Hi! I hope your weekend’s going well so far. Today I want to talk about the Christian persecution complex. Over a year ago, we talked here about the demonstrably false idea that a lot of American Christians have that they are being persecuted for their beliefs, but some stuff’s happened since then that makes me want to talk about the idea some more.
As we’ve noted, persecution is a really big important part of Christian culture, especially evangelical Christian culture. When I was Christian, I dreaded the idea of being persecuted, but even back then I spoke out against other Christians who claimed–falsely–to have suffered religious persecution. Even back then I realized that most of what my peers thought was persecution was really the direct result of them just being jerks, with religion not being the issue at all. As the modern climate becomes more and more progressive and inclusive, though, real persecution happens less and less often in civilized countries. It’s got to be a real bummer for Christians that they’re not being persecuted in America like they are in more zealous, theocratic countries–though it’s hard to wonder why they want to turn America into a country like those by enshrining religious privilege into law and turning this secular country into a theocracy. It really seems like their real problem is that they don’t get to treat non-Christians here like Muslims treat Christians in places like Iran, and like their real fear is that if they are not allowed to be superior to all other people, then they will be inferior to all other people. With us or against us, I reckon the saying goes. All or nothing. And we’ve never seen extremist ideas like that out of Christian thinking before now, have we?
This lust for persecution plays out in Christian culture in a lot of ways. One way is with ridiculous movies like, well, Persecuted, wherein a Christian evangelist gets whaled on by the United States government for not playing along with a bill introduced to limit religious freedom by, uh, ensuring religious freedom for all citizens, though the film apparently never explains why this bill is necessary, why exactly its sponsors would need an evangelist’s help so much that they’d destroy him if he refused, nor exactly how it’d hurt Christians if it passed. The film’s surprisingly Catholic-leaning evangelical preacher-hero gets framed for the sexing-up and murdering of a teenaged girl and chased all over the place by nasty secret ninja-like agents, all for his TRUE CHRISTIAN™ beliefs–and this persecution is implied to be all but inevitable for all TRUE CHRISTIANS™ if America continues in its sinful, religion-non-endorsing ways. When the preacher wraps a rosary (yes yes, I know; it doesn’t make any sense to me either) around his fingers and clutches his gun in the same hand to fight back against his persecution, one must wonder if its target audience of Fox News viewers will see an implicit condoning of violence as the best response to what they have been taught to see as persecution all around them in American culture today. Turning the other cheek, this guy is not.
This turkey is running a ZERO PERCENT on RottenTomatoes.com, if you’re wondering. That means that not a single reviewer thought this movie was decent. I’m not sure I’ve even ever seen that happen before now. One could blame that terrible score on the evil nasty Hollywood movie-reviewer agenda or whatever, and I’ve seen a bunch of Christians doing exactly that, but on the whole I’d say that reviewers are usually at least friendly to the idea of Christianity and don’t generally just automatically ding a movie that pushes a really religious theme. No, their objections to this movie aren’t based on the simple fact of its religious bent, but rather on its inept execution, poor characterization, dreadful plotting, and beyond-ludicrous premise. But these reviewers aren’t its target audience. Persecuted speaks to outraged Christians who have been painstakingly trained by their leaders to see every single peeling-back of their dominance as some kind of massive injury done to them. It pushes a vision of dread and fear about an America that is so in love with tolerance that it just can’t tolerate bigots anymore, an America that is trying so hard to be inclusive that it just can’t embrace people who want to claim for themselves the right to discriminate against marginalized groups they don’t like. While I see that tolerance and inclusion as a feature of our society, the people this movie is pandering to and goading see it as a bug.
Speaking of pandering and goading, not long ago the so-called Values Voter Summit rolled into town again. I pay attention to this summit–even though I’m not even halfway tempted to vote Republican–because it is where Republican candidates trot out their best preacher-eyebrowed face for their home-team mob of terrified, infuriated, bigoted, sexist, racist, classist, white patriarchy-minded Christians (and those who have been persuaded to join that crowd and thereby act against their own best interests). This “Summit” has always been specifically about giving right-wing candidates a chance to see and get seen by that crowd, but we’re cruising into a midterm election pretty damn’ quick here so I was expecting things to be more intense than usual. I was not disappointed. Or rather I was, but… oh, you know what I mean, I hope.
