Why not to use ‘Christophobia’

18 September 2019

The following article is adapted from Christian Concern’s response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Human rights: Freedom of religion and belief, and human rights defenders inquiry.

You can read the full response here.

One of the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians was to:

“Name the phenomenon of Christian discrimination and persecution and undertake work to identify its particular character alongside similar definitions for other religions, to better inform and develop tailored FCO policies to address these.”

The Foreign Secretary at the time, Jeremy Hunt, responded to this by saying that we should use the label ‘Christophobia’.

At Christian Concern, we agree that the phenomenon should be named, but object to persecution of (or discrimination against) Christians being labelled ‘Christophobia’ for the following reasons:

1. ‘Phobias’ are irrational fears

A ‘phobia’ is strictly an ‘irrational fear’, which is not an accurate term for persecution or discrimination. Fear alone, whether rational or irrational, is not the matter at hand – violence and discrimination is.

The use of phobia terms to describe this and other forms of hatred or discrimination unhelpfully conflates internal feelings or thoughts (dislike, fear, hatred) with external actions (discrimination, persecution, violence).

As a parallel, coveting and jealousy may lead someone to steal another person’s property. But that doesn’t mean we rename car theft ‘vehicle-jealousy’. To do so would miss the point and make false assumptions – not everyone who is jealous steals, and not every car is stolen because of the thief’s jealousy.

2. We must be free to criticise one another

As Christians, we believe there is no place for hatred or antagonism towards individuals. We are concerned about persecution or discrimination against individuals because of their expression of their Christian faith that we are concerned with. But freedom of speech requires the freedom to criticise each other’s beliefs in the strongest terms.

The author Richard Dawkins has made his hatred for Christian beliefs very clear in The God Delusion. That does not mean that he discriminates against or persecutes Christians.

If it followed examples set by other phobias, accusations ‘Christophobia’ could be used to silence reasonable criticism of Christianity or of the beliefs and practices of Christians. Silencing or chilling such discussion and debate would only further the inability of people with different views to talk to and persuade each other – a basic requirement of a free society.

3. Competing victimhoods and phobia inflation

There is a problem of competing victimhoods in our society, seen in frequent accusations of homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia. Once we get into defining new ‘phobias’ we will never stop. Every minority group in the country will want a ‘phobia’ of their own, and some majority groups too.

These accusations sometimes have merit but are often used rather as tools to shut down debate.

As Christians, we do not want to participate in a competition for victim status nor do we want the government to encourage the adoption of a victim mentality. Victim mentalities allow people to see the world through a lens of deliberate, constant oppression, leading to a sense of helplessness and inaction. Clumsily-worded criticisms are perceived as personal attacks. Bad luck is perceived as systemic oppression. Rather than leading to determination to make things better, victim mentalities motivate and reward inaction and hypersensitivity.

4. Setting a bad international example

The reasons above show some of the flaws with Christophobia and other phobias. But to adopt the term ‘Christophobia’ in foreign policy would only set a bad example internationally, encouraging victim mentalities and phobia inflation. The United Kingdom has close links with the Europe, the United States and the Commonwealth and using the term ourselves would help spread muddled and confused thinking into the international arena.

An alternative proposal

A much better term that is clearer in every way would be ‘anti-Christian’. This makes clear that the discrimination or persecution is against people who are Christians.

The same approach should also be applied to other religions in the same way: anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh etc.

It also means that distinctions can be made between ‘anti-Christian persecution’, ‘anti-Christian discrimination’ and ‘anti-Christian bias’. ‘Anti-Christian discrimination’ is discrimination against a person because of their Christian faith or their manifestation of their Christian faith. ‘Anti-Christian persecution’  and ‘anti-Christian bias’ can be defined similarly.

In defining such discrimination and persecution, the government should take care to avoid the use of ‘perceived’ or similar language – which would leave the definition entirely subjective. Such ‘perception’ language has already been proposed to define ‘Islamophobia’ and is used in hate crime definitions, resulting in these concepts being open to abuse. We urge the government to ensure that there are objective definitions for all these concepts, including for discrimination against Christians.

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