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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-03-14 05:52
Subject: [religion] Who's persecuting whom?
Security: Public
Tags:culture, gay, religion, sex
Yesterday in the course of an only tangentially related discussion on a mailing list I participate in, one of the other writers (who is a friend of mine) made an offhand comment that of course Christians were under attack right now, and that it had become socially acceptable to attack religion. They said this as if were a patently obvious truth, a self-evident problem in our culture.

Um… no.

All my adult life, I've been hearing variations on the theme of "the modern persecution of the Christians." (That exact phrase cropped up on AM talk radio in Austin, Texas back in the mid 1980s.) Anyone who actually believes this is displaying both a staggering ignorance of early Christian history and a staggering ignorance of current American cultural dynamics. I suppose it's a very comforting, self-valorizing narrative for some people, but that doesn't make it true.

Christianity is still overwhelmingly privileged in this country. Despite explicit Constitutional declarations to the contrary, our government is overwhelmingly Christian. 89.3% of the members of Congress are Christian. (8.4% are Jewish, the rest are other or undeclared, with only one openly declared atheist.) Although I can't readily find similar statistics for Federal judges, I strongly suspect they're quite similar. Likewise most state and local governments. We celebrate major Christian holidays as secular holidays — when was the last time you got Hannukah or Ramadan off at work? We see a constant privileging of Christian ideals in education, in law making, in local, state and federal government. (If you want to talk about being under attack, atheists, by contrast, often poll as the most despised group in this country.)

So far as I can tell, what some Christians interpret as attacks on religion are a combination of two things.

One is the constant drumbeat from conservative politicians and media alleging such attacks. Fox's "War on Christmas" is an example of this effect. Those declarations are almost always severely divorced from reality, but in conformance with the principles of the Big Lie, they are repeated so often and so loudly that many people come to believe their truth. (Especially people who have a significant psychological investment in seeing themselves as persecuted heroes.)

The other is the gradual lessening of the absolute grip of Christian privilege on our society. Christianity is merely overwhelming these days, as opposed to utterly dominant. Moves to restrict school prayer and government display of nativity scenes may feel like attacks to Christians, but what they are in fact is some daylight for people of other faiths and no faith at all.

Confidential to Christians in America, and especially Christianists: Not getting things your way all the time doesn't count as persecution. It's a rebalancing that acknowledges other strands of the culture.

Speaking from the outside of a Christian framework, that Christians see themselves as under attack is laughable. In many major debates in our culture, self-identified and high profile Christians are the aggressors, for the most part without any worthwhile moral basis. Everything from reproductive rights to teaching good science in the schools to marriage equality finds large groups of vocal Christians and their prominent political and spiritual leadership arguing vociferously for regressive repression and standing firmly on the wrong side of history. Just as many Christians stood on the wrong side of history with Bible-based beliefs on slavery and Civil Rights movement, a historical irony that seems utterly lost on Christianists arguing today against everything from gay rights to access to contraception under the rubric of "religious freedom".

My friend's unconscious assumption that their faith is under siege is very telling about how deeply that meme of persecution has sunk into the minds of the very same people who are daily working to limit the rights and freedoms of so many of my fellow citizens, and stunt the education of all our children. To my Christian friends: if you want to be taken seriously by people outside your own faith narrative, open your eyes and look at what people are doing in the name of you and your God.

(And no, I did not engage this question at all on the mailing list. It was off topic, and it would have been deeply rude of me. I address it here with anonymity out of respect for the source, and because I think the question is important.)

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joycemocha: bleedingheart
User: joycemocha
Date: 2012-03-14 13:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:bleedingheart
Actually....there is a certain sense that Religion Is Not Cool in certain cultural subsets, even though that selfsame expression of religion is otherwise privileged, and being a person of faith in subcultures like fandom means you mostly stay quiet about that. When I went back to practicing faith, a number of my "friends" at the time (in political circles) expressed dismay, and then pretty much dropped me. Was it because I was trying to convert them? Unlikely as I wasn't about that, it was about me and my inner journey. Nonetheless, it was mocked and made known to me that I had crossed a line, especially since I didn't turn around and become Christianist on them (something which I totally abhor).

