state officials are poised to push back, saying any effort to discriminate against employees will be met with legal action.”
Eight legislators weighed in with a moral admonishment to Archbishop Cordileone that the Catholic morality clauses, “conflict with settled areas of law and foment a discriminatory environment.”
We learn from Yancey and Williamson that a substantial minority of progressives would like to strip “fundamentalists” of their basic human rights in a democracy. And a new set of judges and powerful politicians from San Francisco to D.C. are now acting on these ugly impulses.
Most gay people and the majority of progressives don’t approve of this, I know. But live and let live is not a natural human impulse; it’s a cultivated virtue, and avoiding groupthink is hard for all human beings, regardless of their political persuasion. The first step is for all of us to stop indulging in and enjoying the hatred of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, conservative Christians, and gay people alike.
Hollywood, are you listening?
— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.