Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?

One of the most discussed posts I've written on this blog was The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity.

As that post buzzed around the Internet it seemed to hit two different audiences for two different reasons. For Christians, my advice to the student seemed to get the most attention. It appeared that "insiders" appreciated my move away from "working on your relationship with Jesus" to concrete obedience to Jesus (e.g., seeking reconciliation). For non-Christians, my comments about Christians being bad tippers seemed to get the most attention. For these "outsiders," many of whom worked in the restaurant industry, this observation seemed to confirm a stereotype they had about "the Sunday lunch church crowd."

Anyway, that post was a meditation on how we tend to use "religion" as a replacement for being a more decent human being. We'd rather have "quiet time with God" or want to "get into the word" than forgive our enemies or spend time working at a homeless shelter.

In making that observation in the post I made this sweeping statement:

"Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute.
I stand by that statement. As would, I think, most of the Old Testament prophets. And Jesus.

But maybe I'm wrong.

I say that because I found myself quoted at the start of Chapter 7--"Do Christians Love Others?"--in Bradley Wright's book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...And Other Lies You've Been Told.

Bradley is a sociologist from the University of Connecticut who blogs over at Black, White and Gray (and formerly at his personal blog). His book Christians Are... was, I think, somewhat in response to the book unChristian, which used survey research to describe how Christians behave, well, unChristianly. Bradley's book seeks to take a second look and wants to correct some of the exaggerations and negative stereotypes regarding Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians. Hence the title "Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...And Other Lies You've Been Told."

Toward that end, at the start of each chapter of Christians Are... Bradley begins with quotations selected to illustrate a negative stereotype about Christians. A stereotype that is, presumably, a "lie." Starting with those quotes/"lies" Bradley goes on to review data, mainly survey data from the General Social Survey (GSS), to evaluate these negative stereotypes/"lies." As you might guess from the title of the book, after surveying the data in each chapter these stereotypes come to be seen as exaggerated, overblown or outright wrong--the "lies" from the title. Chapter titles include "Are We Losing our Young People?" and "Have Christians Gone Wild?" And one of the chapters is entitled "Do Christians Love Others?"

And that's where my quote comes in. At the start of Chapter 7 in Christians Are... you read, with two quotes from others, my assessment that, and I quote myself, "'Christianity' has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed 'spiritual' substitute."

As you might imagine, I was, in turn, startled, flattered and then worried to find my quote at the start of the chapter. Everyone likes to be quoted. But not in this manner! I've never met Bradley and hadn't known he had selected my quote as an illustrative "lie." So after my surprise I was a bit anxious and keen to read the chapter.

Maybe I'd overstated my case. Had I lied?

Before going on, let me just say that I greatly admire Bradley's work. As a complete stats geek I love what he does. We social scientists need to stick together. So I encourage you to follow Bradley at Black, White and Gray and check out his book Christians Are... along with his newer book Upside. (And, if you ever run into me, I'll autograph Chapter 7 of Christians Are... for you. Right by my quote.)

What I want to do, for the rest of this post, is to walk through the evidence Bradley cites in the chapter "Do Christians Love Others?" to see how my quotation fares. I'm going to break my analysis down by the Chapter 7 subheadings.

Do Christians Love Others?
The first section of the chapter is entitled "Do Christians Love Others?" In this section data is reviewed from the GSS about how religious groups responded to two questions: 1) how often the respondent feels a selfless caring for others and 2) how often the respondent accepts others when others do things the respondent thinks are wrong. Overall, "Black Protestants, especially, and Evangelical Christians score highest on these measures, with about 40% or more agreeing that they selflessly care for and accept others. In contrast, only about 25% of the religiously unaffiliated report doing so."

The section goes on to look at other items on the GSS assessing "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me" and "When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective toward them." Again, Evangelicals score high on these self-assessments: "Eighty percent of the Evangelical respondents reported being concerned for those less fortunate, and 86% reported feeling protective toward those taken advantage of. In contrast, the religiously unaffiliated group registered the lowest scores, with 68% reporting concern and 75% feeling protective."

The section also reviews three other GSS questions similar to the ones above and the results come out the same: Evangelicals rate themselves higher than others.

So, what can we say about this? Hard to say, right? This could be good news or bad news depending upon behavior. Particularly when the label hypocrisy is in play. It's clear that Evangelicals see themselves as loving and caring. But are they? If they are, this is all good news. But if they aren't this is very, very bad news. In fact, this would be the news I delivered in my chapter-leading quote: religion is making Christians feel better about themselves at the expense of actually being better.

So is this a case of self-description or self-deception? For my part, to pick one example, I have some serious reservations about Evangelicals rating themselves so high (the highest!) on accepting people who are doing something Evangelicals think is wrong. Seriously? Evangelicals are the most accepting people when, say, they are dealing with a woman getting an abortion or gay marriage? There's not a wee bit of self-deception in play here?

Do Christian Actions Reveal Love?
Summary: Acts of Charity
In this section we move away from self-assessment to behavior (though even these "behaviors" are still self-reported survey items on the GSS and, thus, still prone to bias). The GSS asks two charity-related items: During the last twelve months how often have you "given food or money to a homeless person?" and "done volunteer work for a charity?" (Bradley focuses on those who said they have done either of these at least twice a year.)

The results for the first question: "Forty-eight percent of Evangelical respondents had given food or money to the homeless twice or more in the previous year. This put them at the low end of the observed range, for 60% of the Black Protestants gave to the homeless as did slightly over half the Catholics and members of other religions. The Evangelical rate of giving is similar to the 44% of Mainline Protestants and religiously unaffiliated."

