Do Christians Feel Social Stigma? July 23, 2010

Do Christians Feel Social Stigma?

It’s tough for me to answer that question because I’m not one of them.

Writer Lauri Lebo wrote an article last month about the “social cost of atheism” — and there’s something to that. We’re distrusted, virtually unelectable, automatically accused of being immoral, etc.

After reading that post, a family member asked her to write a piece about the social cost of being a Christian. Lebo wasn’t sure what to do:

When I asked this person to identify how she feels Christians are stigmatized in this country, she couldn’t articulate beyond the fact that sometimes she and her fellow Christians hold back from witnessing to people because they’re not sure how they’ll be received. I pointed out to her that she’s confusing rude behavior with stigma.

I’m sure it’s not always easy to say out loud you’re a Bible-believing Christian.

Frankly, I don’t mind. If there’s stigma associated with being a Christian, it’s because Christians brought it upon themselves. Their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science, hypocritical ways ought to bring shame to Christians, including even the small percentage of them who don’t act that way.

I assure you it’d be easier being a Christian if more of them stood on the right side of the issues.

And, of course, Christians dominate all levels of government and attend tax-free churches. They have their own TV channels, bookstores, and genre of music. I still say that writing “I volunteer with my church youth group” would look good on a job application while “I was president of my campus atheist group” would hurt you.

Lebo asks — and I want to ask it, too — “Do Christians face social stigma in America today?”

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  • KeithLM

    Isn’t assuming someone wants to be witnessed to the rude behavior, not the negative reaction from those people?

  • I feel a certain amount of embarrassment on behalf of Christians who attempt to evangelise to me but that’s just basic human empathy. I feel that they should be embarrassed so I sympathetically feel that emotion. It is like talking to someone with a bad stutter.

    It is odd because they don’t actually seem to be embarrassed when they do this. I think that their faith somehow inoculates them against shame.

  • how much of this is self-imposed, though?
    Much of the Christian walk is centered around the “passio” (passion = to suffer). The idea of being sanctimonious / redeemed / etc is to be different from everyone else and that people will hate you for it.

    This “persecution complex” is a tenet repeated over and again in Christian dogma, and coincidently is a fundamental psychology trigger needed to sustain cults.

  • Nakor

    Whatever stigma Christians feel, I have trouble feeling sorry for. Not only did they create their own stigma, they’re largely responsible for ours too.

  • I don’t know about in the US where the Christian population is the majority. In Canada (I am a Canadian Christian), I think a little bit, but I don’t think enough to really constitute a “stigma” like that faced by atheists in the States. I think it is more a case of being ignored than being stigmatized. We do get automatically tuned out if we say we are a Christian, and Christian leadership credentials here are possibly a negative on a resume instead of a positive because I guess one stigma is exclusive (for the most part a well-deserved one, with some exceptions) which doesn’t go over well in a very pluralistic country.

  • Hitch

    It’s a little bit of an extreme hypothesis. When presidents push for faith initiatives and god bless is all around, it’s very hard to construct a stigma.

    But surely there is a little bit of it. In fact the Minessota study does show that conservative christians rank worse than the baseline. Baseline was 2% distrust. Conservative christians at 6% distrust. But compare that to the over 40% distrust of atheists. I think if atheists and conservative christians clock in at 6% equal, there is a serious issue for both groups. For now, only one group has a very real issue, in that almost half the country distrusts them.

  • Alicia

    It definitely is against the social norm to be anti-gay, anti-choice, or anti-science. Society as a whole generally disapproves of those who hold any of those stances. So yes, I’d say there is a social stigma to saying you are a Christian whether you hold to those ideas or not. When I say I’m a Christian I assume people find me to be all of those things, including hypocritical. And maybe those reading this have a different stance on society – they see it as more supportive of those who hold such values. It’s interesting – when I go to church I hear “American is no longer a Christian country!” and when I turn on the news I hear “This country is too Christian!” Neither side seems to be getting its way.

    I see that whenever your beliefs get put out in the open, you immediately get the respective 2 strikes against you that go along with your religion/lack thereof. Christians get pegged as closed minded, horrible musicians, and hypocritical, Atheists are assumed to be angry and cold, Muslims are questioned to be terror fundamentalists, and so on. And until you are able to demonstrate that you are more than your label, you get grouped into a category that you are reluctantly a part of because yes, in your heart you ARE convinced of these things but you also grieve the actions of those around you who gave your beliefs a bad name.

    Do I feel a Christian stigma? yes. Do I think there are people out there who think they probably have it worse than me? yes. They probably do in one regard or another. Maybe our stigmas “get worse” as we seek a safe haven with other Christians/Atheists/Muslims/Buddhists?etc and forget to venture out and show other people that we are humans with souls and hearts and names – not labels.

