The American evangelical persecution complex (continued — and continued and continued …)

So the Liar Tony Perkins came out recently with the claim that President Barack Obama has “created an atmosphere that is hostile toward Christianity” and that Obama, personally, “has a disdain for Christianity.”

Then I saw this headline on Christianity Today’s blog: “Tony Perkins: Obama Is Hostile, Disdainful of Christianity” and thought, “wow, that was so over-the-top that even Christianity Today is calling him out on it.”

Except they’re not. CT seems to be citing Perkins as a credible and honest authority, repeating his lies as though they were true.

CT doesn’t add any supporting evidence (there is none) or talk to anyone who doesn’t share Perkins’ point of view. They just take it as a given that Obama “has a disdain for Christianity” because … um, because … because, apparently, they just assume that everyone knows that we American Christians are a beleaguered and persecuted minority facing relentless hostility from the powers that be.

The persistence and popularity of this American Christian persecution complex is one of the strangest and least attractive aspects of American Christianity. I can’t imagine it’s viewed favorably by those Christians from other times and places whose lives and faith weren’t as easy and so widely affirmed and celebrated by their cultures — which is to say by the vast majority of other Christians who have ever lived.*

I have previously discussed my own theory attempting to explain this weird persecution complex — the idea, generally, being that by pretending we’re a persecuted minority rather than the hegemonic majority we actually constitute, then we’re also able to pretend that we’re: 1) Noticeably different in our dreams, desires and daily lives from those otherwise indistinguishable-from-us neighbors who share our culture but not the particulars of our faith; and 2) Noticeably and intolerably more virtuous and righteous than those otherwise indistinguishable-from-us neighbors who share our culture but not the particulars of our faith.

My theory, in other words, is that we’ve chosen the illusion of self-righteousness over the actual hard work of becoming the kind of love-driven, love-shaped people Jesus called us to be.

Well, that and the fact that telling people they’re being persecuted, and that their only hope is to respond to this fundraising letter with a donation of ___$100, ___$50, ___$25 (check one) also proves to be a lucrative racket.

So whether it’s an imaginary anti-Christian “Christmas Tree Tax” or the religious right’s shrieking hissy-fit over the memorial to a man they despise or the delusional lie that Obama ended Bush’s policy of “Easter proclamations” the pattern continues and continues and continues unabated, with Christians in a constant state of offended indignation over nonexistent sleights they’re actively and knowingly making up as they go along.

Not honest. Not right. Not healthy. Not cool.

- – - – - – - – - – -

* Update: Clumsily worded there. My point is that, if one got to pick when and where one was going to be born as a Christian, has there ever been a cushier, more luxurious, less-calloused and less-persecuted time or place than right now, here in America? I know religious right types might long for the good old days of Puritan New England’s legally enforced hegemony, but today they get to enjoy both cultural hegemony and indoor plumbing and broadband. So it seems churlish for Christians here and now to be whining about persecution.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I note how you capitalize “Liar” when using it to describe Tony Perkins.  

    Appropriate.  

  • Anonymous

    Er…I wouldn’t exactly say that the vast majority of Christians throughout history didn’t have their religion affirmed.

  • Lori

     They just take it as a given that Obama “has a disdain for Christianity” because … um, because … because,  

    because Obama is not a Republican. Anyone who is not a member of God’s Own Party is obviously, by definition, disdainful of Christianity. 

  • AchillesPrays

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the other options, but would note that the notion of Christian persecution is hard-wired into much of the New Testament and is therefore part of most evangelical’s self-identity.  Sure, they don’t fed to lions so often these days but THEY MIGHT!

  • Anonymous

    And remember they count persecution as things like “In some states gay people can get married!” So yeah, American Christianity is its own worst enemy. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Why is it someone always tries to counter the imaginary persecution complex the religious right has in the USA with some anecdote about somewhere else or somewhen else as though it excuses the abuse of Christianity that these religious meddlers in politics have committed?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Why is it someone always tries to counter the imaginary persecution
    complex the religious right has in the USA with some anecdote about
    somewhere else or somewhen else as though it excuses the abuse of
    Christianity that these religious meddlers in politics have committed?