The news was a little better for Evangelicals on the question about volunteering for a charity (does teaching Sunday School count here?): "Mainline Protestants were the most likely to volunteer (43%), followed closely behind by Evangelicals (37%), members of other religions (35%), Catholics (33%), Black Protestants (31%), and, lastly, the religiously unaffiliated (25%)."

Hmmmm. So let's get this straight. Evangelicals see themselves as very loving. And yet, when it comes to, you know, helping homeless people they aren't any different from the religiously unaffiliated (a group that could include, say, Satanists). This isn't good news for a group claiming to follow a Lord who taught:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
I mean, when you say "Jesus is Lord" what's going through your mind?

So I'm wondering. Might this disjoint between self-assessment and behavior be the thing that's grating outsiders about Evangelicals?

Summary: Small Acts of Kindness
This section of the chapter goes on to discuss GSS items that assess more workaday acts of kindness: How often in the past year have you "looked after a person's plants, mail, or pets while they were away"; "offered your seat on a bus or in a public place to a stranger who was standing"; or "carried a stranger's belongings, like groceries, a suitcase, or a shopping bag?"

For my part, as huge advocate of kindness, I'm very interested in this sort of behavior. The results: "When it comes to looking after other people's stuff, Mainline Protestants and Evangelicals were the most likely to do so (52% and 46% respectively). But with offering a seat to others or helping them carry their stuff, on the other hand, Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants scored low. Members of other religions are the most likely to do both (35% and 40% respectively)."

This is pretty damning. Looking after people's stuff is a nice gesture. But it doesn't assess acts of kindness to strangers, a key teaching for Christians: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." But on this key criterion, kindness to strangers, other religions and the irreligious do better than Evangelical Christians.

Attitudes Toward Other Groups
In this section Bradley turns to attitudes about social groups: social class, race, and sexual orientation. I'll summarize each in turn.

Summary: Attitudes toward Rich and Poor
Bradley remarks that he couldn't find a good measure of attitudes regarding justice-related issues. As he notes, positive or negative feelings about a government program aimed at helping the poor conflate "a concern for the poor with attitudes toward government involvement in social programs." Still, I would really like to see the numbers on this. If care of the poor is a top priority wouldn't you feel more, rather than less, positively about your tax dollars being spent in this way? If Christians don't mind the government building bombs why would they mind it building, say, schools or health care clinics?

Bradley eventually settled on two "feeling thermometer" (1 to 100) ratings about the rich and poor from the 2006 Social Capital Community Study. The results aren't all that interesting, likely due to the measure: "Each of the four religious groups [Protestants, Catholics, Other Religions, Unaffiliated] stated warmer feelings toward the poor than the rich...In terms of the gap between poor and rich ratings, there wasn't a lot of difference between groups."

The rich can't catch a break! It's nice to see the preferential option for the poor found among just about everyone.

Summary: Attitudes about Race
The actual title for this subsection is "A Disappointing Discovery About Race." Bradley only looks here at data for White respondents. His opening salvo: "The analyses that I present here constitute, in my opinion, bad news for Evangelical Christians..."

The analysis starts with data from a 1-8 point "feeling thermometer": "In general, how warm or cool do you feel feel toward Whites, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics." Every religious group liked themselves (fellow Whites) the best. The data on those Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics: "There is some variation in feelings toward minorities, however, with members of other religions having the overall warmest feelings toward Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics." The highest ratings came from Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated. The lowest ratings? Evangelicals.

Bradley goes on to look at another question: Would these religious groups hold race against a political candidate? The results: "A full 19% of Protestant respondents would hold a Hispanic candidate's ethnicity against them, as would 11% of Catholics and about 9% of members of other religions and the religiously unaffiliated. Similar proportions hold for Black candidates, albeit at substantially reduced levels. Seven percent of Protestants would be less likely to vote for a Black candidate, compared to 6% of Catholics and 3% of the religiously unaffiliated and members of other religions." For some reason, the Protestant group here wasn't broken down to reveal the particular feelings of Evangelicals. But as Protestants they are the religious group most likely to hold race against a person running for political office.

The final question examined in this section had to do with attitudes toward inter-racial marriage within the family. The question: How do you feel about "having a close relative or family member marry a ____ person?" with the blank being filled in with Black, Asian-American, or Hispanic-American. The results: "According to the survey, opposition to marrying a non-White person varies widely by religion, and, overall, Evangelicals were the most opposed to it." Guess who were most accepting? You guessed it. The religiously unaffiliated.

Wow. I'm almost speechless. But let me rush to say this: Let's be clear, most Evangelicals are not racist. But Evangelicals are more likely to be racist compared to all the other religious groups, including the irreligious. And that's just embarrassing. Beyond embarrassing. When non-Christians are more Christ-like we have a huge, huge problem.

Summary: Attitudes about Gays
No surprise that Evangelicals don't approve of gay sexual relations. This is expected given their views that this activity is sinful. But what about the "love the sinner, hate the sin" dynamic? And let's remember the finding from above: Evangelicals report being the most accepting of people (compared to other religious groups), even when those people are doing things they disagree with. So, do Evangelicals separate their feelings about gay behavior from their feelings about gay persons? The results from another "feeling thermometer": Of all the religious groups Evangelicals score the lowest with the most negative feelings toward gays as people.

