Christianity's Persecution Complex
Moral Majority or Persecuted Minority?
I've noticed an alarming and disgusting trend among a lot of Christians today. (notice, I said a lot - not all, not most - but a lot). They sit in their comfortable homes, watching their television sets complaining about the state of the world and claim in their bible study groups that Christianity is under attack in America. They hold hands and comfort each other because Christian rights are being threatened. After all, prayer was taken out of public schools. Bible reading is no longer a mandatory school exercise. What happened to the "Christian Nation" that America was supposed to be - and how can they possibly get out from under the heel of a secular, evil and sinful country?
At the same time, however, they take their religion to the polls with them and vote to strip rights away from homosexuals. They protest planned parenthood. They sit on their high horse and cry victory from the rooftops because the overwhelming majority of Americans check "christian" on their religious affiliation boxes - and they vote for politicians who uphold their beliefs. It's not surprising that in a recent poll, over 50% of responders said that they would absolutely refuse to vote for an atheist - even if they agreed with everything else on their political platform and would choose a bible believer instead. I think Gretta Christina said it best in her book "99 Things that Piss off the Godless".
"I get angry when Christians in the United states...act like beleaguered victims. Martyrs being thrown to the lions all over again...whenever anyone criticizes them or they don't get their way. And get angry when Christians (especially the Christian right) Try to have it both ways on the "persecuted martyr/favored majority question. Those things cannot both be true. Pick One."
You do not get to simultaneously crow victory as the favored majority, imposing your version of morality on everyone else - whether or not they agree with your beliefs - and then cry persecution when people stand up to you and demand equal rights. These two positions are at odds with each other, and they both can't be true.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Christians in the United States are NOT being persecuted. People are standing up to them, and they're not just agreeing to go along with the flow. Like it or not, this country was founded on the principles of free speech, and the free speech that allows Christians to do and say what they want ALSO applies to atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, Secular Humanists, etc. It is my opinion that a lot of Christians have a very skewed view over what persecution IS - and it's tipping the scales away from reality and into delusion.
What Is Persecution?
When Christianity was nothing more than a Jewish sect in it's humble beginning stages, Christians were no strangers to persecution. They were often hauled before procurators and judges who demanded that the followers of this fledgling religion sacrificed to the Roman pantheon - or the Emperor. Nothing like that is happening to Christians in America - but it IS happening to Christians (and atheists) around the globe.
Until the following are occurring on a regular basis, Christians do not get to play the victim card, just because someone disagrees with them.
- being thrown in jail - just for your beliefs
- being tortured
- being forced to confess to something that you haven't done, or being forced to pay lip service to another deity
- being publicly humiliated (and not just because you lost an argument in epic fashion)
- being executed solely for your religious beliefs (or lack thereof)
- being thrown into the arena to be eaten alive by wild beasts
- being crucified or burned alive
- having your property seized by the state and sold because you were found guilty of heresy
- having your rights stripped away and being treated as second-class citizens
None of these are happening to Christians in America, but they are happening to Christians elsewhere and to claim that you are being persecuted JUST because someone disagrees with you is a slap in the face to people whose lives are in danger for believing in the same god you believe in - or believing in no god at all.
In a recent protest in Bangladesh, protestors were assaulted by militant Islamic fundamentalists who were carrying signs and screaming "death to atheists, they must be hung". Despite the danger, thousands of men, women and children appeared in droves in support of repealing the blasphemy laws in a predominantly Muslim nation. These people are the heroes - the ones who are willing to literally risk life and limb in order to stand up for the rights of others - even if they disagreed with them.
It's historically true that Christians have faced time periods where persecution was incredibly likely, simply for their beliefs. It's also true that many Christians worldwide are facing persecution today. They are under threat in the Middle East by Muslim extremists. They can be put to death for simply owning a Bible in parts of Asia. It is also historically true, however, that Christians have been guilty of persecuting others, including Muslims, Jews, Pagans and even other Christians. What is not true, however, are the claims that American Christians are being persecuted in the United States simply because people fail to agree with them. It's also true that Christian beliefs are responsible in part for creating and maintaining inequality with other groups that share this country. Many Christians oppose gay marriage and equality for gay people. Other Christians have opposed a peaceful Muslim gathering and song in Texas simply because they're Muslims. Persecution isn't a one-way street, and if Christians want people to respect their beliefs and treat them kindly because of them, they also need to recognize that extending the same kindness and tolerance to others will go a long way towards achieving peaceful co-existence.
