As I get older, I find I have less and less patience for willful ignorance, especially when it manifests itself in ways that lead to broad and false generalizations about, and against, the supposed motives, beliefs, or proclivities of others.
So when I see the headline here at PJM Faith that “Three in ten secularists fear conservative Christians are a threat to their physical safety,” I have zero empathy for those three in ten who believe such an idiotic – yes, idiotic – thing.
The reason these fearful secularists do not even merit the respect inherent in empathy, or even mild sympathy, is that their ignorance is either willful or wildly negligent. Their fears are so obviously wrong, and so easily made to look foolish, that it is indeed a mark against their character that they hold such beliefs.
Granted, fear of the unknown is an emotion that stems not from rational analysis, but from something atavistic in the human psyche. Fear is primal, and thus in many situations is excusable even if mistaken.
Yet – and this is important – primal fears that can be excused in an immediate moment of conflict or apparent crisis can and should, upon reflection, be jettisoned rather easily if the fear is based on obvious falsehoods. If you’re afraid that a thrown foam ball will hurt you like a thrown baseball will, for example, your fear should go away as soon as the foam ball hits you.
We have a special responsibility to assess and manage our own fears if they lead us to think the worst about, and thus leave us open to acting in detrimental ways towards, other individuals or groups. To persist in holding fears about others even if the fears are demonstrably and laughably false is to commit gross negligence or worse.
All of which leads us back to this survey showing that a third of secularists are literally, physically afraid of conservative Christians. What this is, is the persistence of ignorance and bigotry despite a complete and utter lack of reason for them – indeed, in the face of copious evidence that the very opposite of such fear is actually warranted.
Evangelical Christians are by far the most generous of all Americans in terms of charitable giving or volunteer work. Far more of them donate, and they donate far larger percentages of their income – regardless of income levels. They even tip servers more generously than non-evangelicals.
And people in conservative states give more than people in liberal states, while the Philanthropy Roundtable reports that “people who volunteer at secular organizations are a bit undergiving.”
Charity, of course, doesn’t necessarily preclude violence, but it isn’t likely that the same people moved to generosity will be serious physical threats to others.
Cops, who should know, believe that religion reduces the likelihood of crime. And even a columnist at the liberal Huffington Post has written that “violent crime decreased as greater numbers of people were religiously active in a community, according to a study analyzing crime and religion data from 182 counties in three states.” (The correlation did not exist among those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”) He cited several other studies showing much the same result – and significant other research (not cited by him) shows the same.
Not only that, but the more traditionalist of Christian faith traditions tend to produce the least violent crime. A comprehensive study showed this: “Specifically, when religious uniformity favors Evangelical Protestants or Catholics, there are associated reductions in White and Latino violence, respectively.” (Black results were inconclusive, partly because the data was more difficult to cross-tabulate.)
So, the question arises: Whence this absurd fear of conservative Christians held by such an unusually large percentage of secularists? (And, for that matter, by Jews, more of whom [20.7 percent] fear conservative Christians than those [13.1 percent] who fear Muslims, despite evangelical Christians’ loud and widespread embrace of Israel compared to widespread Islamist desire to wipe Judaism from the Earth’s surface.)
After all, only a smattering of knowledge of Christianity is required to see that Christianity preaches a Savior of love, of mercy and forgiveness. Secularists seem to see Christians as particularly judgmental – but again, this is nonsense, because Christianity uniquely teaches that our loving God, not man, is both judge and redeemer. Of all major religions, traditional Christianity is in many ways the one that most stresses a fulsome combination of mercy, humility, selflessness, and hope.
This is not complicated stuff. It’s ready, abundantly available information. It proclaims itself from every page of the New Testament, and its fruits are obvious in the church-led responses to every natural disaster.
To believe that conservative Christians are physical threats is to willfully insist on sheer and utter falsehoods in the face of all demonstrable reality. It is a shameful thing to believe, and a thoroughly disreputable fear. It is a sign of a bigotry that merits not the remotest sanction. Those who hold tightly to such fears should grow up already.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication later this month by Liberty Island Media.