Claiming the Mantle of Victimhood

The Roman Catholic church is the oldest, largest, and very likely the richest denomination of any organized religion on the planet Earth. It has over 1 billion believers worldwide; controls its own sovereign country ruled by the Pope; is the only religious denomination with permanent observer status at the United Nations; has its own radio broadcasting service, its own official newspapers, and numerous TV channels; owns hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and property worldwide; and still exerts tremendous influence in many countries worldwide, including the United States, where five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic.

In light of all this wealth and power enjoyed by the Catholic church, as well as many other sects and denominations, claims like the following from this article from the National Catholic Register look especially ridiculous:

Today, believers are the besieged “rebels” whose position has been persecuted and threatened.

Note – not Catholics, nor Christians, but believers. Apparently, atheists have become the majority overnight without anyone noticing, and we are now using our superior power and influence to “persecute” and “besiege” theists. No doubt there are many believers who will nod their heads seriously at this story, never even considering its patent absurdity.

These laughable claims of oppression are another indicator of the way Christianity has grown beyond anything its founders ever envisioned or anticipated, as I wrote earlier this year in “A Religion Not Made for Success“. The first generation of Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent, and that Christianity would remain a small, outcast sect until then. Therefore, one of the things Jesus said is that Christians would be persecuted, and so today’s Christians, unwilling to deny these words despite their obvious falsehood, simply insist in the face of all evidence that they are a persecuted minority. The image of themselves as the victims, rather than the oppressors, is built so deeply into Christian consciousness that many apologists find it irresistible.

Also, I think there’s another reason for believers trying to claim the mantle of victimhood for themselves, one that works in symbiosis with the other. Namely, people like the underdog; we want to root for the underdog. No famous book or movie, for obvious reasons, ever depicted the heroes as prevailing against a much weaker, more cowardly, more poorly armed foe. We tend to feel sympathy for the downtrodden and the oppressed, and we naturally want to rally to their side. And if the persecuted group is one we feel identity with, so much the better. Nothing convinces people to circle the wagons and band together like believing that their group is under attack from outsiders.

This more than anything is why religious groups, Christians in particular, want to depict themselves as the persecuted minority. If anything, the more powerful and influential a religious group is, the quicker they are to cry persecution whenever they meet with opposition. It’s a cheap and dirty tactic for rallying the troops and winning sympathy for their cause, and the fact that it’s a claim with no basis in reality usually matters not at all. And by depicting themselves as the persecuted ones, it diverts attention away from legitimate claims by groups that actually are being oppressed and discriminated against. I suspect many religious leaders fear the consequences of a widespread realization that if any group truly is the underdog today, it is the atheists.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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