What about a GSS question regarding freedom of speech and Constitutional liberty: "If an openly gay man wanted to make a speech in your community, should he be allowed to?" As Bradley says, "Denying anyone the right of free speech seems particularly harsh." So how do Christian groups fare? Bradley's summary: "Evangelical Christians show relatively high levels of this form of intolerance." Higher than all other religious groups, including the irreligious.

Not surprisingly, Evangelicals are the most rejecting of gay persons. Willing, even, to scrap the Constitution and First Amendment rights. Which, let's admit, is a bit ironic.

Some Good News: Young People & Church Attendance
So far, the evidence has been pretty grim. But the chapter ends with some good news: Young people.

In the final section of the chapter Bradley reviews data showing that younger Evangelical Christians are more likely to engage in acts of charity. They are also more approving of inter-racial marriages and have more positive feelings about the gay community. So maybe things are improving. We'll see. People tend to get more conservative with age.

There is also some good news sprinkled throughout the chapter. For many of the observations noted above increased church attendance among Evangelicals attenuates some of the trends. These are data points that push against my statement that Christians use "religious" activities (e.g., church attendance) to replace acts of goodness. But what we don't have in the chapter are weekly attendance breakdowns for all the non-Evangelical groups. That is, in these follow-up analyses we're comparing the "best" of the Evangelicals against the group means of the other religious groups. That's not a fair comparison which is why I've focused on the overall group means. (For example, beyond looking at devout Catholics or Episcopalians, the irreligious group is particularly heterogeneous. I'd like to compare Evangelicals to, say, atheists in the Peace Corp). More, I'd like to see the numbers that fall into the church attendance groupings. It seems pretty clear from the data that nominal Evangelicals are pretty awful. I'd like to know how big that group is within the Evangelical cohort.

Overall Conclusions: Did I Tell A Lie?
So, what are we to make of all this? Are Christians hate-filled hypocrites? And what about the status of my quote in light of all the data?

Let's start with the label hypocrite. I take this label to mean a disjoint between self-appraisal and behavior. Do we see that in the data Bradley presents? I think so. Recall, Evangelicals rated themselves the most "loving" of all the other religious groups. And yet, when we look at the ratings of actual behaviors and attitudes toward others, Evangelicals are no better, and often worse, than others. The word hypocrisy could be applied here.

What about being hate-filled? Well, hate is a pretty strong word. In social psychology it's a word to describe feelings toward out-group members (though each of us can hate particular people for a variety of reasons). So how to Evangelicals look when we examine their feelings toward out-group members? What we find is, in Bradley's own estimation, the most disappointing findings in the entire book. Compared to all the religious groups, including the irreligious, Evangelicals are more prone to hate when it comes to out-group members (e.g., Blacks, gays). Evangelicals are not, by any stretch of the imagination, hate-filled. But the seeds of hate are more deeply sown in the soil of the Evangelical heart than anywhere else.

Let's now turn to my quote. Is "Christianity" a mechanism for allowing people to replace being a decent human being with an endorsed "spiritual" substitute? On one hand, as noted above, when we look at church attendance among Evangelicals we seem to find a salutary effect. People seem to be better for going to church. In this case, church attendance appears to be doing some moral good. And I'm pleased by that. It's one of the reasons I go to church. It helps me to be a better person (though I recognize that not everyone gets what I get out of it).

However, in the data analyses we don't ever get measures of commitment or devotion for the other comparison groups. To be direct about it, we only get follow-up analyses for the Evangelical group when their trend looks bad, to show, it seems to me, that not every Evangelical fits the mold. Which is a fine thing to point out. It's just that, as I noted above, we're not then comparing the best from each group.

So if we stay with the overall group means we are left with the conclusion that Evangelicals aren't any better, and often worse, than others. And yet, they seem to feel pretty good about themselves, morally speaking. What can account for that disjoint? I think my hypothesis of "religiosity" creating an illusion of morality is a plausible explanation. (For more on the psychological dynamics of this "replacement" effect see my discussion of the Macbeth Effect in Unclean.)

All in all, then, I think I'll stick by my original analysis. I didn't see anything in Chapter 7 of Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...And Other Lies You've Been Told that would make me change my mind.

In fact, thanks to the book, it looks like I might have been telling the truth.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

56 thoughts on “Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?”

  1. Having read neither the book, nor Wright's blog, I don't really have a place to comment. But going by your analysis here and my experience of "Christianity" as it's practiced in this country, I'd say you're on fairly solid footing. I am also befuddled by the parameters of his surveys, given the fact that, as you point out, it is hypocrisy that is at stake here. Running with the theme of your "Unclean," it would seem that people within the Evangelical community have - worked into the very structure of their subculture - the propensity and need to present themselves as better than they are.

  2. What's Wright's summary of the chapter?  Did he feel that he had refuted the lie?

    "I want to do something meaningful with my life, Maury. I have deeper thoughts on my mind. The other day I was thinking about volunteering to help teach underpriviledged children to learn how to read. And just thinking about it was the most rewarding experience I've ever had." - Ben Stiller, Zoolander

  3. The conclusion at the end of the chapter reads, in full, with some comments from me in brackets:

    "Overall, this chapter is much more of a mixed bag than the others. With measures of love and compassion [these were the self-assessments from the first section], Christians do very well compared to the rest of society. They are neighborly [this is from the second second about willingness to look after, say, your mail or pet], forgiving, and caring for the poor. And what's more, these measures of general good will toward others [that's sort of the take home point, Evangelicals say they have a lot of good will] increase with church attendance, which suggests the possibility that churches effectively teach compassion.

