In the past, to be called "discriminating" was high praise. We rarely hear the adjective used that way (or used at all) anymore, but the noun and verb are everywhere. News stories about discrimination are an almost daily occurrence. It stands as one of the main points on the contemporary moral compass.
In the sixties and seventies, when the subject of discrimination came up, it was usually in the context of race or gender. In the eighties, it was often in conversation about physical disabilities. Today, it is typically in the context of sexual orientation or gender identity. Who's next? What group will be the target of discrimination in the coming years?
There is at least some reason to believe it will be religious people, and especially religious conservatives. In the future, people who acknowledge an authority that transcends cultural norms, like Catholics and Evangelicals, may be the ones most likely to face discrimination.
Prejudice against people of faith is of course nothing new. When T. S. Eliot, arguably the most famous English poet of the twentieth century, converted to Christianity, he immediately became the object of derision and exclusion. The Times Literary Supplement labeled him a traitor. When Virginia Woolf, the de facto leader of the influential Bloomsbury Group, of which Eliot was a member, learned of his Christian faith, she was shocked and disgusted. She wrote to a fellow group member,
"I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic believer in God and immortality, and he goes to church. I was shocked. A corpse would seem more credible than he is. I mean, there's something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God."
If Woolf's response seems over the top, consider the responses that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a self-identified progressive, received after complaining of academia's bias against conservatives. One respondent defended the discrimination, claiming that "Much of the 'conservative' worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false." Another said matter-of-factly, "Truth has a liberal slant." A third sarcastically added, "How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?"
This is how many liberals think of conservatives, and especially religious conservatives. Kristof quotes the sociologist George Yancey, who is a black Evangelical:
"Outside of academia, I faced more problems as a black. But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close."
If Yancey's story is at all representative, it raises a provocative question: had Martin Luther King, Jr. come onto the scene now instead of in the 1950s, would he have faced greater hostility and discrimination because of his faith or because of his race? The bus would stop for him, but would the university pass him by?
Bias against Evangelicals on the university campus is indisputable. Kristoff points out that 59 percent of anthropologists and 53 percent of English professors say they would be less likely to hire a person if they discovered he or she was an Evangelical. This in spite of the fact that many Evangelicals are every bit as qualified as their irreligious peers. With all their praise of tolerance, irreligious progressives don't even try to hide their intolerance of religious peers, particularly religious conservatives.
Jesus repeatedly warned his first followers to expect hostility and discrimination. He didn't pull any punches: "Everyone will hate you because of me." But he also instructed them to respond to such treatment with love instead of lawsuits. That's a huge shift away from society's current response to discrimination, but it has worked in the past and there is reason to hope it will do so again.
Kudos to Nicholas Kristof - not for standing up for conservatives but for standing up for reason and clear thinking. And let conservatives take notice: Kristof is a liberal who actually listens to people with whom he disagrees, and believes that they have something to add to the conversation. It's a good example for us all - conservative, liberal or whatever else we might be - to follow.