Delusions of Persecution

Late last year on Freethought Radio, Dan and Annie Laurie played a remarkable clip from James Dobson, talking on his own radio show about their program:

The problem is that the Christian ethic is literally hanging by a thread. I heard just a few weeks ago that Air America, the very leftist radio entity… have come up with a program that will be aired across the country that is atheistic – admittedly atheistic in nature.

Freethought Radio was on the air for some time before it was picked up nationally by Air America, but never mind that. What I find most amusing is Dobson’s claim that Freethought Radio’s debut has left Christianity “hanging by a thread”. When last I checked, there were more than 2,000 religious radio stations in America, many of which play Christian programming twenty-four hours a day – not to mention the Christian TV channels, magazines, book publishers, megachurches, private colleges, evangelism programs, political lobbying organizations, and so on. Who’d have thought that this multibillion-dollar infrastructure was so fragile that one hour a week of radio pitched explicitly to freethinkers could bring it all to the edge of ruin? Shades of David and Goliath!

Dobson isn’t the only one making noise like this. Last year, Ed Brayton reported on a hysterical column written by Janet Folger of the right-wing site WorldNetDaily, in which she imagines a future where Hillary Clinton has become President and has outlawed Christianity. No, I’m not making that up. In a similar story, the creationist Discovery Institute complains about the “unprecedented wave of persecution” it has suffered from nasty, mean scientists – as if academia’s refusal to take them seriously was the worst thing that had ever happened to anyone. And again, Greg Laurie of WorldNetDaily wrings his hands over “the ugly results of banning God from the culture”.

Another right-wing site, Hal Lindsay’s Oracle Cartoons, has comics with titles like “Jail For Jesus“, in which the cartoonist fantasizes about Christianity being outlawed worldwide and himself and other Christians being jailed, persecuted and tortured. In fact, judging by his strips with titles like “Another Illegal Cartoon“, he seems to have persuaded himself that this is already in progress.

This is not to say that fears about the restriction of speech are entirely meritless. There are some legitimate threats to free speech in the world, and these need to be treated with the seriousness and gravity they deserve. What we do not need is the shrieking hysteria of Christians who treat the situation all out of proportion to its seriousness, as if their entire religion was on the very edge of being stamped out. A rational person would take the view that, while persecution of individuals is still atrocious where it exists, Christianity constitutes one-third of the population of this planet and commands a substantial portion of its wealth and power; it is not in danger of dying out any time soon. Even worse is the odious, conceited belief held by many Christians that everyone is against them and that their religion is the only one whose free speech is under threat. (Most tyrants suppress differing views indiscriminately.)

There is no global tide of persecution poised to sweep down on Christians, as these people ridiculously imagine. They should recognize that protections on free speech have always been a patchwork at best. Some nations are strong bulwarks of free speech; others allow it in some cases but restrict it in others; and in a handful of totalitarian states, there is no free speech at all. Every infringement on free speech is serious, but to assume that Christianity as a whole is in dire peril or is prevented from communicating its message is a delusion in stark conflict with reality.

About Adam Lee

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

  • MS (Quixote)

    That’s because there’s a secret worldwide evil atheist conspiracy, remember? :)

    EM, you hit this one dead center, and frankly it’s a little embarrassing. The Christian ethic is hanging by a thread? Literally? If there is a Christian God, by definition it is impossible for his ethic to hang by a thread. If there is not, who cares about Christianity! Where’s this vaunted faith we keep hearing about?

    Moreover, if these Christians were really concerned with persecution or censorship—this really smacks more of influence peddling to me—they would understand that oppression in a free society begins with its disenfranchised members, not with groups that maintain the power structures you identified.

    Let me appeal to the Bible, the rule book or operating manual for Christian behavior. Where does it instruct the Church—or para-church organizations like this one—to regulate the behavior of the world? In fact, the opposite is true. It instructs believers to be concerned with the work of the Church, not to be entangled in the affairs of the world. What business could a Christian possible have worrying with an atheist program? For those who do not readily grasp the rhetorical nature of that question, here’s the answer: none, whatsoever.

    My wager is this: if the church would renounce involvement in politics and focus on its own mission and behavior, atheists would over time develop a new respect for Christians, even if as odd fairy tale believers. Thus, the tension between the groups would dissolve. Think about it. When was the last time you heard an atheist speak poorly of the Amish?