    Actually, parsing it out in relation to the thing Fred originally said (i.e. that a large number of Christians throughout history would LOVE to live with the level of persecution faced by American Christians), I believe the Rebecca is saying the exact opposite of what you think.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget that he’s also a [scare quotes]MUSLIM[/scare quotes] and he’s [scare quotes]BLACK[/scare quotes]. [scare quotes]NOT REPUBLICAN[/scare quotes]. [scare quotes]MUSLIM[/scare quotes]. [scare quotes]BLACK[/scare quotes]. These are the only “reasons” (and I use that word *very* loosely) that the Rethuglicans need to hate Obama.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “My theory, in other words, is that we’ve chosen the illusion of self-righteousness over the actual hard work of [xxx]Well, that and the fact that telling people they’re being persecuted, and that their only hope is to respond to this fundraising letter with a donation of ___$100, ___$50, ___$25 (check one) also proves to be a lucrative racket.”Funny how many things I can think of that you could substitute into [xxx] just as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    If someone uses the word “disdain”, I’m not sure that it is fair to jump from there to the assumption that they feel persecuted. Disdain is not persecution, and maybe Tony Perkins does understand that distinction. He can dislike being disdained and rally the faithful against those he sees as exhibiting that disdain (and has every right to) without thinking the lions are on his heels. 

  • WingedBeast

    My response includes the same issue that AchilliesPrays brought up.  The New Testiment and the gospels chosen very carefully identify Christianity as the persecuted religion.  The moral stories of Jesus Christ are all stories and morals delivered to a persecuted people with very little about what you are to do as a person with power.

    Sure, you render unto Ceasar what is Ceasars but Jesus never delivered any advice on what to do if you *are* Ceasar.  Throughout Europe, Christendom was Ceasar for about 500 years and in America, Christendom is, to a lesser degree, still Ceasar.

  • Anonymous

    Well, it is his job title, apparently.

  • Lori

     If someone uses the word “disdain”, I’m not sure that it is fair to jump from there to the assumption that they feel persecuted. Disdain is not persecution, and maybe Tony Perkins does understand that distinction.  

    A) Being persecuted is Liar Tony Perkins’ job. Every public statement he makes is in service to that career in one way or another. 

    B) If LTP doesn’t know the difference between disdain and persecution then it’s not a jump to assume that when he says that someone holds Christianity in disdain he means that Christians are being persecuted. 

    C) I think LTP is perfectly aware of the difference between disdain and persecution, but finds it more profitable to blur that distinction. See A, above. 

  • Daughter

    Anyone seen the cartoon going around facebook with three kids in the principal’s office awaiting punishment? One kid says, “I said the F word,” the second kid says, “I said the S word,” and the third kid says, “I said Christmas.”

    A friend of mine posted it and got several comments along the lines of how awful things are becoming for Christians and this is just one more example of it.  In my comment, I challenged them to site any example of a kid anywhere being punished in school for saying “Christmas.”

    One person came back with this example:
    http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2010/12/it-begins-high-school-students-punished-for-belonging-to-christmas-sweater-club-handing-out-candy-canes-video/

    My response: This isn’t a case of anti-Christmas or anti-Christian persecution.  Instead, it sounds like a case of either zero-tolerance administrative overreaction (i.e., candy canes:weapons as Advil:drugs), or the usual punishment for obnoxious student behavior (does anybody really think the outcome would have been different for kids acting the same way to spread “Halloween cheer”?).

    Anyway, no one responded to my reponse other than a Jewish woman, who was the only other person on the thread besides me arguing that the war on Christmas is bunk.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    There actually was a case where students were punished for handing out candy canes with religious messages. The kicker – they were defended by the ACLU in court. One of those cases conservatives love to forget when they start attacking the ACLU.

    http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/aclu-ma-defends-students-punished-distributing-candy-canes-religious-messages

  • Green Eggs and Ham

    The War on Christmas™ is bunk.  However, I am going to take a different tack on the subject.

    Christmas is at war with me.  I work in retail–Big Box Retail.

    Christmas is now a criminal enterprise meant to steal your hard-earned money.  /rant.

  • Lori

    Even those of us who don’t work retail are in far more danger of being attacked by The Christmas Creep than we are of being casualties in the bogus War on Christmas. 

    http://consumerist.com/2011/10/introducing-the-christmas-creep.html

  • Technomad

    Also, defining what is meant by “Christian” is important.  I’ve read that many Evangelicals/fundamentalists use the word to only mean themselves; they’ll say “when I became a Christian” to mean “when I became an evangelical/fundamentalist” even if before that, they were lifelong members of a Christian denomination.

    And a lot of members of the mainstream culture do look down on evangelicals and Fundamentalists…not without good reasons, I hasten to add.  Between their obvious ignorance of basic scientific facts, their inability to mind their own bloody business, and their fatal tropism for every Elmer-Gantry-alike that comes down the pike, they earn a lot of the caricaturing they get. 

  • Anonymous

    Sure, you render unto Ceasar what is Ceasars but Jesus never delivered any advice on what to do if you *are* Ceasar.  Throughout Europe, Christendom was Ceasar for about 500 years and in America, Christendom is, to a lesser degree, still Ceasar.

