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I remember watching Barbara Walters interview some now-forgotten minor evangelical celebrity on television years ago.  I was watching with my mother, who I will tell you now, is a very perceptive person.  As we watched, we were both struck by a strange disconnectedness on Walters’ part.  By the way that her eyes glazed over and her smile became static, painted on, it was clear that she wasn’t engaged.  “She doesn’t understand what she’s hearing,” my mom said.  “She doesn’t get it, and she can’t connect with this person.”  Being the perceptive person she is, my mom was right.  Try as she might, Ms Walters couldn’t identify with the thoughts and ideas she was hearing, and that’s why she was unable to make a connection.  All she could do was smile and nod, and wait for the guest’s mouth to stop moving.

This story is illustrative of an unfortunate truth about our society.  There are still tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the United States today, as there have been for centuries.  But more and more, the rest of the country doesn’t understand our language, our perspective, our aspirations, or our place in American culture.

It probably goes without saying that evangelical protestants will never again occupy the dominant position they once did in this country, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.  But for many years there’s been a widespread attitude of tolerance (or indifference) from most Americans toward conservative Christians.  Sadly, it seems that Americans are becoming less and less tolerant of genuine religious faith with each passing generation.  If political commentary in the US is an indicator, it would seem that Christian faith is now openly frowned upon, to the point that many contributors to the public discourse (particularly bloggers and their commentors) are openly contemptuous of any expression of real faith by public figures.  There’s a sort of tolerance for religious affiliation, but that has more to do with a trendy, showy multiculturalism than real openness.

The expressions of scorn for Christians have become more common and more strident lately, and I think it’s because the general public misunderstands who we Christians are and what we want out of life.  It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know, and they don’t know us.  If they think that we want to force our morals on them, if they think that we look down on them or feel superior to them, if they surmise that we want to control their lifestyle opportunities and conscript them all into the army of our God, how can we be surprised at the hostility?

Is this anti-Christian bigotry?  Maybe, sometimes.  But I don’t think we can be spared from blame.  There have always been people who behaved thoughtlessly and spoke without regard for the feelings of others, and who cloaked their words and actions in evident religious fervor.  I’ll always remember Jerry Falwell taunting Ellen DeGeneres after she revealed her homosexuality, calling her Ellen Degenerate.  That made me shudder at the time – imagine how it must have affected nonbelievers.  There are also those who substitute their personal preferences for good Biblical doctrine, such as those who consider certain types of music to be evil or those who insist that only one translation of the Bible is suitable for use in church.  Then too, think of those who justify racist attitudes by citing scripture or by remembering “good Christian folks” of days gone by who also were racists.

We may also be able to thank the so-called Islamofascists for some aspect of this development, as they have demonstrated how badly a religion-saturated philosophy can go wrong.  But in the bigger picture, I think the wide and growing decline in participation in organized religion has given us a new generation of young adults who don’t know anything about religious faith and who don’t have any meaningful relationships with religious people, and who are consequently filled with fear and dread where religion is concerned.  Because of the general trend toward incivility and the anonymity of the internet, they have no qualms about expressing their distaste for others who they find threatening, and too often they find anyone threatening whose faith informs their actions.



  1. I definitely agree that the rather vocal hypocrites within the Christian faith have much to do with turning people away from Christianity. It’s unfortunate that they are the ones so often seen and heard instead of people who actually reflect the actions and words of Jesus.

    However, I disagree slightly on your sentiment that young people find themselves threatened by people of faith. I happen to know many religious people my age (around 20), which is unusual considering I myself am not religious.

    Of course, there are still many people who are very much deadset against religion, but I don’t really think it’s because they don’t have any meaningful relationships with people who are religious. I think it has more to do with the distasteful religious people they’ve encountered, such as groups that stand in the middles of college campuses holding signs saying “Repent or go to hell” and the like. Not a pleasant depiction of Christianity.

  2. Cody, maybe if I were to rewrite this article I would instead end it this way: “I think the wide and growing decline in participation in organized religion has given us a new generation in which a large percentage of young adults don’t know much about the Christian faith and who don’t have any meaninful relationships with Christians of genuine and meaningful faith, and who are consequently skeptical about all Christians. In light of the general trend toward incivility and the anonymity of the internet, they have no qualms about expressing their skepticism and distaste for others in the most scornful terms they can muster.”

  3. Two comments: 1) I experienced this hostility in the early 70s when I first became a Christian, a bias that said evangelical and fundamental Christians are idiots. I don’t think it’s new. I just think both the idea of being “born again” and the response to this notion have become much more public then they were in the 60s, partly a result of the 70s revivals. 2) I think this is entirely to be expected. Even if Christians act perfectly in the marketplace (and we don’t — public Christians say alot of things that peg us as bigoted fools — and of course, the worst statements get the biggest press), the message will always be misunderstood: 1 Cor. 2: 14.

  4. Great post and comments – sending along a trackback. I pray more Christians will catch on to the ideas you’ve presented here.

  5. The only thing it seems that any Christian scan do in this world, especially those who are percieved in the wrong way only because of his or her faith, is act as best as they can in every situation. People can only determine their own actions and beliefs. They may go unrecognized by the world, but I don’t think the goal of Christianity is to impress other people or force beliefs on to other people. The goal, at least one, is to do God’s will for the sake of it being the right thing to do (not just to get in Heaven or appear holy).

  6. lpkalal, I don’t think the hostility is new, but the openness is. There was no Bill Maher profaning the name of God on TV, or Jon Stewart, or internet bloggers…Madaleine Murray O’Hair was an oddity for this very reason. Her hostility wouldn’t seem so unusual in this day and age, but back then it was.

    My two cents, anyway.

  7. Fist: I agree. I didn’t say it so well. I was raised by an academic home which was openly hostile, but the public hositility was certainly not there. I remember when the word “born again” became “public” with Jimmy Carter’s openness about his faith. I was so excited that we were “out.” Didn’t realize that that the hostility would become as open, too!

  8. Part of the problem is that in occidental culture, there is a general perceived attitude that religion, faith, prayer, etc. should be private. After all, we are aghast with how Muslims in the Islamic countries are very public with their religion, and how many times has public prayer been scrutinized and eventually become abandoned? Many evangelicals just really want to do is bring back public prayer, or if that cannot work out, at least the whole “moment of silence” thing. Even if someone was not religious at the very least, perhaps such people could use the time to reflect about their lives at the very least.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Some people don’t want to be bothered with religion but I think the vast majority of people simply aren’t satisfied with the options they see.  I think this post puts it well.    […]

  2. By thunder-snow! « the bassoon chick on 16 Dec 2007 at 11:27 pm

    […] I head off to bed, some fun reads: They Just Don’t Get Us is one of those rare articles on Christianity that I read and agree with completely. No matter what […]

  3. […] and doing so may be an effective tactic.  For reasons that I tried to spell out in this post (, many Americans are uncomfortable with religion – especially Christianity – and will object to the […]

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