The important thing to remember is that the only actions we can control are our own. That goes for Christians, Atheists, Muslims and all other groups. Attempting to control others because of our beliefs or our desires is likely to be met with resistance. This has not always been the case, but the purpose of a secular democracy is to protect the rights of the minorities from the will of the majority - and like it or not, Christians share this country with people of varying belief systems. We all deserve the same rights and considerations, whether it fits into a particular worldview or not.
does disagreement equal persecution
What Persecution ISN'T.
In case it has not yet been made abundantly clear, there is real, verifiable, horrible persecution happening around the world - to Christians and Atheists alike. The following, however, does not make the list. It does not fall under the heading of persecution, and if you're feeling victimized because of it, the most that I can suggest is to develop a slightly thicker skin.
- poking fun
- asking for proof
- fighting for equal rights
- standing up for what you do (or don't) believe in
- offering a different opinion
- stating that you disagree
- correcting mistakes
- pointing out fallacies
- pointing out errors or mistakes
- asking for verification
- wanting sources
- wanting non-subjective evidence
- making jokes
- collecting fellow non-believers together for community support
- standing up for the separation of church and state
- asking religious institutions to pay taxes if they're going to interfere with politics
- asking for equal treatment under the law
- arresting parents who used prayer instead of seeking medical attention for a dying child
- offering a different possiblity
- agreeing with science
These things do not count as persecution. You may not like them, but :Newsflash: a lot of atheists don't like being told that they're damned to hell, either. We learn to move on from these encounters because most atheists do not seek to squash the free speech rights of others - we just want to be heard too.
In a public venue or forum, both sides are able to express their cases equally, and a good rule of thumb is that if you want to be treated respectfully, you have to treat others respectfully as well. You cannot, for example, call atheists fools and then wonder why they don't seem to respect your opinion. You cannot claim to have absolute knowledge and absolute proof without being asked to demonstrate it. This is how open dialogue works, and if it's insulting to you then you may want to consider staying away from it - and sparing us all the trouble.
There are a multitude of scare-tactic videos making their way around the internet claiming that Christianity is under attack in America and that American Christians are being persecuted by the gays, by the liberals, by the atheists, etc. Frankly, the concept is absurd. No one is forcing Christians to deconvert. No one is forcing Christians to renounce their faith. No one is jailing Christians for their beliefs or sentencing them to public beating, torture or execution. The legal system IS forcing Christians to abide by the same standards as everyone else. A Christian business owner has every right to refuse service to a gay couple, for example, but they are not free from facing the consequences of that action. There are consequences for discrimination against a minority group. The laws that protect gay people from discrimination are the same laws that would protect Christians if a business was refusing to serve them. These laws exist for a reason, and disagreeing with them does not mean that you can break them with impunity. The freedom to act according to your conscience does not equal immunity from potential consequences - something that people of all beliefs (or none) should well remember.
In all of this controversy, I think it's important to recognize and remember that although Christian persecution isn't happening today in America, it is happening elsewhere. Persecution is a real travesty against human rights and the freedom of speech and conscience. No one should be locked up for their religious beliefs, as long as those beliefs are not causing harm or infringing on someone else's freedom. No one should be tortured or murdered for those beliefs. I would stand up for a Christian who was being persecuted, just like I would stand up for a Muslim or a Jew or a fellow atheist. Humanitarianism allows us to feel empathy and compassion for those who are members of our species. In this turbulent time, it is ever important to remember those less fortunate than ourselves, and do whatever is in our power to help others, and to raise our voices in protest at the horrific and cruel acts that are being perpetrated against others world-wide, and not simply for those who share whatever beliefs we as individuals possess.
If there's one thing I would like to convey, it is simply this. Every time someone makes a false declaration of persecution just because their feelings were hurt or they didn't feel respected or given an appropriate response, it is trivializing and minimizing the very real suffering that thousands of others around the world are experiencing. People are dying out there, and there will most likely always be someone out there who is worse off than we are. Remembering their plights and keeping them in our thoughts may not alleviate their suffering, but it may put things into perspective for us.