A study released by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington this week suggests that Americans bring very different standards to how they evaluate religious violence. People were asked “when people claim to be ______ and commit acts of violence in the name of ________, do you believe they really are __________, or not?”
The responses showed a sharp difference in how people answered the question for Christians and Muslims. 75% agreed that someone committing acts of violence in the name of Christianity was not Christian, while only 50% said the same for Muslims.
On one level, we might wonder about the role that ignorance about Islam might play in the responses. 37% felt that Muslims who engaged in violence in the name of Islam were still “really” Muslims, while 13% were unsure. This might reflect a lack of understanding or experience with Islam and Muslims.
There is a very real likelihood that political and religious factors affect attitudes. While the numbers for Christianity stayed roughly parallel, there were significantly more Republicans than Democrats who believed that violence did not disqualify a person from being “really” Muslim (55% to 30%).
Likewise, there is a difference related to the background of the respondent. Only 33% of Catholics felt that violence was “really” Islamic, while 45% of white evangelical Protestants held that view.
I suspect that the prevailing narrative about Islam in both the Republican and White Evangelical worlds is rooted in misconceptions and distortions being promoted by the anti-Muslim echo chamber. And in the year since the survey was done, those voices have gotten louder. It’s important to reach out and educate our neighbors.