  • http://wildphilosophy.blogspot.com Mathew Wilder

    The problem is that the Christian ethic is literally hanging by a thread.

    Where is this thread? I would like to see it. I’ve never seen a idea hanging on an actual thread before. Must be mind-boggling.

  • velkyn

    it is a shame that Christianity seems to think that only lies will keep it afloat. Oh, the “martyrs” for the faith they are.

    All these claims of “persecution” devalue those claims that are real. I suspect this may be intentional. Oh, how dare anyone claim persecution by Christians if they are so “persecuted” themselves.

    Oh, and as for the Amish, I will gladly criticize them. They aren’t the quaint innocents that they seem (I live near Lancaster County, PA). Between the sexual abuse, just regular torture and their condeming their kids to horrible genetic diseases by their closed society, they aren’t any better than anyone else. http://atheism.about.com/b/2005/03/18/incest-forgiveness-and-the-amish.htm

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Christians, particularly in the USA where they don’t suffer at all for their faith (regardless of their rhetoric to the contrary), have a pathological attraction to the ideals of suffering, persecution and martyrdom. They have fantasies about suffering and proving themselves to be worthy, faithful under all circumstances, far better than Peter the Denier or Thomas the Doubter. They wonder if they could do it. They’d sort of like to find out for real, but, on the other hand, if it turns out that they’re not called to suffer like Christians in other times and places who often have been persecuted and oppressed for real, that’s okay too: God has blessed them. Dobson’s delusional ramblings feed those fantasies (and probably originate in his own similar fantasies) and serve as a rallying cry for the faithful to stand up and be counted. I wish I were making up this stuff, but, I’ve been there, seen it, probably done a bit of it myself.

  • Christopher

    Christianity hangs by a thread? I wish! I’d cut that damn thread and plunge the whole thing into the abyss below so fast in would make their heads spin!

    But alas, I can only dream for now…

  • goyo

    Right on, Chaplain. I remember back in my xtian days, when an urban legend came out about xtians worshipping in secret in Russia, when in bursts the KGB with guns, saying anyone who would renounce jesus could leave, the rest would be killed. So after half of the people left, and the rest were waiting for the executions, the gunmen laid down their weapons and say, “now, let’s have church”.
    We used to say that that was real christianity, and we actually thought that would be a good idea for it to happen here.
    How ridiculous.

  • mikespeir

    Christianity, at least according to the standard history, was born in the fires of persecution. It has never since felt very comfortable anywhere else. And yet, peace in this world is virtually tantamount to being in league with Satan, the “god of this world.” If Satan isn’t persecuting them, there’s something wrong with their faith. There’s nothing wrong with their faith, so it has to follow that they’re being persecuted. Consequently, they’re always on the lookout for it as confirmation they’re on the right track.

  • InTheImageOfDNA

    An atheist wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper some time ago rightfully skewering something religious.

    The letters written in response over the following week or so displayed this “delusion of persecution” with aplomb. Not only did readers claim that it was wrong for the atheist to “shove his beliefs down their throats” (keep in mind that this is a bible-belt region with churches and their signs everywhere, gospel on the radio, and three “inspiration channels” on basic cable), many were printed quoting the usual stand in ad hominem from scripture “the fool hath said…” while the atheist letter had been completely free of such puerile tactics.

    I think it follows naturally from a belief system where the Christian is placed on a Faustian stage and the forces of good and evil battle for their soul. With Satan lurking around every corner trying to steal eternal life from the born again person, delusions of persecution are a natural by-product.

  • Ric

    In my opinion, the primary reason religions evolved was to create and maintain group cohesion. Religion delineates us vs. them and encourages fanatical adherence to one’s group. This has obvious evolutionary advantages.

    This persecution complex we see is one more example of the group cohesion encouraged by religion. They are still going for the us vs. them.

  • Alex Weaver

    Every time I hear modern Christians complaining about persecution I think of this comic (possibly Not Safe For Work).

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Christians enjoy being persecuted. It validates their existence in a way nothing else does.Their religion is built on being killed. That doesn’t happen so much any more, so they take what they can get – and run with it.

  • Eric

    Great post Ebon! Great post! All the xian rhetoric of persecution is nonsense! And I agree with the point too they are quick to forget the flood of imagary we are subjected to daily. Crucifixes in Dr. waiting rooms, church signs on the highways etc.

