As Peter Beinart notes in his op-ed “Ilhan Omar’s Deeply American Message,” published in The Atlantic, Omar explains that, rather than keeping her religion private, she expresses it openly as a way of affirming that, in America, she need not hide who she is to enter the public square. “I tweet out verses of the Koran,” she explained. “I say As-salaam alaikum and Alhamdulillah”—“Peace be unto you” and “All praise is due to God alone”—“because I want” Americans “to get comfortable” with “what they mean.”
Yes. Just as fundamentalist Christians want their views to be comfortably accepted by those who don’t share them or who are threatened by them. Just as, in their agenda to fold their ideology into everyday thought, fundamentalists demand their views be heard in government offices and in public schools. Fundamentalist Christians say “Jesus is Lord” and “The path to salvation is through Jesus and Jesus alone” to get people “comfortable” with “what they mean.” It’s not enough to have churches where they can pray and talk to each other about their beliefs. They want to use the public space to proselytize, to mainstream their religious ideology, to normalize a belief system that claims the existence of a supreme being to which every person should submit and a divine law to which everything should be subject. They complain constantly about being the victims of anti-religious bigotry by liberals and atheists who resist this campaign. There’s a war on Christianity. Haven’t you heard?
Not all Christians do this, of course. Many Christians accept the place of faith in a secular society. They recognize the separation of church and state. They love their country and respect its founding principles. If they always put “God first” in their own lives (a scary thought, but they have that personal freedom) they don’t insist others suffer along with them. They don’t whine about being the victims of anti-religious bigotry when people criticize their faith and note the terrible things Christians have done on the basis of that faith. But the zealot does. Indeed, it’s a mark of zealotry to complain about irreligious criticism, to express fantasies about being a persecuted minority in a society that defends religious liberty, to compare criticism of their beliefs to attacks on people for their skin color or sexual orientation. We hear it a lot. Where are the mainstream newspapers and TV news shows on this terrible bigotry?
A zealous religious propagandist might dream up a word like “Christophobia” and use it to smear critics of his faith in an attempt to silence objections to its content, effects, and spread. We’d expect that from zealots. But it would be quite troubling if the mainstream media reflexively took up this propaganda term and used it to suppress criticism of the Christianist campaign to force Christianity into government and politics.
Imagine the headline: “Democrat’s Criticism of Mike Pence’s views on homosexuality is blatant Christophobia.” Or imagine the media defending a prominent white nationalist from criticism after he described the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand as “some person did something.” Imagine the howls going up about “fascophobia.” It’s not hard if you assume a situation in which the media is peddling Christianity or white nationalism. Otherwise, why would they do such a thing?