But you absolutely do have a point that the persecution narrative is very heavily a piece of the conservative Christianist ideology. I doubt they would know true persecution if it bit them in the nose, but part of their enculturation involves seeing persecution in every small dart and arrow coming their way. It's not the ups and downs of a typical life as they see it, it's Satan (through the world) who is trying their faith. Since that aspect of Christianity depends so desperately upon fear of losing their salvation as a motivator, failing the trial of faith is a monstrous Scary Thing for those folks, and the World (as they see it) is Out To Get Them. Therefore they need to reduce temptations, which leads to the rationale on their part that theocracy is a good thing. The premillenial fundamentalist dispensationalists are the scariest ones of the lot. Growing up in fear of being left behind when the Rapture comes really warps the brain.

Me, I'd be one of the first ones up against the wall if they took power in the manner they dream about. Liberal Catholic feminist--oh yeah, it'd be burning at the stake for me.
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Lioness
User: elisem
Date: 2012-03-14 13:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Me, I'd be one of the first ones up against the wall if they took power in the manner they dream about. Liberal Catholic feminist--oh yeah, it'd be burning at the stake for me.

Hey, we might get adjoining stakes! Pleased to meetcha.
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2012-03-14 14:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well spoke, Bruce. Well spoken indeed.

I grew up Unitarian Universalist, and while that religion has its roots in Protestantism, my strand of it was rationalist, with belief in God optional and largely irrelevant to the central tenets of justice, learning, compassion, respect, dignity.

I was keenly aware throughout my childhood of how Christian the people around me were. It always felt oppressive, and I often didn't feel comfortable sharing my beliefs (or lack thereof) with others my age.

I am still gobsmacked when I hear people in perfectly reasonably tones declaring with conviction that atheists are, of course, completely immoral and evil people. As if there could be no question. As if somehow atheists fill our prisons. As if no harm had ever come to anyone because of Christianity -- and I know there are those who still fervently believe this, because God would not let it happen.

I respect faith; it's just not something I'm built for, never have been. I don't respect blind judgments that call on God as their perpetual, unquestionable, and ultimate justification.
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Edward Greaves
User: temporus
Date: 2012-03-14 13:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Minor quibble Jay. We celebrate one major Christian holiday in the US as a secular holiday. Christmas. Easter is a sort of so-so celebration, but not quite, in my experience, and few if any others get broad attention in the public sphere. Contrast that against my Swiss co-workers who actually get Christian Holidays off from work. Such as Pentecost, and the Feast of the Assumption, Good Friday etc, etc. While I agree, Christianity enjoys a special status in the US, it could be even more deeply entwined in both the public and governmental spheres than it already is.

As to the rest of the post, I'm firmly in your camp. Criticism =/= persecution.
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John
User: djonn
Date: 2012-03-14 14:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It actually goes a bit deeper than that. Consider the number of cultural memes tied up in the observance of Lent, particularly Mardi Gras (not just in New Orleans), and the idea of "giving something up" for Lent. One of the network daytime talk shows made a point of bringing that question up just this season, and my local large-chain supermarket is featuring a weekly fish special in its delis that's almost certainly in place specifically for customers observing Lent. The US financial markets close for Good Friday every year. There is a broad and complicated religious undercurrent in the observance of St. Patrick's Day (not least because of the amount of Irish music that's arisen from the Catholic/Protestant struggles Over There). A case can be made that Thanksgiving arises from a Christian religious premise, in that the original celebrants were explicitly giving thanks to the Christian God (as much as or more than they were to the helpful native populace) for bringing them through their troubled settlement of the New World.

And in the particular locales around the country where large Catholic social institutions operate (see especially Chicago), the prominence and influence of those institutions can still have major effects on secular life-patterns -- as, for instance, the degree to which the Catholic religious calendar can dictate how high school athletic competition schedules are formulated.
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S-47/19-J
User: shsilver
Date: 2012-03-14 15:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Another minor quibble with We celebrate major Christian holidays as secular holidays — when was the last time you got Hannukah or Ramadan off at work?