    Which is why I frequent your blog – we’re different and we strongly disagree on things but my desire is to do so respectively and in conversation, not by strike-outs.

  • Karen


    Interesting. When I read it, that’s what I assumed the writer meant — that the ‘rude behavior’ mentioned was the ‘witnessing’ and not the reaction of others to it. I also thought the discomfort the Christians felt when they contemplated witnessing came more from a (perhaps not entirely conscious) recognition that pushing your beliefs on others is, in fact, not very socially acceptable.

    In re-reading, now I’m not sure which way the writer meant it.

    As to the idea of stigma for Christians, I suppose it could be context dependent. I live in a small city in Ohio, where there is most certainly NOT a stigma for Christians. Quite the opposite. (We even have a 10-commandments monument on the courthouse square downtown).

    Mentioning that you’re not a Christian seems to utterly shock and confuse people. So I’ve never understood the persecution complex some of them seem to have.

  • Jim H

    @brophy nailed it. Christians’ persecution complex is more hope than experience, though. It’s almost as if only martyrs can get into heaven (not really a Christian tenet), so they need to feel at least some small measure of “martyrdom.” And, yeah, that’s one of many things they share with Muslims.

    (Speaking as a recovering catholic.)

  • plutosdad

    Almost every time I faced any anger, the “christianity” was NOT actually the underlying reason.

    For instance I remember feeling uncomfortable if people were ranting about something they hated that I supported. But I feel that way now, so it’s nothing to do with christianity but just my personality. Some people love arguing and they would not feel anything negative in that situation.

    People would get upset talking about ethics, what I thought we should do, etc. But again, people get upset in ethical discussions anyway (I’m not talking about gay issues but general life). For instance it’s all well and good to discuss the Trolley question and acts of omission and commision, but once we apply it to real life situations people will get upset. That is also not limited to christianity.

    Even when proselytizing or talking to strangers (which I did), some people would get upset, others not, so I guess it has more to do with how pushy or rude you are being. If someone got upset I didn’t think it was me, they were just sensitive or angry. (I didn’t think it was me usually because I tried hard to be sensitive, but of course was not always).

    Sometimes even when I didn’t say or do much, people would be rude or insult and make fun of me. But those people generally treated everyone like that, and so that too didn’t actually have to do with christianity, they were just jerks.

    Even though I did some preaching and had a music ministry, I was not the type of person who constantly talked about Jesus. But I did know people like that. People generally don’t like those people no matter what subject they can’t shut up about, and we say “don’t be a boor.” So, those people might actually be harmed by talking that way during a job interview, but it would not be because they are christian, it would be because they are not acting appropriately in an interview so how much worse would they act if they got the job?

    Finally going back to the discussing ethics issue. Lots of christian “ethics” change over time to match the society we live in. For instance theologians today do not think ignorance of Jesus would send you to hell, but back in Augustine’s time they did. But sometimes it takes them awhile such as accepting gay people. That was never my problem living by a large city and being exposed to gay people when young and realizing “oh they are just people”, but I have noticed that 99% of the time if someone said something nasty about gay people NOTHING would happen to them. Chrisitians could gossip and be rude and hateful about other groups and not bear any consequences for it. In a small % of cases they might, but is that because they are christian and following Christ’s teachings, or because they are saying hateful mean things?

    So in the end, while there were many instances of people treating me worse that related to my christianity in some way, none of them were BECAUSE I was a christian. They were because of my personality, or the other person’s personality, or the discussion topic.

    I think a lot of people go through the same things as I did but not see it that way. They might just stop at “I’m being persecuted because I am a Christian” without trying to critically analyze “why” or look at the plank in their own eye to see if they caused the situation somehow. Some people honestly think Jesus’s statement that if you follow him you’ll be hated and persecuted is a license to be rude. Hence the persecution complex many seem to have.

  • TychaBrahe

    I’m sure many think they are stigmatized. Because every time we say, “Hey, the law says you can’t do X,” where X is anything that introduces religion into the public sphere: praying in school, invocations before political meetings, Christmas decorations at public expense, religious displays in court houses; they complain that we are at war against religion or at war against God or discriminating against them.

    And there’s all that crap about how the ACLU is going to force the government to remove crosses from soldiers graves in Arlington or ban the wearing of crosses in government offices, both of which are false and both of which I’m sure were started by some Christian hoping to cash in on the fear this generates. My favorite is that Madelyn Murray O’Hair is working to ban religious broadcasting. Neat trick, seeing as she’s been dead about fifteen years.

  • Valhar2000

    Lebo asks — and I want to ask it, too — “Do Christians face social stigma in America today?”