    Here is a letter I had published in the Juneau Empire in response to something similar. A man had written a guest column/opinion piece saying we must follow the bible as law and to refute the “atheist agenda”. The Juneau Empire did publish this, and I got both thanks and grief for it.

    Recently (March 21, 2007), Marlin Bricker wrote a “My Turn” editorial regarding how the “Bible is a book to be honored” and that the “Holy Scriptures still relevant in today’s world.” I ask, how long are we going to quietly sit on the sidelines and let this whole hate and violence filled book of mythology have any bearing on our society or culture?

    A first question should be asked to Mr. Bricker (and all those others who believe this fable to be the truth) why is this book any more the truth than other religious tomes claiming to be “the truth,” such as the Koran, The Torah, the Bhagavad-Gita, or even the silly “Book of Mormon?” These all claim to be the truth and they all have the same glaring lack of proof for their self-professed “truth.” They are all called “Holy Books” and are the foundation documents of their respective religions. All state they have the only way to salvation. So how do you think they differ? How do you choose one as true and the other as not?

    Mr. Bricker’s tone in his editorial is frightening in that in resounds with a Christian-centric tone suggesting that everyone needs to follow Christian belief. This is the basic tenet of the current Christian Reconstruction movement. It says the US Government should be a theonomy, where its laws would be designed to make other (all) people Christians, and that every area of life-individual, family, church, wider society, and the state-must be dominated by Christian beliefs and values. Is this any different than the Taliban? Is this tolerant?

    Mr. Bricker also says that the New Testament is the governing text of Christiandom, and the Old Testament should not be referenced or “taken out of context.” Yet, in the New Testament, doesn’t Jesus say that “Before Abraham, I Am,” while in the OT Yahweh named himself “I Am,” implying that Jesus and the father are one (as per the trinity), and that Jesus was thus as responsible for the OT as was the “loving” father. So, in this tome Mr. Bricker claims has relevance today, genocide, conquest, torture, displacement of populations and forced conversions are valid representations of Christianity, whether from the OT or NT.

    Finally, in regards to the N T being bereft of violence and the “honorable piece of literature” Mr. Bricker claims it to be, let us look a bit deeper into its pages. “And brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and put them to death” (Matt. 10:21); “Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace. For I have come to set a man at variance with his father, and a daughter with her mother…” (Matt. 10:34-35); Jesus says entire cities will be violently destroyed and the inhabitants “thrust down to hell” for not “receiving” his disciples (Luke: 10:10-15); “But as for my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them and slay them in my presence” (Luke 19:27); But enough, I suggest rather than the bible being relevant and needing to be honored, that violence is the context of the Bible, and that modern, civilized society should advance beyond violent myth worship. These contradictions are often overlooked, because to acknowledge them would be to shake the foundation of the carrot and stick theology of this alleged “Holy Book.”

    To operate on a true moral level, we must eschew “Holy Books”, the Bible only one of them, and do things because they are right, not because some arcane piece of bad literature and a self-appointed shaman of church tells us to.

  • http://deleted MisterDomino

    Christians, particularly in the USA where they don’t suffer at all for their faith

    Quite true, though I’m sure that Christians like to think that they’re the only religion on the face of the Earth (the only one that counts, anyway).

    It seems that monotheistic religions in particular have a proclivity for this whole persecution complex. A monotheist, by his very nature, defines his life in terms of black and white: believers and non-believers. Since there is only one “true” god, any action against him constitutes “persecution,” and their stubbornness in the face of legitimate criticism is somehow supposed to be a virtue.

    It always reminds me of Aesop’s fable of the two goats; replace the goats with “true believers” and the result is much the same.

  • Pat Whalen

    Good post. But I’m thinking that Dobson has a point.

    The whole foundation of Christianity rests on a mass of competing, contradictory and unsubstantiated claims and a tenuous at best history. Such a structure might be seen as a thread vulnerable to critical examination.

  • Furball

    This kind of thing cracks me up. I’m not taking the side of the Christians, or any other religion for that matter, but atheist activism seems ironic. I mean you’re actively fighting something that you don’t believe exists! bwaaahahaa So, logically, you do believe or you spend too much time worried about what other people are thinking.

    You’re like that busy body, sour puss kangaroo from Horton Hears a Who! WHY do you care what someone else decides to believe? Get a life, go have some fun…. whole effing website dedicated to this silliness. LMAO

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Every movement needs an auslander, too. The more xians see the world as threatening, the more they cohere. The more they cohere, the more they see the world as a threat (because they are told it is so). Ironically, this is called a “positive feedback loop”.