Hannukah isn't a major holiday like Christmas. More akin would be getting Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah off.

And while Easter generally isn't a day off (given it falls on a Sunday), I've worked at several offices which give Good Friday off.
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Lioness
User: elisem
Date: 2012-03-14 13:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
To my Christian friends: if you want to be taken seriously by people outside your own faith narrative, open your eyes and look at what people are doing in the name of you and your God.

Yup. And do something about it. (I've got three things I'll be doing in the next few weeks. One of them's being a gofer for a bunch of Pagans having a conference, and two of them are connected with marriage equality. They're not in any way enough to balance out the scales, but they're something, and something is better than nothing.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-03-14 13:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yup. And do something about it.

This is why we love you.
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Beth
User: casacorona
Date: 2012-03-14 13:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One obligation of the Evangelical branch of Christianity is to "witness in the face of persecution", like the early church, and the martyrs. So it's very very important to them that there be persecution of Christianity. Otherwise, they would have to do something dangerous to fully adhere to their faith.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2012-03-14 15:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes! One of the things you wouldn't necessarily know, if you weren't raised in the evangelical church, is how much the idea of being persecuted for their righteousness plays into the overall culture.

When I was a child, in the 70s, everything from sex on TV to rulings against mandatory school prayer were cited as "persecution." My husband (raised Catholic but spent some time in an evangelical private school) believes that many of their more confrontational "witnessing" behaviors are specifically engineered to irritate people, thus fostering the evangelical's sense of being persecuted.

To put things bluntly: they get off on it. It's how they feel important and righteous and special. It's almost a form of institutionalized narcissism.
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Peter Eng
User: dornbeast
Date: 2012-03-15 00:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Could you point me at something that expands on that point, or expand on it here? I'm sure I don't understand how it works.

To me, the idea of "Witness in the face of persecution" means,

IF (persecuted)
THEN (witness)
ELSE [subroutine undefined]

but it sounds like the Evangelical branch is saying,

IF NOT(persecuted)
THEN (generate attacks on self)

which seems a bit silly, as well as a recipe for Munchausen syndrome.
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pingback_bot
User: pingback_bot
Date: 2012-03-14 13:57 (UTC)
Subject: The Problem With Eye-Opening
User theferrett referenced to your post from The Problem With Eye-Opening saying: [...] Jay Lake wrote a pretty good essay on the bullshit myth of Christianity being persecuted in America [...]
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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-03-14 14:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The problem is that it's become socially acceptable to attack Christianity in ways that it's not acceptable to attack other faiths. Differential treatment of an institution simply because it is stronger is wrong.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-03-14 14:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Um, have you talked to any Muslims in the last ten years?
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Pierceheart
User: pierceheart
Date: 2012-03-14 14:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Privilege, not persecution.
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Lioness
User: elisem
Date: 2012-03-14 14:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Y'know, I think a number of my co-religionists are mistaking eye-rolling for persecution, too.
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joycemocha: bleedingheart
User: joycemocha
Date: 2012-03-14 15:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:bleedingheart
Yep.
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chessdev
User: chessdev
Date: 2012-03-14 14:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It IS amazing when not being allowed to oppress other people is deemed "under attack"
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mlerules: MLE
User: mlerules
Date: 2012-03-14 15:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:MLE
Confidential to Christians in America, and especially Christianists: Not getting things your way all the time doesn't count as persecution. It's a rebalancing that acknowledges other strands of the culture.

A-freakin-men.


when was the last time you got Hannukah or Ramadan off at work?

Heh, my ex-hubby (along w/all teachers, students, and staff) has had Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Nahruz (Persian New Year) off from work as "local holidays" all 20 years of teaching in public school (Beverly Hills Unified). This, however, reflects the fairly specialized composition of the district in which he works.