    On the other hand, when it comes to our feelings toward minorities, both racial and sexual, the news is not so good. Christians in general and Evangelicals in particular are the least accepting and favorably disposed toward those who are not like us. That said, our attitudes seem to be improving with time, and the young among us may be a bright spot as we look toward the future."

  4. Richard,

    You write: "But the seeds of hate are more deeply sown in the soil of the Evangelical heart than anywhere else."  Hmmm.  Religiosity might shield the religious from their hypocrisy.  But the non-religious can be smug and self-deluding as well.   Moralizing and self-deception are universal.  And all can be brutal and unjust, or at least have a history of brutality and injustice from which they have turned or are turning.  John's reference to the ongoing and hopefully creative and charitable tension in the lives of each and all Jesus followers--"in the world but not of it"--seems applicable to me.  "In" and "out" group stuff paradoxically applies and doesn't.  Two other ways of saying it: "All have sinned. . ." and "there but for the grace of God."

    Blessings this Advent!

  5. I fretted over that line. What I initially wrote was much harsher. Mainly I'm trying to provide a counter-balance to how lightly I felt Bradley treated this data point, particularly in light of the title of the book. This data point isn't merely "disappointing." It's scandalous. It's not a trifle for Christ followers to be racist. And if a group of Christians has, proportionally, more racists among them that needs to be an object of self-focus and self-scrutiny. So I've used strong language to make that data point pop.

    And you're right, there but for the grace of God go I. Getting this fixed isn't anything I could or should be doing. I have my own glass house to live in. It's a job for the loving majority of Evangelicals to police and call out their own.

  6. Richard,

    Another thought: "functional atheism."  The term coined, I believe, by Parker Palmer does apply to Jesus followers if we don't--as we are supposed to be reminded of during Advent--"stay awake."


  7. I've nearly concluded that the evangelical culture is so corrupt that it's irremediable.  The evangelical world isn't just tainted with racism, xenophobia, etc. --- it's led by racist and xenophobic people who cultivate these evils.  It's not as if the pure, Christ-like leaders need to whip the hateful into shape: the leadership itself must change.  Not surprisingly, the institution has defenses against such things.

  8. Are the attenuations that correlate with evangelical church attendance also measured by a self report?

  9. The mind-set which allows a person to express the thought "there but for the grace of God go I" is the same one which allows that person to conveniently and hypocritically dis-connect their actions from their words/beliefs.

    To wit:  I have the truth, and I am "saved".  "Those others" have false beliefs, they sin, and they are not saved.  (But even they are going to end up saved anyway).  And while my theology/religion instructs me to act towards them in certain ways, even if I do not I am going to remain saved.  I feel for the unwashed, but I personally am safe.  There but for the grace of God go I -- and quite obviously I "am going", no matter how I behave.  Please do not ask me to leave my comfort zone in the grace of God.

  10. Yes, the whole thing is based on self-report. So, big question marks all around. 

    Incidentally, this actually makes the trends on racism much worse. People don't usually come clean when those questions are asked that directly. And yet, we still have the high rates of racist attitudes among the Evangelicals. We can only assume, then, given social desirability demands, that this is an under-reported trend.

  11. Are you talking about me? I'm the only one here who used the phrase "there but for the grace of God go I."

    If you are talking to me let me be clear: I think I'm going to hell.

  12. Sam,

    My, my.  Is this smugness a necessary inference?  How do you know what the mind-set of someone who uses that phrase?  The statement might be seen as an acknowledgement of personal flaw and good circumstances without self-praise or judgment of the other.  It implies nothing about subsequent or previous behavior.


  13. I can imagine that some self-reporting bias related to the difference in racial sentiment reported across types is actuall LESS among some evangelicals because of The Bubble.  Some white evangelicals would feel completely comfortable saying, "I'm not racist, but I just don't think it would be a good idea for my daughter to marry a black man,"  simply because their social group affirms this kind of thinking as genuinely non-racist.

    Caveat emptor anecdoti, etc.

  14. What, then, is the reason for the disconnect that this post is all about?  I am willing to listen.  You may not be guilty, but obviously many others are, according to this article. 

    Richard raised the issue of the disconnect between a Christian's beliefs and their behavior.  He carefully cited statistics.  That seems to me to be the subject matter at hand.  He addressed the issue from several angles.  He made it quite clear that "getting this fixed is not something I could or should be doing", which seems to be the default stance here most of the time.  (That is not a criticism, just an observation).

    I concede that some may use the phase in a different way, or with a different meaning, but I was addressing a possible reason for that disconnect.  It is not my intention to be smug.  My intention is to address the problem from a different perspective than the majority here.

    Blessings on you as well.

  15. Hell is at the heart of it. Sadly, the fear of hell, and of God, motivates too many Christians to do what their hearts would otherwise tell them is wrong and unloving.

  16. Are Christians hate-filled hypocrites?

    No, they are made in the image of God, and thus have at their core the essence of goodness... just like ALL people. But they get caught up in the ugliness of religion which causes them to put more stock in maintaining "doctrinal" correctness than in loving their neighbor.... just like ALL people. Part of our brokenness is wanting to be "right" more than anything else. And our treatment of each other suffers.

  17. I agree Jim, it just wasn't figured into the stats.
    But I think it plays out on both sides of it:
    A. Trying, out of fear, to keep off the left side at judgment with the goats by doing stuff, and
    B. The old, " It's by faith, not works, and since I "believe" all the correct notions, I've got my get-out-of-hell-free card. Therefore, how I treat the man at my gate won't play into my eternity." (except it did for the Rich Man with Lazarus, but we're literal with Paul and hyperbolic with Jesus.)