  • Jennifer A. Burdoo

    My normal response to this:

    “You think being a Christian is difficult?… Try being an atheist sometime.”

    Or, as Jon Stewart put it (paraphrased) — “Oh, if only we lived in a country where Christians were free to worship openly! Where Christians could live and work as they please, where Christians are not barred from any role on account of their faith. Even… dare we imagine… a Christian PRESIDENT!”

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I mean you’re actively fighting something that you don’t believe exists!

    We atheists are not fighting “God”, but rather the human beings who claim to speak in his name and pretend that this gives them the authority to control others’ lives.

  • hb531

    @furball

    Your post smacks of concern trolling, or you are simply ignorant of the influence that superstition has on the real world.

    @ric

    In my opinion, the primary reason religions evolved was to create and maintain group cohesion.

    While I think you raise an important point, I think you are a little off on your claim that religion is somehow a product of evolution. I don’t think any meme (including religion) can be attributed to evolution, since there is no selection mechanism that would favor the individual.

  • Alex Weaver

    This kind of thing cracks me up. I’m not taking the side of the Christians, or any other religion for that matter, but atheist activism seems ironic. I mean you’re actively fighting something that you don’t believe exists! bwaaahahaa So, logically, you do believe or you spend too much time worried about what other people are thinking.

    You’re like that busy body, sour puss kangaroo from Horton Hears a Who! WHY do you care what someone else decides to believe? Get a life, go have some fun…. whole effing website dedicated to this silliness. LMAO

    I can give you three good reasons off the top of my head.

    1) having factually true beliefs is valuable in itself. Is that really such a bizarre idea?
    2) even if we grant your implicit assumption that the manner in which their dogmas instruct religious people to behave don’t affect us, both the beliefs and the actions they lead to affect the religious. One of the most obvious examples is the tendency of conservative Christian parents to control their children with threats of hellfire, frequently traumatizing them and in some cases doing more psychological damage, by the person’s own reckoning, than instances of childhood sexual abuse. Since the premise – that this is what God wants – is faulty, these children (and later, these adults) are living with tremendous guilt and fear for nothing. Compassion dictates that we oppose these evils, whether or not we personally have to live with them (and many of us grew up with them, prior to deconverting, so we know what these people are going through).
    3) however, your assumption is in correct. The most basic reason why it matters what other people believe is that beliefs influence actions and actions have consequences, not just for the actor but those around them. Christians’ attempts to have various elements of their religious beliefs and prejudices written into law, in the form of attempts at legalizing discrimination against non-heterosexuals, outlawing a woman’s right to control her own body, promoting Christianity using government resources, instituting laughably puritan content censorship policies, and so on affect us. The conflicts and wars that conservative Christian leaders drag the country into in large part because of their beliefs affect us. How could they not?!

    I would expect that, should you decide to redirect some of your energy from smarmy, playground-style dismissal and think about the matter in a less shallow and superficial fashion, the importance of each of these would be fairly obvious.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Furball, there are some people who believe that psychics are really frauds and are taking of advantage of gullible people. Using your “logic”, if skeptics do not believe that psychics are real, then why spend so much time trying to debunk them? Well, duh, because of the harm these self-stylized psychics can inflict. It’s amazing how often people like Furball recycle the same dumb question.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    And the topic of this post reminds me of some right wing conservative activist on some college campus down South named Ruth Malhotra, who decried campus hate speech codes, because it meant that she was not allowed to harass gays on campus so that she could tell them that they were sinners and were going to burn in hell if they did not turn away from homosexuality and accept Jesus Christ. In Malhotra’s mind, she was being prevented from freely practicing her religion on campus.

  • http://www.nautblog.blogspot.com Sean the Blogonaut

    Hanging by a thread? Get me some scissors

  • James B

    Well said, Pat.

    Christianity is certainly under attack – from reality. That creeping doubt and irrelevance is the problem, atheists are just pointing it out.

    Perhaps part of the reason for the christian persecution complex is a means of rallying sympathy and support, like cheering for the undergod. (typo left in for humourous effect. ;) )

  • velkyn

    I do love how someone like “furball” says “I’m not taking the side of the Christians, or any other religion for that matter…” when it is more than obvious that they are. It is a shame that many Christians are liars and that they are so awful at it. It’s also so funny when they must curse, though “furball” doesn’t have the nerve to do it other than saying “effing”. Maybe s/he doesn’t think God notices that.

