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Christmas: “Peace on Earth” (and Between Evangelicals and Atheists)

December 24, 2019

At Christmas time, we’re reminded of the perpetual human hope of “peace on earth” and goodwill toward one another.

Toward this, one thing we need to keep in line, within ourselves, is undue fear of the “other”. Unfortunately…

Perception often trumps reality…. and has real world consequences.

Some fascinating research shows an important aspect of this in current American society.  It involves perceptions back and forth between white evangelical Protestants and atheists/agnostics.  The study was a large 2019 survey and research comparison by Paul A. Djupe and Ryan Burge.  It is found here, titled, “The Inverted Golden Rule: Are Atheists as Intolerant as Evangelicals Think They Are?”

Spoiler alert:

The simplified answer the data tells them is “No”… with some interesting twists.  (It is worth a good look though the article and at the full picture, involving aspects I won’t go into here.  It does get a bit complex.)

They had my curiosity with “Inverted Golden Rule”.  The article author, Djupe, says it means “expect from others what you would do unto them”. In other words, you perceive in someone else the intentions that are actually yours, and may not be theirs.  I’d call it a form of what is often called projection… projecting onto the “screen” of others what comes from inside ourselves.

We have this tendency strongly already.  As Djupe points out, it can then be amplified by the voices of pundits.  In this case, they either have stronger-than-average fears of not being tolerated or are merely happy to use the fears of others to their advantage in gaining (or keeping) a large audience.

Now, this can work on either side of a religious or political divide.  However, the survey numbers in the article note a significantly stronger fear among evangelical Protestants of being “shut down” (particularly on first amendment rights) than would clearly seem to be warranted.  At the same time, atheists and agnostics are not as concerned, even though white evangelicals express relatively less political tolerance of them than vice versa.

At the end, Djupe draws the political conclusion that this dynamic is part of why this sub-set of Christians feels strongly about the need for “… keeping Trump and his party in power”.

What do you think? Does this make sense to you? If not, why not? 

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