    " More eager after credible theory than after doing the truth, they have speculated in a condition of heart in which it was impossible they should understand; they have presumed to explain a Christ whom years and years of obedience could alone have made them able to comprehend. Their teaching of him, therefore, has been repugnant to the common sense of many who had not half their privileges, but in whom, as in Nathanael, there was no guile. Such, naturally, press their theories, in general derived from them of old time, upon others, insisting on their thinking about Christ as they think, instead of urging them to go to Christ to be taught by him whatever he chooses to teach them. They do their unintentional worst to stop all growth, all life. From such and their false teaching I would gladly help to deliver the true-hearted. Let the dead bury their dead, but I would do what I may to keep them from burying the living." George MacDonald

  18. Sam,

    Richard has this "thing" about statistics.  They are necessary, even vital.  But like metaphor, they can reveal, and also conceal.  I prefer the phrase used by my late father who thought they often proved what you wanted them to prove: "lies, damned lies, and statistics."  Such disconnect between profession and behavior is universal, not limited to Evangelicals.  Richard knows this.  Its just that us pious types go to a religious boot camp which trains us to be skilled at dogging and sniffing out all kinds of sin in others, even hypocrites.  Mine, of course, does not stink.  Sniff, sniff.


  19. Great quote. MacDonald was a man who had been given a great vision and a great ability to share it with others. Too bad more Christians aren't familiar with his writings. He must wasn't "orthodox" enough.

  20. I'm not sure what Jim731 was referring to, but I see the fear of hell playing out in other ways as well.  When confronted with their lack of love towards gays or other "sinners", many will insist that it is their love for sinners that motivates them to confront sin.  The implication is that if I don't warn them about their sin they will be subject to judgment or to an eternity in hell.  Some (of the many) problems with this approach is that it ignores the example of Jesus, it ignores the power of the Holy Spirit, and it presumes that people haven't already had it pounded it into their heads that their behavior is (supposedly) sinful.  I think we could tip the balance quite far in the direction of love (the caring, non-discriminatory kind) before we run low on the tough, confrontational variety.

  21. Very good analysis; it's always nice to have statistics to back up your case, especially if the statistics were provided by the other side!

    I would push back ever so slightly on the use of the word hypocrite regarding giving time and money to charity.  I think it is possible to believe these are good things to do, but not do them for reasons other than hypocrisy (e.g., laziness, selfishness, mixed-up priorities, etc.).  Hypocrisy would be if I had no interest or intention to back up my words with actions.  Of course, I may be just rationalizing my own laziness...

    As to attitudes towards gays and minorities, I think you're dead right.  The sad thing is: the attitudes revealed in the surveys you quoted are just the tip of the iceberg; a lot more progress needs to be made beyond those issues.  And, unlike giving time and money to charity, it doesn't even require *doing* anything, just changing an attitude.  Of course, that's easier than said than done..."you've got to be carefully taught" as they sang in "South Pacific".

  22. Adam Hamilton in his book responding to that Barna survey and "UnChristian" lays out four expressions of hypocrisy that are helpful. They are: Wrong Motives, Judging Others, Majoring in the Minors, and being Two-Faced. Arguably the most serious of these types is the last one where we literally represent ourselves one way in public but then behave exactly the opposite in other circumstances. Generally when the word hypocrisy is being thrown around this is what people assume we mean and certainly I think there are plenty of  two-faced Christians, but I would bet most of the hypocrisy among Christians is of the other three varieties.

    I bet a lot of Christians do charity with the Wrong Motives (getting into heaven, or looking good in front of other Christians). Having the wrong motive doesn't necessarily invalidate and act of kindness (whose motives are ever pure?) but if it becomes apparent you are just going to the charity dinner to rub elbows with potential business contacts then it rightfully inspires disgust in others.

    Many of us are experts at Judging Others, when we know full well we couldn't stand up to the same level of scrutiny in our own lives. Or even if we could on one particular issue we are vulnerable on others and as such our judgments are petty.

    Hatred of LGBTQ persons inspires all different types of hypocrisy, but one of the biggest ones is Majoring in the Minors. Huge amounts of energy and time get spent fearmongering and fighting against the ephemeral (nonexistant) "gay agenda" which is a major distraction from mission. Essentially every fundamentalist movement is an elaborate exercise in Majoring in the Minors, rallying people around such adiaphora as the Virgin Birth, Young Earth Creationism, a particular form of Millenialism, or heteronormative relationships.

  23. Hmmm.  I wonder if evangelicals are deeply engaged in attitudes and behaviors that are more loving than these specific statistics? More willing to stick with a spouse or a child, more likely to support overseas charities, more likely to start major charity endeavors, etc.? I just hate to judge so much by "giving to a homeless person"--which, according to about half of the people I know who work 24/7 providing food and shelter to the homeless, is not a particularly good idea. The same is true for other statistics which you think are so telling--most of our "love" for strangers involves things that rich and idle people (like me) do in their spare time (helping old ladies across the street), while most of our "love" for people we know is deeply self-sacrificial (helping with a neighbor's sick kids day after day).

