Why the world doesn’t need the term ‘Christianophobia’
“I hate Christians,” said the young woman — let’s call her ‘Maya’ — who was standing next to me in 1998.
I was attending a demonstration that day against the proliferation of nuclear power in the UK. This is not something I would be particularly inclined to demonstrate against these days; nevertheless, there I was. I had travelled to the demo. with a group of young people including Maya.
The occasion for this expression of antipathy towards an entire class of people in UK society was that our demonstration had happened to meet with another, (as it seemed to me) rather larger demonstration by Christians — part of the Jubilee 2000 campaign — which called on the government of the time to cancel third-world debt.
“‘I hate Christians,’ said the young woman standing next to me. The occasion for this expression of antipathy towards an entire class of people in UK society was that our demonstration had happened to meet with a Jubilee 2000 demonstration calling on the government of the time to cancel third-world debt.”
One would have thought that Maya and the others in our little party of green warriors would have strongly favoured a cause such as the cancellation of third-world debt. Very likely they did. Nonetheless — at least for Maya — the association of this cause with what she probably viewed as The Establishment, The Patriarchy and The Hypocrisy all rolled into one tainted the entire movement. If it was rooted in Christianity, then ipso facto it was part of the Evil.
It will not surprise regular readers of this blog that, as a new Christian at the time — I became a believing Christian that very year — Maya’s statement threw me into a genuine conflict of identity. Nor will it come as a surprise that I did not remain in that particular movement for very long thereafter.
For me, this little anecdote embodies why we — certainly in the Western world — do not need a term such as ‘Christianophobia,’ as has been mooted from time to time.
There is nothing particularly new about hostility towards Christians in the UK. Perhaps it is now more vocal then ten or twenty years ago; perhaps it now more public; perhaps it now has more state and corporate backing — certainly from organizations such as the BBC. But as a phenomenon per se, it is nothing new.
So why not coin a term for it?
“The term ‘phobia’ comes from the Greek word φόβος, phobos, meaning ‘fear.’ We used to use the suffix for various, clinically diagnosed anxieties. But at some point the public discourse began using the suffix as a convenient way of designating something that we don’t really fear, but towards which we have an irrational, visceral aversion or hatred.”
The English language has seen a proliferation of ‘phobias’ enter the dictionary in recent years. The term ‘phobia’ comes from the Greek word φόβος, phobos, meaning ‘fear.’ We used to use the suffix for various, clinically diagnosed anxieties: claustrophobia, “fear of being in an enclosed space”; agoraphobia, “fear of being in public places.”
At some point the public discourse in the Western world began using the suffix as a convenient way of designating something that we don’t really fear, but towards which we have an irrational, visceral aversion or hatred: homophobia, biphobia, Islamophobia; transphobia.
One oddity about some of these terms is that they appear designed to sway public discourse. The word homo comes from the Greek ὁμός, homos, meaning ‘same.’ This was embedded into the word homosexuality, coined in 1869 and popularized by the German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, to describe sexual acts with persons of the same sex.
Homophobia is an irrational aversion to or hatred of homosexuality or homosexuals. Yet the ‘sexual’ bit has dropped out: literally the word just means, “fear of the same.” Clearly, fear-of-the-same could be a legitimate characterization of many counter-cultural or rebellious movements (fear of third-world countries still having the same debt levels after 2000?), or even a man undergoing a mid-life crisis. But then, ‘homosexualiphobia’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Exactly the same observations may be made of the terms ‘biphobia’ and ‘transphobia.’
“The problem with the proliferation of ‘phobias’ in our language is that, as soon as you term something a ‘phobia,’ you shut down legitimate discussion and debate about that thing. Rather than engage seriously with a position with which you sincerely disagree, it becomes all too facile to denounce it as ‘phobic.’”
The problem with the proliferation of ‘phobias’ in our language is that, as soon as you term something a ‘phobia,’ to a greater or lesser extent you shut down legitimate discussion and debate about that thing. Rather than engage seriously with a position with which you sincerely disagree, it becomes all too facile to denounce it as ‘phobic.’
