Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Negative stereotypes of Evangelicals I

Cruising through, I came across this video entitled: "Why Evangelicals are Scary." (A clip of Christians speaking out in favor of creationism). What struck me was how easily the author of the post labeled all evangelicals as "scary" and that no one in the comments objected.

Imagine the response if other groups were similarly denounced. How about:
"Why Muslims are Scary"
"Why Jews are Scary"
"Why African-Americans are Scary"
"Why Asians are Scary"
"Why Disabled People are Scary"
"Why Gays are Scary"
"Why (fill in the blank) are Scary"

I would hope that fair-minded people would object to this kind of labeling, but somehow slander of Evangelicals is pretty much accepted.


sarah said...

I had a very similar experience yesterday on this very topic. I was listening to talk on national identity, immigration, and "the good society." The presenter was discussing the meanings associated with two American icons, Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty, and how they play into the public debate on immigration. He flashed this picture in his powerpoint presentation, which is unarguably a very interesting (scary?) reinterpretation of Lady Liberty but really has nothing to do with immigration. To top it off, he refused to offer his own interpretation of the statue, which, in my opinion does not require a very in-depth knowledge of the Judeo-Christian tradition to do. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Christian nationalist and do not find the meaning behind this statue to be very useful or edifying. But if you're going to put the picture up there, at least make it something more than just a "ha ha, look at those crazy-ass Evangelicals!" I agree with you that presenting such an image created by another religious group would certainly not be tolerated with the same snickers and snorts...

Brad Wright said...

That's surprising that the speaker wouldn't even offer an interpretation of why it mattered. Maybe in academics a kick to Evangelicals is a safe crowd pleaser?

sarah said...

That's what I'm thinking, though in reality it's really a shameful intolerance of diversity. I'm all for wariness surrounding groups and individuals who have or might use their influence in harmful ways (as segments of the Church have historically done). In this way, conservative Evangelicals are potentially scary in the sense that they have had strong sway in recent national politics/policies which many feel are harmful. But to make light of them as a group without at least a token of respect for what are sincerely held beliefs is inexcusable as far as I'm concerned. Especially when doing so would require no more than one breath.

Brad Wright said...

I agree that some Evangelicals are scary, but so too are some members of just about any group. This highlights an often recognized problem with stereotypes--ignoring in-group variation and assigning to the individual characteristics assumed (incorrectly) to apply to the group.

sarah said...

Right on.

trrish said...

to me, there are two issues. One is that the person who titled it said "evangelicals" rather than "creationists" or, "People who believe in creationism are scary". I don't think the two are synonyms, necessarily. The other is using the stupid technique of sweeping generalization. But not saying "some", they imply "all" and that is classic talk-radio, freaky blogger behavior. When I encounter it, I think "not worth my time".

I am a Christian, and I do find certain people who believe in creationism scary. I also find some evangelicals, some Muslims, and a host of other people scary. :-)

Brad Wright said...

I agree. The working principle seems to be that if you can find 1 example of nutty Christians/ Evangelicals, then it's time to tee-off on everyone.

I suppose, though, this is just stereotypes 101, and something that many groups have experienced much more severely than Evangelicals.

Still, it's frustrating since it's sometimes done by individuals who would otherwise preach diversity and multiculturalism.

jpu said...

i think the excuse/justification is that majority groups are afforded no equal consideration. only minorities seem to be protected from class slander, as they have to suffer from so many other injustices. maybe it's a way of administering equal suffering to the majority group. i don't know for sure but it's a readily apparent phenomenom. i only took one Soc class at UConn but i'm no professor in it... ;-)
thanks for the link. i like your blog.
God is good

Brad Wright said...

I think that you're right about it having something to do with majority/ minority groups status (along with lots of other factors).


Corey said...

The scariness of evangelicals is rooted in a complex social alchemy.

(1) No one really knows what evangelical means. Sure, there are theologians like Carl F. Henry (search Wikipedia, I'd provide a link but the linage function in comments doesn't seem to work right)... who define evangelical as a theological orientation that is distinct from fundamentalism. There are others who frame evangelical more as a social identity only loosely based on theology. This later group participates in identity politics... one is an evangelical if he or she attends a certain kind of church (the people they hang out with) engages in certain kinds of behavior (voting, small group, whatever), refrains from certain behaviors (drinking, smoking), etc. In this case evangelicals span all kinds of finer distinctions. Political leaders like Falwell, Dobson, and the figure formerly known as Ted Haggard cynically exploit this identity movement for political power. And lets not kid ourselves about those leaders and their role. They are not ministers, they are political hacks.

(2) The entire debate in what James Davidson Hunter once called Culture Wars pits true believers of mutually antagonistic worldviews in a debate that is doomed to escalate. What is ironic is that both of these sides gain strength through the perception of persecution. That the implications of this battle are for the meaning of life, the universe, and everything (hat tip to Douglas Adams) only intensifies resolve. Just to take one example, evangelicals (as an identity movement) are threatened by same-sex unions. This undermines a core principle of the identity construct. At the same time, gays and lesbians see this reaction as a threat to their existence. Both sides feed on persecution of the other and the cycle continues on and on. Hunter was examining these dynamics two decades ago, Christian Smith studied this in the mid 90s, and little if anything has changed today.

So to come back to your original point, Brad, the left's (for lack of a better term... Hunter used progressive) singling out of Evangelicals is anchored to an institutionalized squable that appears not to be leaving anytime soon. The other groups you mention are not as tightly connected to this construct. Now, if and when any of those groups gain marketshare in the identity politics arena, I suppose they will join the fray.

Brad Wright said...

Wow. Nice sociological analysis Corey! You hit upon some general social processes at play here.

Makes me wonder, though, if there are other processes unique to religion/ Christianity.

jpu said...

processes unique to Christianity? the supernatural concept of spiritual warfare come to mind.
God is good

tah2002 said...

I find anyone who is religious to be scary. It terrifies me, what some people will blindly believe.

mrsizer said...

tah, after you read Kant, Augustine, Aquinas, and Lewis drop me an email and we can discuss "blindly" - take your time, they are heavy going (and I haven't finished, yet).

Have you heard of the Jesuits? They are a religious order renowned for their intellectual rigor and teaching for the last 1000 or so years.

Sorry my first post here is feeding a troll but that "blindly" thing sets me off every time (and I'm not even a Christian - just aware of our civilization's history).

On topic: You won't hear much about "scary Muslims" in the media because the scary muslims kill the people who publish such things.

Brad Wright said...

I think that TAH has accurately described a leading stereotype of religious people... that we believe blindly.

Certainly some Christians believe in God without having put much thought into it, but I would imagine that there also some atheists or agnostics who haven't put much thought into it as well.

So really, the content of one's beliefs, and the critical attention given to them, are two separate dimensions, no?