While there's no question religious people sometimes assume the worst about agnostics, atheists or those who are just generally secular — a bias I've long decried — it's no less true that skeptics similarly stereotype the religious.
This particular blade cuts both ways.
We see more evidence of anti-religious, usually anti-Christian, prejudice with each passing week. As the ranks of non-believers continue to increase, some critics have grown militant in their disdain for religion.
Occasionally, even compliments carry a faint whiff of condescension.
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For instance, an online reader recently posted this about my columns:
"When he writes he is so pragmatic and open-minded, so then I have difficulty understanding how he can still be (an) evangelical minister. It seems so conflicting."
This was meant as praise, I think. I appreciate all kindnesses.
Still, the subtext is that it's incongruous, if not disheartening, to think a guy who's pragmatic and open-minded could also be dumb enough to be an evangelical preacher.
I've interviewed, lived among or worshipped with scores of evangelical preachers down through my six decades — was raised by one, in fact — and honestly, I've found a great many of them pragmatic and open-minded.
Despite the currently popular rhetoric, neither faith and stupidity, nor faith and rigidity, are automatic synonyms.
Are some evangelical ministers close-minded ideologues? Sure. Are others commonsensical and inclusive? No question about that, either. It depends on the individual more than the theological belief-system.
Similarly, Rachel E. Gross, a Slate.com staffer, recently wrote about a Pew Research Center study that found highly religious Americans significantly less likely than other Americans to see any conflict between religion and science.
She speculated that her readers would find this confusing.
"After all, don't religion and science represent two opposing worldviews, as fundamentally incompatible as oil and water? Isn't it true that the more committed you are to the one, the more likely you are to reject the other?" Gross asked. "Well, no. And if you believe that, you're probably not religious."
That is, in the Pew survey, the majority of those who said science and religion are contradictory were people without a religion.
Seventy-six percent of the non-observant saw religion and science in conflict, while, among those who attended religious services at least weekly, the percentage was only 50 percent.
One expert told Gross that if respondents had been offered a third choice other than in-conflict/not-in-conflict, even that 50 percent figure would have been much lower.
Religious Americans by and large support science, Jonathan Hill, a sociologist at Calvin College, said. They want more government investment in it. They back "experimental medical treatments, bioengineered organs, genetically modified foods, climate change and space exploration."
Hill had conducted a study of his own. He discovered that when he gave religious people a third possible answer — that religion and science are separate and not in competition because religion is about faith and science about empirical facts — the 50 percent who saw a conflict declined even further, to about one-third.
"The people who are farther away from religion themselves tend to see stronger conflict, because they're not as close to actual religious people," explained Robert P. Jones, another religion scholar. "They aren't seeing all those people who don't have a conflict."
Instead, Gross said, what the non-religious tend to know of the religious community is what they see in the media, "those rare flashpoints of controversy, such as fights over evolution and the content of science textbooks."
Such flashpoints obscure the subtleties of real, everyday faith.
For me, a stark example of this over-simplification was the cyclone in a teapot regarding Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
What an ado about nothing. Or almost nothing.
For skeptics around the globe, she became emblematic of Christians generally and evangelicals specifically. They're all bigots, the critics cried.
Except Davis wasn't emblematic of anything except herself.
What should have been a bigger part of any reasonable discussion was that Davis is a member of an Apostolic Pentecostal sect, a splinter from traditional Pentecostalism. Apostolic Pentecostals make up roughly 1/2 of 1 percent of U.S. Christians.
They're among the very strictest of Christian subgroups, and hold doctrines their more mainstream brothers and sisters would regard as theologically unsound, if not heretical. (Typically they don't believe in the Trinity.)
Also, there are 120 counties in Kentucky, most of them geographically and philosophically in the hardline Bible Belt. Many county clerks are evangelicals.
Yet 117 clerks — 97.5 percent — obeyed the Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Only three, including Davis — a miniscule 2.5 percent — refused to issue licenses to gay couples.
Somehow, though, Davis became the poster-child for Christian officials.
It's silly, really. It's irritating.
Christians and other religious people should never stereotype or dismiss the non-religious. But neither should skeptics stereotype or dismiss churchgoers.
Sloppy, ignorant thinking is sloppy, ignorant thinking, regardless of who thinks it.