    Clearly that means everyone else must do the rendering unto you.  This would be why we’ve got a group demanding that everyone bow to their every wish regarding sexuality, gender roles, morality etc.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “My theory, in other words, is that we’ve chosen the illusion of
    self-righteousness over the actual hard work of becoming the kind of
    love-driven, love-shaped people Jesus called us to be.”

    I sense that the fiercely patriarchal nature of RTCism also has more than a little to do with this as well.  If everything good and decent is forever imperiled, then moral traits perceived as masculine; like loyalty, bravery, determination, etc; will always be more important than moral traits perceived as feminine like acceptance, empathy, or compassion.  At any rate, for as long as one is able to convince himself that American Christianity is endangered he will always have license to express his beliefs by projecting strength in his defense of them, instead of exposing his softness and vulnerability in the actual living of his faith.   

  • Daughter

    Also, defining what is meant by “Christian” is important.  I’ve read that many Evangelicals/fundamentalists use the word to only mean themselves; they’ll say “when I became a Christian” to mean “when I became an evangelical/fundamentalist” even if before that, they were lifelong members of a Christian denomination.

    That’s how I would use the expression, too, in regard to myself.  I don’t think it’s objectionable because it generally means, “When I made the conscious choice to follow Christ/Christian beliefs, rather than just going along with what my parents taught me.”  People raised in evangelical churches from birth also say, “When I became a Christian” to indicate that point in their life.

    It only becomes problematic when you decide that other people aren’t Christians because they haven’t followed the same path to Christian faith that you have.
     

  • Tom V

    “intolerably more virtuous and righteous…”
    puts me in mind of Burns’s “Address to the Unco Guid”, http://www.robertburns.org/works/93.shtml.

  • Anonymous

    What I was saying is basically: yes, Fred is obviously absolutely right that this persecution fantasy of American evangelicals is nonsense. But his statement that “the vast majority” of Christians throughout history have actually been persecuted is nonsense nearly as nonsensical, and I’m surprised to hear it coming from him.

  • Anonymous

    In Soviet Russia, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Except that this isn’t occurring in a vacuum. You can’t throw a cat in any direction without hitting half a dozen wingnuts sobbing about how the Christians are getting persecuted.

    Just last week there was the fuss about Michigan passing anti-bullying legislation that includes an exception for bullies who claim a religious reason for their actions.
     
    That ties directly into this entire persecution complex – that if so-called Christians are restrained from acting on their Biblically-based hatred of gays, they are being persecuted.

    Also see Bill O’Reilly and Pat Buchanan for prime examples of rich old white men whining about how awful their demographic has it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    You may notice that the phrase he used was “lives and faith”.  I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of Christians throughout history _didn’t_  live lives that were “easy and so widely affirmed and celebrated by their cultures.”  I’d go so far as to say that the vast majority of them lived more or less the kind of lives that these persecution-enraged modern evangelical christians would very much like to force on everyone who isn’t them. 

    And a small percentage of them were fantastically rich and priviliged, of course. But as far as I know, the plutocrats for most of history had the decency to not pretend they were the *real* persecuted minority.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that was the implication in the original quote, but I’d be happy to be wrong.

  • Tonio

    My mistake – I thought the “Christmas creep” referred to individual RTCs who get all huffy when a clerk wishes them Happy Holidays.

  • Tonio

    I’ve been wondering if the “fiercely patriarchal nature of RTCism” (nicely put) is more than about controlling females and preserving male privilege, but specifically about preserving paternity. When we combine that with the attitude that “everything good and decent is forever imperiled” (you’re rolling today), I begin to wonder if we’re really talking about chimpanzee patriarchs.

  • rm

    chimpanzee patriarchs

    Good one. I call them silverbacks, after the alpha males of gorilla families.

    I think sometimes that fundamentalism/patriarchy is what we get when we act on our primate instincts without any correction from the intellect.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Geds and Rebecca:

    Actually, parsing it out in relation to the thing Fred originally said
    (i.e. that a large number of Christians throughout history would LOVE to
    live with the level of persecution faced by American Christians), I
    believe the Rebecca is saying the exact opposite of what you think.

    Fair point.

    That said, I stand by my assertion that someone, somewhere, will inevitably (try to) derail discussions of the faux persecution complex with a “but it happened somewhere/when else!”