    Of course they do! Every day untold numbers of christians in America receive a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of a forward of an e-mail in which someone is quoted being somewhat critical of theism! THE HORROR!

  • Nonetheless, my relative insisted this is persecution

    The arrogance of these people is astounding.

  • mkb

    I think that the idea that Christians are stigmatized is ridiculous. However, it may be correct to say that fundamentalist Christians or pentecostal Christians or even evangelical Christians are stigmatized. However, since some of them feel that they are the only “true” Christians, they may believe that all Christians are stigmatized.

    BTW, you are not helping by saying the following: “Their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science, hypocritical ways ought to bring shame to Christians, including even the small percentage of them who don’t act that way.” I don’t think that that is in any way true. Many, many Christians are not anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science or hypocritical — just not enough.

  • Jeff Dale

    Their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science, hypocritical ways ought to bring shame to Christians, including even the small percentage of them who don’t act that way.

    I don’t think this is quite right. There are a lot of Xians who are pro-gay, pro-choice, and pro-science, and they believe those “pro” stances are consistent with their Xian faith. (How they can convince themselves of this, or how they rationalize away other Xians’ opposite stances, I don’t quite understand.)

    Rather than saying most Xians are on the wrong side of these issues, I’d say most people on the wrong side of these issues are Xian.

  • No. Christians in America do not face a social stigma today. A social stigma is something that is against societal or cultural norms. It’s ‘normal’ in America to be a Christian of some form or another. So they cannot face a true social stigma.

    Now they may face a stigma in the terms of a ‘blemish of reputation’. I even know some Christians who are aware of the inappropriateness of their constant judging and attempts to ‘save’ people.

    It’s ‘group think’ or cult tradition or whatnot to believe that no matter how strong your numbers, some one ‘evil’ is always out to get you. I would know, I was Mormon.

    Try as they may to play the stigmatized victim, Christians are just to socially accepted to endure social stigma in America today. I hope one day that will no longer be true.

  • J9

    Christians do not face social stigma, because they are the majority, unlike what they are taught in church. I remember as a young Christian being preached to from the pulpit that I would be persecuted for my faith and that I would have to choose Jesus over social acceptance, but that is just not the case after having lived to experience being both a Christian and now an atheist.

  • Mike

    Thanks mkb. I was just about to ask if he had any data around that. Especially the “anti-science” part…

  • Stephen

    Hell, down here in Texas, only non-Christians face the stigma.

  • As an American Christian, I do what I can to promote open-mindedness; I vote democrat, speak out for gay rights, and believe evolution/science and God are not mutually exclusive, but operate in tandem. I also do not consider myself a hypocrite.

    The stigma is against Christians like myself (and there are MANY of us). We are pushed into the same category as Fred Phelps and Jerry Falwell. As soon as we mention anything about our faith, our non-Christian friends make assumptions about us based on “Christians” in the media. Your post, even, calls us “anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science” and “hypocritical.” None of those things are true about myself and most of my Christian friends.

    For example, I was friends with a girl for four months before she found out I was a Christian. (She found out by reading my blog, not because of anything I said to her.) She turned to me after reading something I wrote about Christ, and said, “I guess you hate me then, because I’m a lesbian.” She then refused to speak to me until a mutual friend reassured her I was not judging her or trying to convert her. She heard “Christian” and our four-month relationship, and the person she KNEW me to be, ceased to exist.

    So yes, there is absolutely a stigma. But not the way this author or yourself thinks.

  • Jim H

    There is a post on Daylight Atheism now that, by coincidence, has the relevant bible quote:

    “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
    —Matthew 5:11-12

    Here arises the persecution complex.

  • Eric Lawrence

    I don’t know. Is there a stigma against people who believe Bigfoot exists? Is there a stigma against people who believe that Elvis is still alive? Are these issues that need to be addressed or are we only concerned with those who believe that a magic Jew rose from the dead? If there is a stigma, it seems to me that it’s for good reason.

  • MissAJ

    Lebo asks — and I want to ask it, too — “Do Christians face social stigma in America today?”

    In the city I live in, people act like being Christian is the ONLY way to be. We have many churches – probably too many for the size of my city – and host events like “Hills Alive” (a huge Christian concert festival). If you are Christian, you are normal. If you are anything else, people look at you like you have a disease. I couldn’t image going to a place where being an Atheist wasn’t an automatic way to get a look of disapproval from people.

  • It seems to me that this Xtian persecution complex is an inherent and irrational part of Xtianity. We all know that they claim to be persecuted, but are in the majority in the USA. The persecuted majority. It’s part of the Xtian game, I guess.


