Judge not: the antifaith bias

by Beacon Staff • February 21, 2007

A small number of students, however, still rise early on Sundays to attend church.

More than 40 percent of Americans regularly attend religious services, according to a recent poll from religioustolerance.,On Sunday mornings, Emerson's campus is pretty lifeless.

A small number of students, however, still rise early on Sundays to attend church.

More than 40 percent of Americans regularly attend religious services, according to a recent poll from religioustolerance.org, but among college students, this number is significantly smaller. This is especially true at a school like Emerson, which is largely secular in nature and has no official religious affiliation.

This is not to say that religion is absent from Emerson. In fact, there is an active dialogue on the validity of religion constantly occurring at our school. The discourse generally focuses around Christianity, the most prominent religion in the United States.

In these discussions, Christians-especially evangelical Christians-are too often characterized as ignorant, manipulated fools from the South and Midwest.

This is an extremely un-postmodern belief to be held by a student body that is doctrinated in the postmodern school of thought. An entire population of people should not be painted with such a broad brush. Haven't Emersonians agreed that stereotypes are sadistic and unfair? Haven't we debunked such mistruths in our classes and amongst our peers?

According to CBS News, an estimated 70 million Americans consider themselves evangelicals-the same amount of people who live in Turkey, the 17th largest country in the world. The 2000 Census found that 41 million Latinos and 35 million blacks live in America. We should realize that if we cannot make generalizations about blacks and Latinos because of the size and diversity of their demographic, we cannot possibly generalize about evangelical Christians-a lot nearly two times the size of either racial group.

It is sad to see that we have relapsed so far into the pitfalls of "knowing" through generalization rather than experience and fact. Stereotypes are borne of kernels of truth-but they can't be extrapolated to make popcorn that conveniently substitutes for first-hand experience.

The prominence of these views raises some questions: have the people espousing them ever been to an evangelical church service? Have they ever met, talked to or befriended an evangelical Christian?

Evangelical does not mean fundamentalist or conservative. Evangelical Christians are very much like other Christians, with a few distinctions. Evangelicalism is expressed more overtly than how Christianity was in the past.

It has been updated so modern Christians can adapt their practices in the current culture. In medieval monasteries, monks were harshly punished for laughing. Others were forbidden from making music.

In Christian circles today, laughter and music are cherished and embraced.

Accusations that evangelicals are hateful and ignorant are themselves hateful and ignorant. Applying common labels to any racial, religious or cultural group is misguided and wrong.

It cannot be denied that some evangelical Christians are intolerant, and the portrayal of evangelical Christians in the media does not help. The most provocative, controversial talking heads get the most airtime, leaving the impression that all evangelicals are red-faced bags of hate and hot air.

Christianity is a humble religion, but humble voices are too quiet to be heard, so we're left with the rantings of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

In truth, evangelicals don't like these guys much more than anyone else: a poll of white evangelicals showed approval ratings for the two were 44 and 54 percent, respectively.

There are some evangelicals who are bigoted and hateful, but it has nothing to do with being an evangelical Christian.

Emerson students must look at the facts. Evangelicals are not solely responsible for the presidency of George W. Bush or for the gay marriage bans that are in effect in 26 states.

In fact, an ABC poll taken last June indicates that 58 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be illegal. Only one in four Americans are evangelical Christians, not nearly enough to take full political control of the country.

Evangelicals make up too many among us to dismiss entirely. To do so is to exhibit the same kind of prejudice that many attribute to this misunderstood sect.