What surprised me is that–compared to last year–this year sounded almost like a constant toddler whine of persecution accusations against mean ole Murrka. Last year the tenor was all about the wars they wanted to wage on everybody and everything they saw as threatening their dominance: Communism, Islam, the new healthcare laws, and–seriously WTF here–progressive Christianity. But that tone really seems like it changed this year. Now I saw a litany of speakers whose main point seemed to be a petulant shuffling of the feet and kicking of the dirt about how mean and nasty America is to their brand of Christianity and how much they suffer to be TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in American culture.
And oh my, how they suffer. Truly, the miracle is that the United Nations hasn’t said anything (but you know how they’re all controlled by the arising Antichrist). One speaker at this convention compared the Affordable Care Act’s mandate of contraception access to, literally, Nazi Germany. In fact it was, in his opinion, far worse because now TRUE CHRISTIANS™ were “being forced to participate in human genocide.” We’ll ignore that not a single contraceptive has ever been shown to be abortifacient, and that even if it had been it’d still be solely the affected woman’s choice whether or not she wished to continue with a pregnancy and none of his damned business. “Human genocide” has a catchy ring to it and it plays to the fundagelicals’ horror and fury at the idea of women having unapproved sex and not being punished for it. But more than that, the terminology he used with such a supreme lack of self-awareness–“forced”–is what we should be paying attention to here. It’s okay for his side to force women to endure non-consensual pregnancies, but it is not okay to “force” TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to, uh, help her not get into that situation in the first place by not putting themselves directly in the path between her and the one thing that has been best proven to lower abortion rates. By standing by without interfering with a woman’s choices, that’s apparently “forcing” TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to, I guess, approve of her choices.
Let’s be clear here, though. Nobody is forcing these Christians to do anything at all, and nobody cares what they approve or don’t approve or feel comfortable with or don’t, which is what the problem actually is here. They are certainly not handing this contraception to women or “letting” them do anything at all. Women are choosing and using that contraception as part of their insurance plans. They are paying into their plans just like Christians pay into their own. Nobody is “paying for” women to have this contraception any more than women are paying for old white-fart Christian men to have Viagra and penis pumps. A pool of risk informs the costs for women’s insurance, but that’s not the same thing. If anything, that women use this contraception is lowering Christians women’s own bills by impacting the risk pool, thus reducing the amount of money the insurance program has to pay out to cover women when they have children as a result of unexpected pregnancies, so if a woman’s decision to use effective contraception impacts outsiders at all, it is in a favorable way. But we can’t expect Christian fundagelicals to understand insurance any better than they understand female biology–not that such ignorance will stop them from trying to meddle with women’s access to healthcare.
This push to declare contraception as being somehow abortifacient is not only flat-out wrong but also catastrophically self-defeating in another way: as the saying goes, if someone is against women having effective contraception, then that person is for women having abortions–lots, and lots, and lots of abortions. There just isn’t another way it works. The link between contraception access and abortion rates is so far past obvious and undeniable that it’s just mind-blowing that fundagelical Christians have begun yammering about denying women that access (but not surprising when one considers how deep in bed they are with Catholics on this war that Catholics actually started). But somehow the idea of women having birth control and using it without asking for Christians’ permission is tantamount to “forcing” Christians to engage in “human genocide,” according to a Values Voter Summit speaker.
This new envisioning of persecution is actually a pretty big change for them. In the past they restricted their cries of persecution as a response to stuff actively being done to them. Now they have decided that the term can mean anything happening anywhere around them that they’re not allowed to interfere with, even if it doesn’t involve them in the very slightest and even if it’s categorically not their business in the first place.
Christians have always been good at redefining words. Here’s a bunch I’ve talked about in the past. We should not be shocked to see that yet another word has joined the hallowed ranks of “love,” “faith,” “tolerance,” and the like. In the past, “persecution” meant something terrible that was done to Christians simply because they were Christians. Now the word can mean just about anything that Christians don’t like. Even better (in their view), it can even mean something that’s not done to them at all. If I live my life totally without their input or consideration, if I ignore their judgements and refuse to let them control my life, I can now be seen as persecuting them. No matter what harebrained, unwanted, blatant form of overreach they try to exert over my life, if I don’t allow them to do it, then they can cry “persecution” over my refusal. The mind just boggles at their audacity.