    I do suppose Hal Lindsey needs to do something to make himself feel validated since his prediction that the “rapture” was coming in 1988. Of course, ignorant Christians dont’ seem to care that he was WRONG.

  • Steve Bowen

    It is extremely likely that xians do feel under threat. There is some evidence that rationality is starting to prevail and atheism is becoming more accepted (I’m sure if you live in the US bible belt you don’t feel this, but globally I get the impression things are improving). Given the immense amount of power religion has even in western democracies, any erosion will feel like a threat.
    Quick aside, here in the UK parliament has just repealed the blasphemy laws and six bishops in the house of lords actually voted in favour of that repeal.

    @hb531

    I don’t think any meme (including religion) can be attributed to evolution, since there is no selection mechanism that would favor the individual.

    I’ve mentioned this several times recently, but don’t get the impression I’m totally sold on the idea but: There is a recent resurgeance in the idea of group selection theory to account for this sort of event in darwinian terms. Essentially tribes compete for resources. Those that develop social strategies that make them more cooperative than other tribes fair better and grow. It is possible that religious behaviour may be one of those succesful strategies.

  • hb531

    @Steve

    Very interesting. However I doubt it is a biological attribute, but rather social/cultural (read meme) knowledge that gets passed on not through genes, but other channels, such as language.

  • Lunacrous

    I do love how someone like “furball” says “I’m not taking the side of the Christians, or any other religion for that matter…” when it is more than obvious that they are.

    99% of the time someone says “I’m not saying X, but…,” they are in fact saying X. They just don’t want to be held accountable for it.

  • DamienSansBlog

    I don’t think any meme (including religion) can be attributed to evolution, since there is no selection mechanism that would favor the individual.

    hb531, I think the whole reason we call them “memes” these days is to show that they are influenced by the processes of competition, natural selection, and random mutation. Otherwise we could just use words like “idea” or “fashion” or “belief” or “behavior”. In this case, what’s competing and mutating and being selected are the ideas themselves, not necessarily the organisms or communities containing the ideas.

  • Steve Bowen

    However I doubt it is a biological attribute, but rather social/cultural (read meme) knowledge that gets passed on not through genes, but other channels, such as language.

    Agreed but that is just defining a meme. Memes like “religion” however can co-opt genetic predisposition to certain types of behaviour. Religious experience is very similar (I’m told) to the experience of romantic love. It inspires the same loyalty and the same irrational defence of the loved object. This is another reason why xians over-react to challenges to their beliefs, they invoke emotions evolved to elicit protective behavior. They see any insult, no matter how slight, as a direct and personal attack on their survival.

  • Chet

    I mean you’re actively fighting something that you don’t believe exists!

    Nonsense. Religious ignorance and backwards thinking really does exist; there’s an empty hole in the middle of Manhattan that can testify to that.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Wow, I haven’t seen a drive-by jackass since I stopped surfing AOL. I’ll bet dollars to your doughnuts he doesn’t return to read the corrections to his “Argument for Ignorance”.

  • dzho

    Maybe these radio preachers have a good reason to worry. They’ve got a multibillion dollar scam going based on hypocrisy and lies, the last thing they need is somebody telling the truth. And maybe, all it would take is one station consistently offering an alternative to their spiel, and a large portion of their audience would desert. They know this and they’re scared of it.

  • http://www.brucealderman.info/blog/ BruceA

    Christianity won’t be wiped out because of one atheist talk show, but James Dobson has reason for concern. In his old age he is watching the empire he built crumble around him. Churches of all types are declining in membership. America is becoming a more secular, more tolerant society. Even the Republican party nominated a candidate who is not overtly religious. What James Dobson recognizes as Christianity is on the way out.

  • Christopher

    Maybe one talk show won’t finish this out-dated institution off, but perhaps this is the firstmajor voice of dissent of many: I wouldn’t be surprised if this opened the door for other unorthodox points of view to be expressed over the airwaves – ending the Judeo-Christian monopoly on this business.

  • Wayne Henry

    Did anyone see John Rule’s recent cartoon,”Coming to America?” He made a racial slur there against blacks. Check it out!

  • Alex Weaver

    Who?

    And what does that have to do with anything?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    John Rule is the right-wing Christian cartoonist affiliated with Hal Lindsey whom I mentioned in my post. This is his website.


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