We’ve seen this phenomenon repeatedly in recent times in our universities. However much certain voices assure us “it’s fine,” the fact is, discussions which should be happening in our universities are being shut down by identity politics and denunciations:
- The Times: Mob rule is crushing free speech on campus (30 June 2019)
- The Times: Academic freedom must be backed up with hard policy (11 Nov 2019)
- The Times: Feminist speaker is cancelled after students accuse her of transphobia (20 Nov 2019)
- The Times: Students speak up to join campaign for free speech (23 Nov 2019)
- The Times: University pulls trans forum amid safety fears (4 Dec 2019)
- The Times: Trans rights activists halt gender debate at Essex University (7 Dec 2019)
The effects of the adoption of various ‘phobias’ into the English language seen in the above examples is chilling.
The Conservative Party has been criticized for failing to adopt a definition, meanwhile, of ‘Islamophobia’ put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, amid accusations that Islamophobia is as rife within the Conservative Party as Antisemitism is among the current Labour Party.
Let me be clear: Genuine Islamophobia among the ranks of the Conservative Party should not be tolerated and should be stamped out.
However, the proposed definition of Islamophobia was said to be vague enough to leave open the door to any legitimate criticism of Islam being denounced as ‘Islamophobic.’ This is not really a situation we want to get into, and I think the Conservative Party’s reticence about this definition is therefore understandable.
Like Islam, sexuality, abortion, or any other topic which generates hotly-contested and deeply-held views, Christianity must be open to legitimate criticism.
“Arguably it is the Bible itself which has bequeathed to Western society the tools for self-criticism of its own values, practices and beliefs. Even the ‘wokeness’ which characterizes so much of what passes for contemporary ‘debate’ on social media is deeply rooted in Christianity.”
Indeed, arguably it is the Bible itself which has bequeathed to Western society the tools for self-criticism of its own values, practices and beliefs. As Tom Holland cogently argues in his recent book Dominion, latent in the Bible are the ideas which eventually led to the abolition of slavery. Even the ‘wokeness’ which characterizes so much of what passes for contemporary ‘debate’ on social media is, he argues, deeply rooted in Christianity.
If it is Christianity which has given Western society the capacity for genuine self-evaluation and self-criticism, then Christianity must be open — must continue to be open — to criticism and self-criticism. Much of that contemporary criticism may be unfair, but fair or not, we must support people’s right to voice it.
See how the Apostle Paul expresses his desire, not to coerce people into faith in Jesus, but to win them by persuasion:
“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.”
2 Corinthians 5:11
As Christians, this should always be our modus operandi. The Christian proclamation is — and must be — an invitation to look at us, ‘warts and all,’ and to see whether, albeit hidden in our frailties and our failures, there really is divine power in the gospel of Christ.
That is why I believe we do not need yet another ‘phobia’ adding to the English language.
The Guardian: Opinion: ‘Christianophobia? I don’t think so’ (6 Dec 2007)
This opinion piece by Mike Ion was written in reaction to a Parliamentary debate on ‘Christianophobia’ initiated by Conservative MP Mark Pritchard. Whilst it may be admitted there is some force in Mr. Ion’s arguments, it is also true to say that, twelve years later, his arguments against such a phenomenon as ‘Christianophobia’ seem terribly dated.
‘“Christianophobia” and the BBC’ (14 Jan 2005)
This appears to be one of the earliest occurrences of the term. The article accuses the BBC of ‘Christianophobia’ over its 8th January 2005 screening of Jerry Springer – The Opera, as well as other sentiments expressed by the Corporation’s output against traditional, orthodox Christianity.
The Spectator: ‘Is Britain becoming a Christianophobic country?’ (7 Nov 2017)
This article asks the above, sobering question following the recent brutal attack on Tajamal Amar, a Pakistani Christian, in Derby. The article cites various examples of hostility towards Christians in the UK, and asks whether these are symptomatic of a growing intolerance towards Christianity.
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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Little Brown, 2019), 432.
 Holland, 366–70.
 Holland, 514–15.
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