    I am currently stuck in the Valley of Doom (Salt Lake City) in the Theocracy of Thud (Utah), and the regular Xtian persecuted majority complex doesn’t compare to the persecution complex that the Mormons have. In some twisted way, they *need* to be persecuted, as that, for some insane reason, further justifies their bizarro religion… I think that if a Mormon (or a Xtian) stopped playing the persecution card, then they stop being the chosen people, or some crap like that.

    It sounds like a dogma-induced mental illness to me.

  • It would be nice if some Christians actually could experience what real stigma feel like. So many of them—especially white Christians—seem to have no clue what it feels like to be a member of a society in which your beliefs are truly maligned.

  • cathy

    Persecuted? Only in their own warped fantasies (in the west, at least, some places in the middle east and Asia are exceptions).

  • Parse

    There are probably a few areas where being a vocal Christian will lead to some stigma. I’d suggest academia, especially in biology departments, or any field where the stereotypical ‘anti-intellectual Christian’ would disagree with the subject matter as taught. In such areas, where religion is completely perpendicular to the subject, if you bring up religion it’s assumed that you do so because your religious views are more important than your scientific observations.

    At my previous (programming in an office) job, I lost a great deal of respect for a coworker, not because he was a YEC, but because he wouldn’t ever be quiet about it. We weren’t paid to preach, but to program. I’m sure he would count that as social stigma, and to a degree it was – but due to his behavior, not his faith.

  • Jerzy Mike

    Honestly, I don’t care whether there is a social stigma or not, so I won’t really weigh in on that… but, I do want to challenge this statement of Hemant’s.

    “Frankly, I don’t mind. If there’s stigma associated with being a Christian, it’s because Christians brought it upon themselves. Their anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-science, hypocritical ways ought to bring shame to Christians, including even the small percentage of them who don’t act that way.”

    Were the underlying premise of this to be ok, you would give grounds to every stereotype, ever racist, every misogynist, every bigot, every anti-semite (ethnic hate, not theistic hate) that walks around. The underlying premise you articulate basically says, “I don’t need to judge the individual. Rather, I can take the acts/thoughts of a few and ascribe their traits to everyone else with which they associate.” And we all know this is not an acceptable train of thought, I mean, not every Christian is anti-gay, not every black person likes fried chicken, not every Indian owns a 7-11, not every Asian is good at math, not every Jew is cheap, not every Italian is in the mob (maybe… I kid. I kid), etc… But seriously, the line of thought you espouse is dangerous…

    So I would challenge you to take every Christian you meet, every Buddhist, every Taoist, every Muslim, every Jew, etc… and allow them to define themselves in your presence rather than ascribing to them preconceptions developed from interactions with other people.

  • plutosdad

    This article is somewhat timely. Everyone go buy from Home Depot! 🙂 (and perhaps persecute the AFA while you’re at it! Show them what it’s really like)

    Christian group calls for boycott of Home Depot because they spend money supporting gay pride parades.

  • @Valhar2000: I see you’re on my dad’s email list too. 😉

    @mkb and Jeff: Where are these gay friendly, pro choice, pro-science Christians again? If their numbers are significant, why are they so quiet? The fact is, the majority of Christians are anti-gay, just not militantly so. And I’d say most are pretty much indifferent about science. I’m not sure about abortion, but I’d say christians are somewhat more likely to oppose it than the general population.

    It looks to me like, apart from Catholics, christians are against gay marriage and find homosexual behavior morally wrong quite a bit more than the general population.

  • cicely

    “Do Christians face social stigma in America today?”

    No. But many of them think they do.

    IMO, what they’re doing is mistaking their feelings of violation of their unrecognised (by them) privilege, for stigmatisation. IYKWIM.

  • This poll sheds more light:

    Americans’ Opposition to Gay Marriage Eases Slightly

    70% who say religion is “very important”, oppose gay marriage. It is virtually the reverse for people who say religion is “not important.” But only 37% of those who say religion is “fairly important” oppose gay marriage.

    So clearly we have to be careful about lumping all christians together. So it looks to be primarily the bible-beating hardline literalists. And bible literalists are also much more anti-science, or else they do some serious compartmentalization.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    There are Christians and then there are Christians. The vast majority of them outside of Evangelical circles are more dedicated to their consumer culture, popular entertainment and their more casual attitudes toward certain perceived vices (drinking, premarital sex, etc.) than that more dedicated minority. These causal Christians will still have a knee-jerk reaction to atheists and gays because that is what they think they are supposed to do. But they will just as quickly get annoyed by Evangelical types who get too preachy or try to interfere with them indulging their own vices. They don’t really want to spend a lot of time thinking about religion and so, to a degree, stigmatize their fellow Christians who do.