Such faux-persecution is just a means to an end (just as fetuses are, for that matter). If there was some other, easier way to get back their cherished dominance, they’d be doing that instead. The word is very powerful in our culture, and people tend to react very emotionally to it. I’m sure Christians think that making such cries will get them the power they think they deserve over others. This new redefinition will likely backfire just like all their other attempts to strong-arm their way back into cultural dominance have, though I’m not sure they’ll recognize that fact until it’s too late to do anything to get themselves back into favor. I’m not sure they can see reality for what it is quite yet.
This extreme, reality-divorced zealotry is feeding the fundagelical eagerness to see persecution even where none exists–and in turn fanning the flames of zealotry. In the near-total absence of actual religious persecution in the West, zealots will flat-out lie to make up instances of persecution or else see simple denial of privilege as persecution. With right-wing talk radio and Fox News egging them on, no limit is too far, no low too despicable. That’s why toxic Christians can see those hypocritical, bigoted wedding-cake bakers and home decorators whining and snuffling and weeping about being the real victims here and be nothing but sympathetic, while non-toxic Christians and non-Christians alike see them as, well, hypocritical and hateful bigots who are just upset that they aren’t allowed to discriminate or handed a soapbox for sharing their awful opinions, and who moreover don’t realize what their desire to discriminate is doing to those marginalized groups. (Isn’t it funny how a group whose primary mandate is “love your neighbor” has so many varied ways of getting out of that mandate when it comes to trampling others’ rights and hurting them?)
The effects of Christian overreach–the hate crimes, the control-lust, the violence, the bullying, the misery, the misogyny engendered by their attempts to seize control of people’s lives by any means fair or foul (mostly foul)–is somehow overlooked in all that weepy hand-wringing over how meeeeeeeean America is to hateful, hypocritical bigots like themselves. When a Tea Party senator blubbers that being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ in America today is like being a Jew in Nazi Germany and hints that similar ends are in store for such TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like him (if-he-does-say-so-himself, and no, of course he doesn’t explain just how the movement toward fairness and equality will lead to the mass-murder of bigoted Christians), that sentiment plays beautifully to people who have no idea whatsoever what they’re talking about and no clue what real persecution looks like (and who got their understanding of American history out of fundagelical homeschooling books), but this misuse of words and hugely self-serving, sanctimonious comparisons shocks and outrages outsiders. And I’ve got to wonder if it will start shocking and outraging even the insiders at some point.
See, I know that once upon a time I figured out that a true idea doesn’t need false comparisons and lies to sell itself. And I’m not a rocket scientist. I bet this kind of excessively pandering, polarizing talk is going to alienate quite a few Christians eventually. A Pew Forum poll recently released doesn’t sound promising in that regard, not yet, though. In it we learn that about half of evangelical Christians genuinely think that they are being oppressed somehow in America and that a shocking 1/3 of white evangelicals think they are a minority in this country because of their beliefs. Let that sink in for a moment. A surprising number of white evangelicals, who dominate government and culture at almost every single level, think they are a minority and that they are being oppressed.
It’s that kind of sickening lack of self-awareness and complete obliviousness to reality that is going to spell their religion’s doom. I’ve talked before about this sea change in awareness that I’ve been perceiving of late regarding Christianity–and I see this clamping-down at the Values Voter Summit as a way of circling the wagons. They’re still complaining about the usual bugbears, Communism and Islam, yes, but what’s really bothering them is their eroding power over others–and their dim-but-growing perception that society’s losing patience with their various antics and tomfoolery.
I wonder if the more loving Christians in that crowd will eventually realize that what their peers and leaders are saying is that their religion requires them to control the private lives and personal decisions of other people and that they should have some kind of right of approval over other people’s lives. I wonder if these cooler heads will realize that their peers are flat-out wrong when they say that denying Christians this imaginary right is some kind of terrible humanitarian crisis on par with Nazi genocides or the very real persecution occurring in some Muslim countries today.
In the end, one review of that ridiculous Persecuted movie really put it best:
At a time when the world offers us no shortage of examples of what actual religious persecution looks like, for a film to indulge in this particular brand of self-righteous fearmongering isn’t just clueless or reckless; it’s an act of contemptible irresponsibility.
rAmen. Then again, “contemptible irresponsibility” does about sum up quite a bit of what we’re seeing out of evangelical Christianity of late.