Is opposition to fundamentalist Christianity a kind of prejudice?
The Democrats in America are increasingly influenced by an educated urban elite who intensely dislike fundamentalist Christians, say two American academics. According to Louis Bolce and Gerald D Maio data from the American National Election Study shows the emergence of a new kind of voter – the anti-fundamentalist:
ANES results indicate that anti-fundamentalism appears disproportionately among secularists, the highly educated, particularly those living in big cities, and persons who strongly favor legalized abortion and gay rights, oppose prayer in schools, and who, ironically, "strongly agree" that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one’s own.
The results indicate that over the past decade persons who intensely dislike fundamentalist Christians have found a partisan home in the Democratic party. Clinton captured 80 percent of these voters in his victories over President Bush in 1992 and over Senator Robert Dole four years later; Gore picked up 70 percent of the anti-fundamentalist vote in the 2000 election. One has to reach back to pre-New Deal America, when political divisions between Catholics and Protestants encapsulated local ethno-cultural cleavages over prohibition, immigration, public education, and blue laws, to find a period when voting behavior was influenced by this degree of antipathy toward a religious group.
The ANES asked respondents to rate various groups on a ‘feeling thermometer.’ As Boce and Maio explain, "Feeling thermometers ask respondents to rate social groups and political leaders on a scale ranging from 0 degrees (extremely cold) to 100 degrees (extremely warm). A thermometer rating below 35 degrees (the average score that whites express toward illegal aliens) is commonly considered to reflect antipathy; scores above 50 degrees indicate varying degrees of warmth." Around a quarter of white respondents in the 2000 ANES rated fundamentalists at 35 degrees or below while only 1 per cent felt this antagonistic to Jews and only 2.5 per cent towards blacks and Catholics.
Australian columnist Andrew Bolt thinks the elite’s opposition to Christian morality is itself a kind of intolerant fundamentalism. "Our ‘intellectuals’ hate the United States for one dangerous reason in particular. It’s Christian."
But the reason liberal intellectuals most often give for their hostility towards Christian fundamentalism is that fundamentalists are intolerant of equal rights for homosexuals, women, and members of non-Christian religions like Islam. To them it seems as if fundamentalists would rather die than embrace the beliefs and values of homosexual activists, feminists, or Muslims. Their offence is ‘ethnocentrism.’ Philosopher Richard Rorty describes the problem this causes for ‘bourgeois liberals’:
When we bourgeois liberals find ourselves thinking of people in this way – when , for example we find ourselves reacting to the the Nazis and the fundamentalists with indignation and contempt – we have to think twice. For we are exemplifying the attitude we claim to despise. We would rather die than be ethnocentric, but ethnocentrism is precisely the conviction that one would rather die than share certain beliefs. We find ourselves wondering whether our own bourgeois liberalism is not just one more example of cultural bias.
So have Christian fundamentalists replaced Jews and Catholics as the new persecuted religious minority? Or are they, as David Marr says, caught up in "bogus and unscientific" moral rules which inflict cruelty on ordinary human beings?