  • The idea that they face persecution is arrogant and laughable, but actually some do feel stigmatized because of people’s reaction to the behavior of the loud and loony ones.

    I tweeted this post on Twitter and then got into a discussion with a Christian about it:

    I’m pro-gay marriage, pro-life, and pro-science. But when I identify myself as “Christian,” people’s ears turn off.

    The problem I have is that the vocal Christians are the ones damaging us: Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps… they don’t speak for me.

    My response was that Christians are going to have to stand up and shout down these idiots publicly and demand they stop speaking for them. Sitting around in embarrassment isn’t going to make them shut up.

    Christians in the US outnumber everybody else combined. With numbers like that, why aren’t they able to drown out the loons like Robertson in an ocean of public outrage?

    If they want the bad people in their group to stop embarrassing their whole religion, they need to deal with it themselves. They’re the only ones with the numbers to do it. I see the occasional Christian calling them out but the loudest voices are gays and atheists. Why is that?

  • bernerbits

    When I was a Christian, receiving the cold shoulder when I attempted the Christian sales pitch was “persecution.” People disagreeing with my opinions on scientific or sociopolitical issues was “persecution.” Getting flak from friends for not wanting to go out drinking was “persecution.” A significant other upset about lack of progress in the bedroom was “persecution.” Friends who called me “the Priest” or saying “he does the God thing” was “persecution.” Having the persecution complex pointed out was “persecution.”

    I was always scared to death to talk about my religious views because I was taught that being a Christian in the real world meant that I would be “persecuted for Christ’s sake.”

    The very existence of a pluralistic society is why many Christians believe they are marginalized. To them, not having the country run exactly the way they want is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

  • The status/behavior distinction many make here seems right on. There is absolutely NO stigma around BEING a Christian. Churches on every corner, crosses around innumerable necks, a culture suffused with the stories and dogmas. No sir, no stigma at all.

    There is, however, a mild stigma around ACTING too “Christian” in mainstream (i.e., non-fundamentalist) society. I remember a guy who used to frequent the restaurant where I worked. Every f-ing sentence was punctuated with “praise the lord.” Drove everyone, including then-evangelical me, up a wall. There are lots of examples (and witnessing is a good one) where being seen as too extreme in your beliefs gets you the suspicious eye in polite society. Which, as I said, excludes most fundamentalists.

    The point many make about Christians perceiving stigma around every corner just because their beliefs aren’t granted privileged status is also spot-on.

  • anthrosciguy

    I think witnessing — trying to foist your beliefs on others — is rude behavior itself. So they’re sometimes — sometimes — hesistant about being rude to other people? Great, they should be.

  • Roxane

    Given the crap one goes through when one even admits to being an atheist, I suspect the idea that Christians are experiencing social stigma might be sheer wishful thinking on my part. Crass, I know, but there it is.

  • Skepticat

    There are some minority Christian denominations that are stigmatized – at least in my corner of the world (Deep South, USA). The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are ridiculed and often discriminated against by the more mainstream Christian denominations here. My fiance’s family are all Witnesses and they have faced harassment and discrimination at work because their flavor of Christianity isn’t to the liking of the Baptists and so forth.

    But Christians in general? The idea that Christianity is stigmatized in the US is laughable.

  • NorDog

    Seems like there’s some kind of “victim competition” here.

    Not sure how the question on social stigma turned into persecution.

    Persecution is marching someone off to the gas chambers.

    Social stigma is being shunned or ridiculed.

    Off course Chritians can be socially stigmatized in America. In most places I would say not, but in some places sure.

    Hell, I sense a bit of social stigma here. I certainly experienced it in college. And I experience it living in Hollywood. As a Catholic I get it from evangelical-fundies.

    Etc. etc. etc.

    But who cares? I don’t. America is pluralistic enough that just about anyone will feel on the outside somewhere sometime.

    I don’t buy into the whole persecution complex thing. Of course it exists, especially for Christians of a certain type, but it ain’t me.

  • littlejohn

    Christians, broadly speaking, are not stigmatized here in the US. The fact that non-believers have to pretend to be Christians to run for president proves that point.
    But extremely conservative, evangelicals are the butt of jokes in certain liberal circles. I’m sure you can all think of examples from comic movies and Saturday Night Live routines. (The Church Lady comes to mind, as well as the nun in The Blues Brothers movie.)
    Let’s be honest. We do consider them superstitious idiots.

  • Christians feel they are persecuted when their previous overstepping in society is challenged or reversed. For example, they once led prayer in public schools. Now they can’t so they think they are being persecuted. They previously (and still do) have religious language in pledges and on currency. When this is questioned, they consider it persecution.