    And I hate to take the racism statistics as valid until I've controlled for geography--lots of good northerners have never had to fight their way clear of a racist heritage, and most evangelicals live in the south. I'd say evangelicalism is largely (though not, of course, solely) responsible for the south becoming more aware of, self-critical toward, and proactive about correcting racism. But southerners are still more likely to be racist--and to be evangelical.I also am afraid of the whole "evangelical" label, especially from someone like you, because as best I can tell you live/ work among a small sub-group of Christians who are as prone to racism (and non-acceptance of others) as anyone I know--but they're not evangelicals, doggone it!Finally, I'm struggling with spirituality-as-substitute. Does that mean that the hours I spend praying come out of the hours I would have spent helping my neighbor--rather than, say, out of the hours I would have spent watching T.V.? Do most people who aren't involved in religion really spend much (any) of their time in intentional activities geared at being a decent human--or is being a decent human a byproduct of other things? I'm really curious here.

  24. Wow. Since this is where I consider my home, this is a real problem. I'd have to ask what you mean by "the evangelical culture." I think the basic culture I've come to know as "evangelical" consists in a) the basic expectation that my life is about giving to others, b) giving a large proportion of my energy and money to support the most amazing missionary movement bringing food/ healing/ hope around the world, and c) constantly affirming the most transparently humble "I am a sinner" grace-first attitude that I can.

    I then moved from this culture to a culture where I repeatedly heard that there were basically two criteria for me being a decent human being: a) what I think about gays, and b) whether I think the government should give more money to poor people.

    Not sure where to go with this; just want to stand up for "the culture" and all the saints I know who have helped form it/ been formed by it.  Of course, listening to people call us out (and taking on an extra burden to be even more gracious to those who aren't very gracious to us) is part of the package.  But calling it "irremedial" stings.

  25. "Do most people who aren't involved in religion really spend much (any)
    of their time in intentional activities geared at being a decent
    human--or is being a decent human a byproduct of other things? I'm
    really curious here."

    My own belief is that this is the single most important question I have ever seen posted on this blog. 

  26. I feel your righteous indignation Richard.

    I once had a conversation with a conservative Christian friend of mine about
    her sister. Her sister is exploiting their mother in a drawn-out and increasing
    way (Happily lives in her house while she is relegated to the Granny flat; uses
    her pension to buy material things for herself; that sort of thing). I was
    interested in how my friend's faith in Jesus was helping her respond to her
    sister's ungrace. Her response was to reflect on how her sinful sister would be
    judged by God upon her death and that she was happy that justice would be done,
    but that that doesn't help her to live now (I was hoping some of Jesus'
    teachings might have been giving her strength - something about blessed are the
    persecuted; or love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you...). I was
    struck that within her theology, the only response to the injustice in the
    world is the impending judgement of God.

    Now I'm not sure how this fits exactly, but my sense is that the data you have
    revealed, has something to do with a kind of complacency towards worldly
    concerns. What do you reckon?

  27. Ive definately witnessed some spectacular confusions about virtue from the churchgoing that fits with your quote Richard. I'm talking about people who are rude when they think they are being righteous as well as people who are deeply decent but have terrible low self esteem because they're not thinking of God enough..

    Having recently read Huckleberry Finn I found it pretty spot on in one regard... that is that we are better off with an unsophisticated ethics. It seems that the more religion the more our basic instincts get muddled. Plus we're so exhausted from self mortification we've got no time to do good for others. Tragic really.

  28. So what's the point you're trying to make? That Christianity is food gone bad? Christians are hypocrites? I don't doubt that they are, who isn't? Who can declare with a clear conscience that he never does anything to violate anything he thinks is right? The thing is, by definition, at least Christians admit that they are sinners, and thus hypocrites. What about you?

    You talk about Christians not accepting gay people or people getting abortions. But first what you should ask is what is good and what is bad? If there wasn't a moral reference, God, nothing can be sad as being wrong, and so the negative connotation to the word "hypocrite" wouldn't even exist! So what is the point you're making? The issues of homosexuality or abortion or in fact any other "moral issues" can only be considered when one accepts that there are in fact things are right and things that are wrong. 

    So Christians cannot accept sexual relationships between people of the same sex for the same reason that they cannot accept abortion, and for the same reason that they believe in human rights and racial equality. BECAUSE these are all attributes that we were born with, that God by His authority has given us. It is an issue of obedience and submission to God's authority, for Christians believe that God is the moral reference to which all should submit, and really, all will be judged. (And in fact all will fail had not been for Christ.)"Hate the sin, love the sinner" is a thin line, but before we accept the sinner, the sinner must accept the fact that he is a sinner and that he has the responsibility to reject the sin (not that he would always succeed, but at least he would feel guilty had he failed). There are plenty of gay people in the church who live their lives as gay people but just not having sexual relationships with each other. So instead of asking Christians to be accepting, you should really be asking whether gay people can accept God and the moral code as He dictated and try to reject what He sees as a violation of Humanness. And similarly if people who are seeking to abort accept that God alone is the author of life.You sound really liberal in your posts, and as what seems like a strategy you position the majority Christians as conservative hypocrites who say one thing and do another. But the question is, what is your idea of right and wrong? What is your reference and how can you apply the same values to everyone else? Do you support abortion? Do you support gay marriages? If so what are you rationale behind these views? Stop poking at the surface and trying to get everyone happy, answer the fundamental question, how do YOU define right and wrong? 

  29. Let me first clarify that I'm speaking of US evangelical culture of which I know some by way of academic study and yet more by way of personal experience.  Second, I come from Richard's group, the Churches of Christ.  Non-sectarian Churches of Christ can be fairly labeled as functionally evangelical.

