In comments to this post below, Todd points us to this George Will column, in which the bespectacled one bemoans that "The state of America's political discourse is such that the president has felt it necessary to declare that unbelievers can be good Americans."
The president had to make such a statement, Will notes, because so many other things he has said and done have strongly implied that skeptics, freethinkers, Episcopalians and other nonevangelicals cannot be good Americans. In Will's phrase, "He and his party seemed to have subcontracted governance to certain especially fervid religious supporters." Which brings us to the core of his piece:
Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims. There is much lamentation about various "assaults" on "people of faith." Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities concerning things such as restrictions on school Christmas observances. But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic.
Will doesn't use terms like "cultural hegemony," but that is what he describes in the rest of his piece, citing as examples things like the popularity of The World's Worst Books.*
Todd also asks a fair question:
… what Christian claimed actual "persecution," be it at "Justice" Sunday or elsewhere? … You say: "They dare to use that word." Would you be so kind as to provide the who, what, when, and where of this? Who actually "dared to use that word"?
David Limbaugh has in recent months made himself the standard bearer for the use of this word by American Christians in reference to themselves. It's the title of his latest book, "Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity."
He's made the rounds of the right-wing echo chamber, and wherever he goes his use of the word has been uncritically adopted (see, for example, this glowing review from Human Events).
The media emperors of the religious right have given Limbaugh an even warmer welcome.
"If you think Christians are only persecuted in other countries, think again," says the Focus on the Family blurb for the CD of James Dobson's two-part interview with Limbaugh, titled, "The Modern War Against Christianity."
That interview was originally broadcast on the more than 3,500 radio stations that carry Focus on the Family's programs.
Many, many more examples can be found in the loonier fringes of the religious right Check out, for example, almost any comment thread at worldblog (of the highly subsidized right-wing, Southern PresbyGothic World magazine) — particularly those on the great evolutionist conspiracy against Christianity.
There's much more if you want to wade into the murkier, deeper waters at the crazy end of the pool — "Persecution of Christians growing in the United States"; "Persecution of Christians in America" — or spend some time browsing sites like Renew America or Worldview Weekend.
So, yes, the word is actually used, and the idea has taken hold. It is, as Will says, unbecoming and unrealistic, but many, many American evangelicals believe that they are "persecuted." Don't take my word for it — ask them. Go ask Ned Flanders next door, or ask that Very Nice coworker who once gave you a copy of the "Four Spiritual Laws."
These same evangelicals also believe, presumably with a different compartment of their brains, that America is "a Christian nation."
It's difficult to reconcile these two ideas — persecuted hegemons? (One theory is that the cognitive dissonance produced by simultaneously believing these contradictory notions is so violent that it results in physiological damage, actually altering their brain chemistry. But that's just a theory.)
Anyway, the discussion in comments to the earlier post is worth scrolling through in its entirety. I'm reposting a couple of choice rants from there here on the main site because they're too good to leave buried in comments.
First is this from Alex:
The glamorization of "persecution" is a component — and a vital one–of the culture "wars". It allows a participant to view himself (or herself) as a "soldier" carrying out God's work — and losing.
This is the important part.
If you're losing your struggle, you get to break the rules, cheat, lie, do anything to win. Winners have to play fair, but if you can somehow twist things so you become oppressed, you are granted moral license to do, well, anything.
It's the glow of martyrship without the ickiness of actually being martyred.
And that feeling, that shock of indignation, that swell of righteous anger: it's addictive. It's a sure-fire hit on the crackpipe of certainty. It's why all fanatics sound the same — their leaders all use the same tools.
And this glorious example of the Art of Rant from Merlin Missy:
Of course Christians are persecuted in the United States. After all, everyone knows Christians can't marry other Christians (except in one state but nobody recognizes Christian marriages anywhere else and it's not like those are real marriages anyway), can't adopt ot become foster parents after they truthfully answer the "Faith" question on the questionnaire, can be denied housing and jobs for being Christians, and are regularly the butt of jokes where practitioners of other religions (especially Jews) are portrayed as kind and giving. In many parts of the country, Christians are afraid of walking down the street because they know people will shout at them for being Christian. They don't dare walk into some bars, knowing that their conservative clothing or a slip in conversation might make them a target for "beat the Christian in the backroom." When a Christian commits an act of terrorism against an abortion clinic, Christians lock their doors in fear of retaliation by complete strangers. Doctors who practice and promote Natural Family Planning are listed on websites with "Wanted" posters and regularly receive death threats. Halloween and Beltaine are paid days off regardless of a person's faith; anyone who asks to take a vacation day for Christmas or Easter is grilled suspiciously by coworkers and managers. Schools for other faiths are everywhere; there are only one or two Catholic schools per state and they don't advertise after three were firebombed in one year. The ruling party and all three branches of government have dozens of people who have made public statements that Christians are destroying this country and that the practice of Christianity should be banned by the Constitution. Christians are barred from military service. Every Christian has a friend or relative who was killed or imprisoned during the last world war because they were Christian. When Christians complain about the treatment they receive, they're told to move to another state / country with their own kind. People regularly picket the funerals of Christians with signs that read "The nameless forces that randomly shaped the cosmos into an appealing pattern hate Christos!" The word "christian" is used as an independent adjective to describe something stupid and/or undesireable. Christian girls who ascribe to Paul's teaching that women must keep their heads covered when they pray are suspended from schools for violating the "no hats" policy. The only movie most people have even heard of that features Christianity is "The Faith," a horror film that shows teenaged girls praying for bad things to happen to their classmates and committing cannibalism (using a phrase made trendy by the movie: "Body and Blood of Christ"). Politicians regularly end statements with "And Allah bless America," and when called on it, they claim they mean all gods when they say Allah. "In YHWH We Trust" is written on our money. Teenagers who tell their parents they're interested in Christianity, or believe they might be Chrisrians, are told they're "going through a (rebellious) phase" and are often sent to counselling to "fix" them. The first response people often make when they hear someone's family member is a Christian is to say "I'm so sorry." Christian clubs at colleges don't advertise their meetings because atheists regularly show up and hand out copies of "On the Origen of Species."
Or you know, not.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
* In discussing the phenomenal sales of the Left Behind series, though, Will repeats a confusion that LaHaye and Jenkins themselves have promoted. The LB books have been surpassing the sales even of the wildly popular novelist John Grisham. Will, like many others, cites this as an indication of the triumph of the evangelical over the secular.
But since when was John Grisham "secular"? Grisham had a No. 1 best-seller with the extended parable of The Street Lawyer and followed that up with Testament — a pervasively sectarian book that bordered on proselytization. The contrast of L&J and Grisham is not religious vs. secular, but a matter of different kinds of Christian religion. The Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher who wrote Testament should not be made an example of "secularism."