    In my opinion, Christians don’t actually face any real persecution. They are merely having their earlier over-stepping questioned. It is only because they have grown accustomed to being able to over-step that they think they are being persecuted. That and the bible verses that claim they will be persecuted like the 1st century Christians. Pastors only bring up those bible verses because it mobilizes the faithful to action (and tithing).

  • Jeff Dale


    Persecution is marching someone off to the gas chambers.
    Social stigma is being shunned or ridiculed.

    There’s a whole spectrum of persecution that’s a lot closer to “shunned or ridiculed” than “gas chambers,” but your point is basically understandable: some Christians seem to act as though they’re threatened with serious persecution when they don’t even experience stigma in most parts of the U.S.

  • abadidea

    Growing up in a 100% Christian environment, I was told to thank God that I lived in America where there was only a LITTLE bit of persecution, because there are children in Africa who feel the call of the Lord and are brutally murdered by their families. Reading these gory persecution stories to us little kids was the favorite activity of my teachers. We were then told that as the lucky few born into a mostly-Christian wealthy country, our God-given responsibility was to go be missionaries in these parts of the world and face persecution- and to practice by facing the little persecutions here at home by witnessing to the lost.

  • I think that the default position in much of the U.S. is “Christian, but not overly demonstrative.” Deviating from the default position on anything is likely to lead to some social disdain. Outspoken (especially pushy) Christians are going to come in for that except in those areas where they are the default. I don’t think that means they’re oppressed, but it probably feels bad.

  • Talk/be a Christian…..

    what is “the world” to them?

    “Oh the world is….”
    “You are so of this world..”

    “The World” is not christian in the minds of christians and represents “everybody else” who is not special like the believer…….it is a mindset drummed into christians in the west and also the the thing that helps reinforce the alienation of turning away from the faith.

    You have to remember, this is the arrogance of believing EVERYONE that doesn’t agree with you will face the most excruciating punishment (because they were wrong).

  • Spurs Fan

    Darwin’s Dagger said:

    There are Christians and then there are Christians. The vast majority of them outside of Evangelical circles are more dedicated to their consumer culture, popular entertainment and their more casual attitudes toward certain perceived vices (drinking, premarital sex, etc.) than that more dedicated minority. These causal Christians will still have a knee-jerk reaction to atheists and gays because that is what they think they are supposed to do. But they will just as quickly get annoyed by Evangelical types who get too preachy or try to interfere with them indulging their own vices. They don’t really want to spend a lot of time thinking about religion and so, to a degree, stigmatize their fellow Christians who do.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I must say that sometimes I dislike this sort of attitude the most. As a former evangelical, I have some respect for those devout believers who, at the very least can explain why they do what they do. The consumer crowd that doesn’t want to be seen as too religious, but will bite your head off if you exclaim any skepticism toward a divine being bothers me to no end (though I can socialize with them much easier on some occasions).

  • I’ve heard people apologize to me for holding christian beliefs, now that I live in Seattle. Which isn’t the same as being socially stigmatized, but is different than Minnesota, where I grew up.

    I used to be a JW, and a commenter above stated that they are stigmatized, which is very true. In some areas Catholics are probably looked down on (or is that historical and not current?). I think it’s a combo of where one lives, and if in the “normal” church. USA is too big to define all at once. Maybe by state.

  • Dymara

    Dominionism Hurts Christians Too.

  • MaleficVTwin

    To the outsider looking in, Christian persecution is as real as their god.

  • I was a Christian for 20 years. Not once did I feel any sort of stigma attached to it. Despite what some try to claim there’s no “persecution” of Christians in the US. I wore Christian jewelry, went to church whenever I wanted, talked about God/Jesus whenever I wanted, prayed whenever I wanted and read my Bible/other religious books in public without a second thought. It was when I lost my faith and returned to atheism that I started facing stigma, including from a lifelong friend. Needless to say being a lesbian has brought me plenty of stigma, most of it from those fine, loving Christians who claim they’re being persecuted because I want them to leave me the eff alone.

  • Nordog

    I would like to add as a side note to this thread a thought about Christian “witness”.

    I really do appreciate the comments here from those who hate (too strong a word? Cringe at?) being proselytized to by aggressive Christians, or even mild Christians.

    I hated it when I was an agnostic, and it makes me nauseous still.

    There really are millions of smug Christians out there that have no clue about themselves, or those to whom they wish to witness.

    They act like no one has heard of Jesus. They approach people in a way that would make one think the Christians in question think you just came in from outer space or something.

    It is an approach that is disrespectful. For many the intention is good I’m sure, but I’m of the mind that only God should be judging intentions. The effect is to cause one to question just how much of a fatuous jerk a person can be.

