Recently, New Yorker contributor Dan Piepenbring noted with horror that Chick-fil-A, the chicken-sandwich chain that has been rated America’s favorite fast-food purveyor in customer-satisfaction surveys and is slated to become America’s No. 3 in fast-food sales by 2020 (trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks), has opened its fourth outlet in Manhattan, its sixth in New York City since 2015. “Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City” was the headline to Piepenbring’s article.
There are about 7,300 fast-food restaurants of every kind in New York City’s five boroughs, according to a 2017 count; so “infiltration” might seem an odd way to describe the mere half-dozen Chick-fil-A outlets in a city of 8.6 million people. But, as has been well-publicized in religious media, Piepenbring wasn’t alarmed at the brute numbers. He was alarmed at the fact that Chick-fil-A is an unabashedly Christian business entity: “Its headquarters, in Atlanta, are adorned with Bible verses and a statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet.” Oh noes! There’s more: “Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with this suburban piety.” And worse: “Its stores close on Sundays.” Yikes! Finally: “Its arrival in the city augurs worse than a load of manure on the F train.” So please, Piepenbring begs his New Yorker sophisto readership, borrowing some diction from Chick-fil-A’s famous “misspelling cows” advertising shtick: “Enough, we can tell them. NO MOR.”
Piepenbring’s real beef (sorry, cows!) is with the fact that Chick-fil-A’s CEO, Dan T. Cathy (the chain was founded by Cathy’s father in 1967), opposes same-sex marriage on “biblical” principles. This stance Piepenbring, like many bien-pensants before him, deems “anti-gay.” Never mind that Chick-fil-A has never been accused of discrimination against gays and lesbians in hiring, promotions, or customer service, or that, in 2016, in the wake of a mass-shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, it broke with its Sunday-closing rule to deliver hundreds of free chicken sandwiches to first responders and donors of blood to wounded survivors. (Piepenbring is conspicuously silent about Orlando.)
Nowadays, though, opposing same-sex marriage—even for the secular reason that marriage has historically been regarded, cross-culturally, as reflecting the necessity of sexual dimorphism as a basis for stable family formation—is tantamount to homophobia. The LGBT news outlet the Advocate devotes an entire web page to tracking Chick-fil-A’s “antigay” activities—none of them involving anything more than supporting traditional marriage—and the boycotts that have been proposed whenever the chain has sought to open an outlet in a liberal redoubt. In 2016, New York’s oh-so-progressive Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, urged the city’s residents not to eat at Chick-fil-A after it opened its fourth citywide outlet, in Queens—a plea that even the most liberal New Yorkers, who seem to form long lines wherever they can find a Chick-fil-A open for lunchtime business, have generally ignored with Gotham aplomb. “NO MOR” seems to gotten no further than Piepenbring himself.
Piepenbring’s article may seem hysterical, but it is a characteristic example of the Christian-bashing screed, a genre that has been in vogue among Western elites ever since Diderot, or perhaps Voltaire, or perhaps the atheist French cleric Jean Meslier (from whom either or both borrowed) declared that men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. Google “I hate Christianity,” and you will discover a treasure-trove of sentiments that would be deemed beyond the pale were they aimed at Muslims, Orthodox Jews, the Dalai Lama, or adherents to any other belief system holding, for example, that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. The “Christians” whom the Christian-bashers bash are typically a gaggle of sanctimonious, homosexuality-obsessed straw men unrecognizable to most real-life Christians.
For example, self-described “ex-Christian” Keay Nigel includes, in a listicle for Coffeelicious titled “The 10 Most Annoying Things Every Non-Christian is Sick of Hearing,” such anodyne-sounding Christian utterances as “I’ll pray for you,” “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” and “God loves you unconditionally.” As for that last, Nigel waxes theological: “Oh yes? I heard he’s gonna send me to hell if I don’t believe in him. How does that work?” Another former evangelical, psychologist-author Valerie Tarico, lists on her blog some fifteen different “dimensions of Christianity that I loathe.” They include: “the Christian God” (“He loves hierarchy and demands adoration and is not above forcing both”); “Christianity’s obsession with sexuality” (“Many … would force queer folk into lives of solitude and stigma rather than examine their own forbidden yearnings”); and holding that “certitude is a virtue” (“a mother can beat her child because she loves him, a father can reject his gay son out of kindness, or compassion can mean offering a poor person a religious tract rather than a hand up”). Patheos columnist Neil Carter titles one of his entries, “How Christianity Teaches You to Hate Yourself.”
Piepenbring’s New Yorker article has been ridiculed and excoriated all over the internet. The most scathing critique came from Yale law professor Stephen Carter on Bloomberg, pointing out that like many on the secular left, Piepenbring didn’t seem to be aware that in today’s West, the Christian targets of his mockery aren’t so much smug white bigots as people of color, especially African-Americans, who overwhelmingly believe in God and hew to traditional Christian views on gay sex and same-sex marriage. “In short, if you find Christian traditionalism creepy, it’s black people you’re talking about,” Carter wrote. But even the astute observations of Carter, who is black himself, aren’t likely to put a dent in the specifically anti-Christian animus that has been admired and practiced in the West for three centuries now. Piepenbring’s Chick fil-A venting is, sadly, all too mainstream.
Charlotte Allen is a writer living in Washington, D.C.