    Evangelicalism in the US has in its matrix --- the patch of ground from which it grows --- an attitude of either xenophobia or imperialism.  In the south, this has been tied to anti-black racism, and this has, in turn, been politically manipulated over the past 45 years to yield an anti-poor classism.

    [Sweeping generalizations follow.] Most of its expressions look Baptist, a confusion of Calvinism and revivalism.  Its 20th-century identity derives from an anti-fundamentalist reaction, but it has adopted neo-fundamentalism in the wake of 1960's social upheaval.

    It has attitudes ranging from anti-rational charismatism to hyper-rational but anti-intellectual doctrinairism.

    It has, as you noted, a strong missionary emphasis that has historically partaken of western imperialist attitudes, blunting American xenophobic tendencies.  This imperialist tendency has always been challenged in some quarters, and has been in precipitous decline among "professional" missionaries over the last 50 years.

    It has always had a vigorous charitable identity but much less drive for justice.

    Humility and grace?  As the survey info indicates, your mileage may vary.

    That's the US evangelical culture that I know.

    There are, of course, wonderful, holy people sprinkled throughout evangelicalism, just as it was with the Pharisees.  The overriding culture, however, provides nourishment for the wicked.  Democratically-led, bottom-up institutions don't starve themselves.  A better evangelicalism will arise when evangelicals are better, and that may be a geological process.  The more likely scenario is that evangelicalism persists roughly as it is (but smaller, I suspect) or runs its course.

    It's the culture and the institution that I find nearly irremediable; individual people may change, but they'll probably flake off into the rest of the world like rust off cast iron.  The pot may eventually disintegrate into a pile of flakes, but isn't likely to be transformed into iron oxide pot.

  30. My views do tend to be liberal in many ways. So if you read this blog a lot you'll likely struggle with anger a great deal. Sorry about that. Pray for your soul and mine.

    That said, the issue in the post isn't about what I think is right or wrong. It has to do with how some Christians take a class of sinful behavior and stigmatize that group like no others. To the point, as Bradley Wright's data points out, of denying them the Constitutional right of free speech.

    More, I think it totally reasonable for a Christian to support gay marriage, particularly if they are libertarian. I have lots of friends who are Christians, but who, as libertarians, think we should legalize drugs, gay marriage and other things of morally dubious nature. In their opinion Christians shouldn't use government coercion to enforce their moral worldview. That's a job for the private witness of the church. Not everyone agrees with that, of course. I'm just making the observation that Christians, because they live in a democracy, can support gay marriage and still think it sinful and wrong.

  31. Not really. I just think how a Christian should behave in a pluralistic society isn't always straightforward. Christian libertarians are an interesting case in this regard.

  32. "That said, the issue in the post isn't about what I think is right or wrong."

    Of course it is.  And it's clear in all your entries, as it is in all of mine.  Why do you pretend that that is "bad"?  This is typical PC thinking -- we shouldn't "make judgments".  That's why I sometimes come off as abrasive.  I don't like the fact that I get that way, but I want you to own your assumptions, and obviously I am not the only one who feels that way.  There are at least two others on this very page who also do. 

    The issues you raise are very important.  That's why I follow you.  But that's where it usually ends.  You suggest a problem, but then very often remain silent on any solution, other than "live as Jesus did".  Perhaps that IS the only solution. 

    I think you are spread too thin. I have no idea how you do all that you do.  And I certainly give you all the credit for trying.  It is way more than I could ever accomplish.  I just wish there was more meat on the bones.  But....such may be the nature of a blog -- throw the bone down and let everyone else scrap over it.  In that sense, I do get it.

  33. The point of the post was not about my views on the culture wars. The point of the post was my quote--about religiosity replacing morality--being used in Bradley Wright's book and how, in light of the evidence he cites, it stood up. The post is an argument that, in my estimation, the quote holds up well.

    Here's the deal. The data in the post about how Christians feel about gay people is from Wright's book!. I didn't collect that data. So if Pat2186, or anyone else, doesn't like that data go talk to Bradley on his blog about it.

    And Sam, let me make a general observation. The reason you often here crickets chirping around your comments is that you are often way off-topic. Not in your own mind, of course, but in relation to what I'm writing about. Your reaction here, to this post, is another illustration of this.

    Not to hurt your feelings, but there are alternative explanations about why people don't respond to you, other than a massive conspiracy or me being a sinister person. Here's one: 1) you're getting increasingly cranky, and 2) you're often off-topic.

    Why don't you try catching some flies with honey and refrain from over-personalizing the posts?

  34. I have a lot of concern for the how valid and reliable the survey data are.  I agree with you, Richard, that Wright's conclusions are drawn from comparing groups that are not actually comparable.  Also, as you've mentioned, this is all survey data, even the questions about behaviors!  Survey data are good, but they need to be linked with observational data as well.  I think this would be particularly powerful in terms of looking at possible associations (negative or positive) between perceived behaviors and beliefs (self-report data) and actual, observed behaviors.  I also think it's erroneous to conclude that "Christians do very well compared to the rest of society" in terms of love and compassion!  What a naive conclusion to draw?!  Essentially Wright is accepting as truth something along the lines of "hey, take my word for it, I'm awesome and loving!" 

  35. I get really embarrassed about being a psychologist when I read of "studies" like Wright's.  It's up there with "Reading the newspaper causes cancer" and, worse yet, "Fifty percent of school children are below average in reading".  The questionnaire reminds me of your review of "I told me so".  It seems that in some faith circles, it is unacceptable to admit to being unloving, so the need for self-deception is so much the greater.  Much more worrying, as you say, is that there is no such approbation regarding racist attitudes.