    The lack of respect in that approach is substantial. The condescension is overwhelming. The damage they do to their own witness is immeasurable.

  • In defense of Christians “standing up” and “shouting down” the Jerry Falwells/Pat Robertsons/Fred Phelpses of the world, I would just like to say that there ARE those of us who do just that. Look at Brian McLaren, John Shelby Spong, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller. And these are just off the top of my head. The problem isn’t that we aren’t being loud enough and trying to encourage other Christians to alter their thinking. It’s that the news media LOVE the Jerrys and the Freds. They will 100% of the time get more news coverage than Bishop Spong, who lovingly reprimands fundamentalist Christians.

  • Tim

    To answer your question, no.

    Christians walk all over the separation of church and state, and then cry persecution when someone calls them on it. They are anything but persecuted in this country; they’re on a pedestal. They control every level of state and federal government, and they themselves constitute something like 90% of the country (don’t quote me, and if you know the correct figure please respond). If that’s persecution, sign me up.

  • george

    I think they do, at least in the urban areas I have lived in. If they are too open about their faith it feels like proselytizing, which turns people off.

    And then there is the assumption that they will be no fun, or are bigoted. Christians who are more socially liberal have to work extra in order to counter that stereotype.

  • Dan W

    I think it can be easily agreed upon that atheists feel social stigma in America. Christians, on the other hand? Well, for one thing, Christians are the majority here, and those who say hateful things about minority groups and are occasionally ridiculed for that brought it on themselves and deserve social stigma for being bigots. Less hateful Christians are generally not ridiculed much at all.

    It’s clear to me that many Christians in this country have a persecution complex. They are the majority, and many frequently try to force their religion into the government where it doesn’t belong. Christians have political power at all levels of the government. Yet so many Christians still claim they are persecuted in the U.S. I do not believe that word means what they think it means.

  • nocommentatthistime

    When I was growing up in an evangelical Christian home, it was drilled in to me that we were being “persecuted” for our beliefs. I was also taught to be proud of this.
    My “social studies” curriculum in high school was called Understanding the Times It contrasted the Biblical worldview with 3 other worldviews, including one labeled “secular humanism.” It taught that we were in a cultural/spiritual war with these people, who were literally conspiring against us by not giving us the real scientific facts (that would prove evolution to be false), by purposely deceiving women into having unwanted abortions, and by flunking Christians in university classes.
    I am grateful that I was able to find my way out of such brainwashing, but I am also ashamed of how well it worked on me for so long.
    No matter what deserved/undeserved anti-Christian biases exist today, many evangelicals are using these mole-hills to bring about mountains of faith and fire in their young people.

  • Jeff Dale


    Well said. Glad you’re here.


    Hope that wasn’t at a public high school. Then again, maybe that wouldn’t make it better. Oh well.

  • Aric

    In general there is no social stigma against being a Christian but there is a stigma against being too Christian. If ‘witnessing’ means being a party-pooper because Jesus wouldn’t approve, then yes, most people are not going to seek your company.

    I even felt that way in the Christian schools I grew up in. For me, the self-imposed pressure to witness went along with doubt because I didn’t have a good reason to believe what I did. The doubt was the real source of my inhibitions to witness, not social stigma.

    Even in science Christians are accepted. There were many Christian profs and students in the physics departments at public universities where I studied. They were fine there. However if they had openly denied evolution or something silly like that things might have been different for them.

    Basically, what Christians want is for the whole world to be like Church, where they get social reinforcement for beliefs that aren’t solid enough to stand on their own. That is why the feel persecuted and think the world is too secular.

  • blueridgelady

    I am hoping there is a stigma against Fundamentalist Christianity. I have lived in the Southeast US a large part of my life and I certainly don’t experience/view that as such, unfortunately.
    With all due respect to the Christians that come to Friendly Atheist (and thank you because you are reading about us), I don’t really see how any of you are surprised when we assume that you are anti-gay/choice/science.

    The cherry-picking is different for every denomination, but these stances can be very clearly supported by the Bible, which isn’t surprising for pre-first century illiterate nomadic tribes. That isn’t to be nasty, I just can’t stand having someone tell me they believe I am going to hell but they also eat shellfish and wear cotton/poly blends, both of which are explicitly forbidden in Leviticus.

    Doesn’t it strike any of you funny that the 10 Commandment tablets weren’t found, or that there are no mention of dinosaur bones in the Bible, or that you use your own conscience to not publicly stone your own children when they are disobedient? At what point do you analyze and reassess that maybe this stuff is just a story?

    I really am not trying to be incendiary but The thought of Christians in the US whining about persecution is simply ludicrous to me. I have passed too many mouthy church marquees to think otherwise, sorry.

