Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Myth of Christian Persecution

From AlterNet:

Throughout the conference, speakers seemed to be competing to find yet more dire examples of Christian persecution. In a panel called “Standing Up to the Assaults on Our Faith,” Rick Scarborough, a radical pastor who stridently opposes same-sex marriage—and contends that AIDS is God’s judgment for immoral behavior—decried President Obama’s “war on Christians,” saying that that “believers are being persecuted in larger numbers than ever before.” The tone was decidedly apocalyptic; later in the session, Janet Porter, the founder of a militant pro-life group called Faith2Action, darkly noted that “the last time men were given in marriage to men and women in marriage to women” was in the days of Noah. Gazing ominously at the hundred or so people assembled in the low-ceilinged room where the panel was being held, she added, “And we all know what happened then.”
But the rhetoric kept coming back to one place: The need to crusade against Obama, a president hell-bent on destroying the nation. It was hard to find an attendee who didn’t applaud Tea Party Republicans’ intransigence or buy wholeheartedly into the notion that negotiation with Obama was futile. “I think the shutdown is awesome,” says Kylie Unell, a sophomore at New York University who attended the conference. “To be honest, I think Obama is a sociopath. He tries to get revenge against anyone who disagrees with him or opposes him.”

More here.

Back in the days when I was a Southern Baptist, I kind of bought into the whole Christians-are-persecuted thing.  I mean, okay, I believed it because people at church talked about it all the time.  It just infused the very air: they're out to get us because they hate us.  I took it as a fact, and even started seeing it because I expected to see it.  So an English teacher I had got her theology slightly wrong when describing salvation as something you get for being good, rather than as a gift from God, free of charge.  It struck me as evidence that Christians in America are being persecuted.  But, of course, it was just a teacher trying to lead a discussion that had wandered into some religious territory, doing her best to make the whole thing honest and educational.  In no way could it be described as persecution.

Since then, I've come to see that virtually all claims of Christian persecution in the US are along the same lines.  Somebody says or does something that some Christians don't like, and it's elevated to persecution.  I mean, sure, there are some jerks out there who do, in fact, hate Christianity, but nothing on a scale that even comes close to the notion of persecution.  In fact, the reverse is true.  Christians enjoy a level of cultural domination in the US that no other religion, or secular philosophy, enjoys.  There is a de facto requirement, in spite of the Constitution officially forbidding it, that all presidential candidates must profess their belief in Christianity.  Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter, are some of the biggest events throughout the nation, with government offices closing down, and numerous other workers getting those days off, whether they're Christian or not.  The Pledge of Allegiance recitals in public schools every day require students to declare that we are a nation "under God," with the understanding that this God is the Father of Jesus.  Our currency proudly states "in God we trust."  Christian ministers are well respected in their communities, by believers and non-believers alike.  And on and on.  Christians simply aren't not persecuted, but rather the main game in town as far as religion goes, and it's the game most Americans are playing.

All that is lost on the persecution fetishists.  Their dominance evaporates into the air the moment they hear merchants saying, in order to attract as many consumers as possible, "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas."  Such a business move means that "America persecutes Christians."  So what we're really dealing with here is entrenched and culturally specific paranoia.  The persecution fetishists, against all evidence and reason, firmly believe that everyone is out to get them.  And these fetishists are politically powerful within one of the two major political parties in the land.  

What happens when a bunch of totally paranoid people are calling the shots in the halls of Congress?  Well, I'm sure you have an idea of what I think, but I will say that, under these circumstances, the up-against-the-wall behavior coming out of the House GOP caucus during the recent shutdown comes as absolutely no surprise.