    I listened to a fascinating discussion of Heraclitus this morning:  Well worth a listen if you have 45 minutes to spare.  I'll never read John 1 the same way, for example.  Among other gems was: "Eyesight is a better witness than hearing" thought to suggest that it's better to think for yourself than to accept the received 'wisdom' of your peer group. 

  36. Wow, thank you for the very thoughtful response to my book.  I'll be carrying it around with me to get your signature in chapter 7, should we meet.


  37. I have been a thorn in your side.  I am sorry for that.  I suffered over the Internet for eight long years in my support of G. W. Bush, and was vilified by people constantly.  I am very interested when you write about theology.  But when you veer off into the culture wars, the shoe is now on the other foot, and I am being cautioned to "be nice", and "not be rude".  There is real irony there for me.

    Via con Dios.

  38. Hi Brad,
    I'm glad you dropped by. We can exchange signatures! You can sign my copy of "Christians Are..." and I'll sign yours.


  39. Richard, great post, two points:
    First of all, American Grace, the new book by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, compiles far more data on this question. Their overall finding is, when church attendance is controlled for, involvement in religion does correlate with greater levels generosity, feelings of empathy, acts of compassion, volunteering, charitable giving, being a good neighbor, etc. That's Chapter 13. Chapter 14 is not as positive: much like Wright's findings, religion does not do good things for tolerance or inclusivity.

    But this brings us to the second point: these inquiries, at least for Campbell and Putnam and to a degree Wright, seem to be measuring up Christianity for its "instrumentalizing potential" in creating a particular mold of person or a particular social order. In this case it's being measured up for its ability to produce a properly de-particularized modern liberal society, where religious commitments and strong cultural identities don't impede worship of the true gods of "good neighborliness," tolerance, civility, and inclusivity. 

    I absolutely agree with your Christianity-absolves-moral-responsibility-for-personal-piety (my paraphrase) argument but I get uncomfortable turning to the General Social Survey to find a comprehensive concept of Christ-centric love and compassion. Perhaps a better way to test/evaluate this argument would be to combine the good-neighborliness measures of the General Social Survey with measurements of moral responsibilities particularistic to the Christian faith, such as commitments to enemies, non-violence, humbling one's self-interests, and forgiveness of others. My hunch is you'd still see the hypocrisy and inconsistency, but we'd avoid chastising Christians simply for failing to be the de-particularized modern liberals the Enlightenment wanted them to be.

  40. Agreed. Very much so. This is very insightful. Thinking a bit, I don't know if we can do such a study "Christianity-wide." But I do think we can treat particular faith communities as "virtue laboratories," examining the fruits a particular faith community produces or doesn't produce and the practices that are used. Because you're right, until we are at the level of virtue (to quote you: "measurements of moral responsibilities particularistic to the Christian
    faith, such as commitments to enemies, non-violence, humbling one's
    self-interests, and forgiveness of others") we are just measuring a bland humanism.

  41. Thanks Drew, you have managed to speak across the concerns
    of many commenters whilst still affirming Richards’ original assertion. Well
    played sir. A very helpful response.

  42. Richard I have no problem with Bradley's data. You are the one who is making all the grand statements here, I just hope there was more arguments to back them up.

    So the question is really straightforward. You question why many Christians are intolerant, unwelcoming, but before we judge whether that is a bad thing, shouldn't we first understand their argument for see homosexual behaviour as sinful? Or abortion for that matter? I have put forward a possible suggest why they are not, and you have still to come up with an answer why they are.

    Don't mistake zeal for anger (and I pray that you don't see that as some kind of irrationality, and thus a pretext for not answering a straightforward question). 

  43. I'd like to suggest that you're not really getting at the relevant issue, at least not the issue most relevant to Jesus' heart and concerns. 

  44. While I note that the data presented break down evangelicals and black Protestants into two separate groups, *theologically* a large number of black Protestants are also evangelical.  This fact is rarely acknowledged in studies of evangelicalism.  It's almost as if "evangelical" is some kind of code for "white evangelical."  Certainly some significant political and social attitudes differ between black and white (theological) evangelicals, and the denominations may also differ, but when we look at where we are as evangelicals, we should look at all races and ethnicities (for example, I haven't read Bradley's work, but some studies also simply exclude Asian and Latino evangelicals, and there are vibrant, growing evangelical constituencies among those groups as well).  Looking at black evangelicals as a subcategory of evangelicals as well as a subcategory of black Protestants may shed some interesting light on the relationship, say, between evangelical beliefs and racism.  But we won't see that data as long as we persist in thinking being evangelical means being non-black.

  45. with all respect to Parker Palmer- no, no, no, you are not welcome in my tent. Atheists don't believe in god, but often believe in obligation to fellow humanity. What you're describing is belief in god without belief in obligation. Not anywhere near the same thing, and I will not be tarred with association with that sort of vile ugliness. Find another term for the monsters in your flock.

  46. Hmm.  What kind of obligations to which portions of humanity?  Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Victor Frankl?  For what it is worth, most of the atheists I know are those who have found God wanting because of trauma and suffering, sometimes trauma and suffering by religion.   I hope you have not been wounded by religionists.

    Peace and blessings!

  47. This is also supported by another book titled JESUS CHRIST Is the EASY and ONLY Way to HEAVEN by Tim Finley.

Leave a Reply