    A recovering Baptist with a compassionate and decent Christian mother.

  • Eric says:

    Basically, what Christians want is for the whole world to be like Church, where they get social reinforcement for beliefs that aren’t solid enough to stand on their own. That is why they feel persecuted and think the world is too secular.

    That pretty much sums it up.

  • Steve

    Here is another astounding example of perceived Christian persecution. It deserves a blog entry of its own:

    A woman goes to a public university, studying to be a counselor. Yet, she reportedly always injects religion into thing. Interestingly she was also ordered to improve her writing and reading skills.

    She thinks that gender is determined at birth and not a purely social construct (not to be confused with sex). She also claims that homosexuality is a chose and not an immutable character trait. She was ordered to be better educated about such matters and apparently to attend a Pride parade (which seems a bit silly, but never mind).

    Now she thinks she is being persecuted for her beliefs. Un-fucking-believable. She is studying to be a psychological counselor. Yet she clearly can’t follow the ethical standards for that profession. She is required to detach her personal feelings and beliefs from her clients. Otherwise she has no business being a counselor. Allowing her to graduate and work with teenagers is just waiting for her to contribute to a suicide.

    This isn’t just about hurt feelings. The mental well-being of people is at stake. If she wants to be so religious, she could have attended some religious program.

  • Betsy

    Thanks, Jerzy Mike, for your comment. Quotes like that are why I don’t think Hemant is so “friendly” after all and I wish he’d change the name of the website.

    I’m an atheist now, but I grew up in a fundamentalist sect of Christianity. We dressed weird – women didn’t wear pants, skirts were below our knees, no cutting our hair, no makeup, no jewelry, etc. My mother had 6 kids and no wedding ring, though my parents were lawfully married. The church wasn’t my choice, it was my parents’ choice, and trust me, there was a social stigma b/c we stood out. I went to public school, mixed in “the world” as our church referred to outsiders. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc… so we stood out, especially at school where we weren’t permitted to participate in plays or even draw Santa in art class.

    Am I whining? No. It’s just how things were. We were obvious, we stood out, and b/c we were taught that our friends were going to hell, yes, we – or I, at least – tried to talk to them about it. I stopped when a few of them got mad. I was seven at the time. Throughout school, my siblings and I had very few friends due to the religious beliefs of our family .

    So to answer the question – yes I think there is a social stigma and yes it probably is limited to the ultra conservative, fundamentalist sects with strange beliefs that set them apart from the mainstream. You have to pretty much look and act different from anyone else and that was what our church taught and took pride in. And yes, the ADULTS take it upon themselves, but the CHILDREN don’t and the CHILDREN suffer for it.

  • It is difficult to tell the difference whether I am ashamed or disgusted to have fellow intelligent beings who could believe such nonsensical rubbish. There is without a doubt a stigma about atheists, but with the overwhelming number of Christians in high levels of our society it is difficult for an opposing group to make any impact. So really I don’t think Christians have a social stigma for the most of the world, but for groups within society (like Atheists) they are regarded as such.

  • When considering witnessing there must be a voice in there somewhere telling them it’s not true. The faith of most christians is watered-down or moderate. If they really believe it its because they don’t really know what to believe.

    And even if they are confident in their belief they have to know that if pressed for facts they have only an old book they haven’t really read, their feelings and that’s about it.

    Sure there’s a stigma attached to christians due to hard-liners and also because there’s something not very convincing about faith. In every non-religious endeavor requesting faith is usually an indicator deceit. Why this doesn’t carry over to religious activities baffles me.

  • Often times, when out driving around town, I often wonder how bad christians probably have it in our society. I wonder how they (passing 100k member non-denom congregation mega church) deal with being ostracized as a tiny voice of belief (passing another Baptist mega church just down the street) and being ridiculed (driving by several ‘christian academies’).

    It isn’t easy being vocal about one’s belief (passing a “god said” billboard) in our depraved country. What with the moral bankruptcy (passing a Catholic chapel), there just isn’t way to have your voice heard (turning on the radio to find 4 christian stations and 3 AM news stations broadcasting sunday services).

    Yeah, it must be real tough to be a christian in Amurica, because your views really aren’t validated in culture (viewing a dozen christian evangelical programs on my TV, with religious views mixed with politics on cable ‘news’ punditry).

  • absent sway

    I was still an evangelical when I attended a California university, and while some of my discomfort was self-imposed, I often felt like I was instantly perceived as every fundy stereotype and tried to somehow make up for all those judgmental sticks-in-the-mud I had nothing in common with besides Christianity. I don’t think this is on par with bias against atheists at all, but if your context is mostly young, free-spirited, and intellectual, the Christian label won’t win you any popularity contests.

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