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nancylebov: green leaves
User: nancylebov
Date: 2012-03-14 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:green leaves
The bizarre thing is that there are places where Christians really are persecuted, but that just seems to fall off the radar.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-03-14 19:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Amen, sister. Boy, have we redefined "persecution" in these here United States.
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Thom Marrion
User: xnbach
Date: 2012-03-14 19:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The thing to understand is that part of the Modern American Evangelical Christian Narrative is that we are living in the End Days and that Jesus is coming back real soon (a very popular belief that has had its ups and downs for the past two thousand years, but that is another story). Part of this Narrative is that the Antichrist is going to take over and form some New World Order that will seem all puppies and skittles on the surface, but will result in (wait for it) the Persecution and Martyrdom of Modern Evangelicals.

One of the ways to point to the fact that End Days are almost at hand is to come up with examples of this Crusade Against Christianity already starting. Hence the War on Xmas (funny sidenote, "X" is just an abbreviation for "Christ", which makes sense if you know any Greek) and the uproar over Evolution, Gays, Abortion, and any other seemingly innocuous non-issue that can be twisted into an attack on the Christian lifestyle.

In fact, the 700 Club used to show commercials of Stormtrooper NWO Thugs in their commando gear breaking in on secret undergound prayer meetings as a sign of Things That Will Happen Soon. Of course, this was thirty years ago and the Beast still has yet to rear his ugly heads, but that doesn't change the narrative.

Because if you are making all these dubious political moves that take away the rights of others as a preemptive strike against the forces of evil seeking to destroy the world, you're kind of a hero. If you are doing that from a position of privilege just to bully others into doing everything your way, you're kind of a dick.

Most people would rather be a hero than a dick, hence the self-delusion to make the world conform to the mythical narrative

Edited at 2012-03-15 01:31 am (UTC)
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2012-03-14 19:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Responses to various things (don't have time nor bandwidth to organize):

- Basically, you're right.

- Not sure Christmas, as celebrated in secular society, is actually a Christian holiday. A preacher I like said (very roughly): "Americans spend $450 billion each year on Christmas gifts and decorations. That's enough to provide clean water for every country in the world, for 20 years. If Jesus came back, do you really think he'd say look at U.S. practice and say, 'wow, you must really love me'?"

- Re: socially acceptable to attack - well, depends on your definition. As Joyce said, some places, Religion Is Not Cool. That's a change from fifty years ago when religion was a civic duty. Probably good. The church and the state were really tight in France... right before the French Revolution.

- My daughter's a high school student. I went to the winter concert. I don't mind at all having celebration songs from many traditions, and I don't even mind that none of those traditions are Christmas carols. (Okay, at least not Christian hymns. "Baby, it's cold outside"? Which my daughter calls "the date rape song"?) But if your hallowed tradition is to end with "Let there be peace on earth," either sing it or drop it. Rewriting it (and violating copyright) to cut God out is pretty lame. Now is that "persecution"? Not by a long ways. "Attack"?

- Re: sports on Sunday, one word: Swimming. (Another: Lacrosse.)
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2012-03-15 08:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
- Not sure Christmas, as celebrated in secular society, is actually a Christian holiday. A preacher I like said (very roughly): "Americans spend $450 billion each year on Christmas gifts and decorations. That's enough to provide clean water for every country in the world, for 20 years. If Jesus came back, do you really think he'd say look at U.S. practice and say, 'wow, you must really love me'?"

Sure, but by that argument, MOST "Christian" things today are not actually Christian. I think it's clear we're talking about "Christianity the religious phenomenon as it exists in the US and as how self-identified Christians consider it to be", not about "what Jesus would have done". :)
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LiveJournal: pingback_bot
User: livejournal
Date: 2012-03-16 17:11 (UTC)
Subject: Apparently I am reading nonfiction these days.
Keyword:pingback_bot
User matt_doyle referenced to your post from Apparently I am reading nonfiction these days. saying: [...] in the article makes the details tricky to figure out. Jay Lake on Christian persecution complexes. [...]
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