  • Tonio

    “Primate instinct” is a misnomer since bonobos are apparently more matriarchal. I think we should stay away from the supposition that humans would revert to the chimpanzee social structure if it weren’t for the intellect, because that’s similar to the justification used for all sorts of male misbehavior.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Mix/100000574306150 Ed Mix

    http://www.waronchristmas.com/  Crazyhttp://www.streetprophets.com/story/2007/11/23/17830/792  Funny
    Let’s see what he has been up to shall we.
    http://www.davidduke.com/images/WarOnChristmas.jpg

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Mix/100000574306150 Ed Mix

    Here is the cartoon mentioned above.  http://modernreject.com/2010/12/is-there-really-a-war-on-christmas/

  • Killoren

    Couldn’t you say that about every conceivable statement or discussion? Someone somewhere will always be saying something silly at some point.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “The first words of a popular song, recorded by Johnny Mathis as a platinum hit, summed it up perfectly: ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas / Everywhere you go…’
    Then something strange began to happen. The very thing that made the ‘season’ special started to disappear from the public arena. Stores no longer held ‘Christmas sales.’Businesses, and soon after, individuals, ceased to hold “Christmas parties.” And on and on. ‘Christmas’ became a dirty word, and was replaced by ‘holiday.’”

    “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas” Comp: Meredith Wilson, 1951
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_Beginning_To_Look_A_Lot_Like_Christmas

    “Happy Holiday” Comp: Irving Berlin, 1942
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Holiday_(song)

    I know it’s foolish, but doing this does give me a small feeling of victory.  Boomshakalaka!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AAWT7KGJATPEGZFFBCF6ER6XBM The Mighty Wombat

    To expand, every high-ranking Democrat must have at least one defining, unforgiveable moral flaw.

    If he (or she) doesn’t, one will have to be inv… found out.

  • Kukulkan

    Daughter wrote:

    Anyone seen the cartoon going around facebook with three kids in the principal’s office awaiting punishment? One kid says, “I said the F word,” the second kid says, “I said the S word,” and the third kid says, “I said Christmas.”

    So that would be… ummm… the ‘X’ word?

    I mean, the ‘C’ word is already taken.

  • Kukulkan

    And on the subject of the war on Christmas, I offer the following quote:

    We can’t replicate an Australian Christmas over here. It’s too cold. Sometimes it snows. You can hear sleigh bells. Nah, it’s not like Christmas at all.
                                             — Lee Tulloch in New York
                                                 The Age, 22 December 1999

  • http://johnm55.wordpress.com/ johnm55

    Two points:
    1) Christmas trees are PAGAN symbols, Solstice, Yule and all that – but I guess that most people who read this blog knew that already.
    2) What the poor persecuted Evangelicals are suffering from is not persecution but indifference and increasing marginalisation, and that as far as they are concerned is far, far worse.

  • Tonio

    I wouldn’t even call it marginalization. I would call it a lessening of Christian privilege, where society increasingly refuses to treat their religion as the default. Their objection is to society refusing to marginalize other religions.

  • Tonio

    You might have gotten more responses if you had asked for personal encounters with RTCs who object to Happy Holidays, or asked Jewish posters what it’s like to have to use vacation time for Yom Kippur while their Christian co-workers get a vacation day for Christmas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    I call Christmas “The War on Jon Being Able To Get His Regular Shopping Done.”

  • Anonymous

    “In my comment, I challenged them to site any example of a
    kid anywhere being punished in school for saying “Christmas.”

    One person came back with this example:
    http://www.thegatewaypundit.co

    My response: This isn’t a case of anti-Christmas or anti-Christian
    persecution.  Instead, it sounds like a case of either zero-tolerance
    administrative overreaction (i.e., candy canes:weapons as Advil:drugs),
    or the usual punishment for obnoxious student behavior…”

    Per the link, the kids were charged with “littering and creating a disturbance.”  (Apparently the little candy canes they were tossing around have a tendency to fracture, with predictable results in a school setting.)

    The worst thing is, nobody in comments at the link even mentioned “Alice’s Restaurant”:

    He said, “What were you arrested for, kid?” And I said, “Littering.” And they all moved away from me on the benchthere, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I said, “And creating a nuisance.” And they all came back, shook my hand,and we had a great time on the bench, talkin about crime, mother stabbing, father raping, all kinds of groovy things that we was talking about on thebench.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The Canadian legislation of statutory holidays is inherently discriminatory to non-Christians that way, particularly those who do not celebrate Christmas. Generally speaking December 25 is a holiday and, unofficially in most provinces (Ontario legislates Dec 26 as well as the 25) Boxing Day is a holiday also. So the “default” paid days off don’t coincide necessarily with other religions.

    (Given that in particular, in academia-land you can’t get hardly anything done in December generally, I’d suggest extending this to the nation as a whole and just saying the December 24 – January 1 period is one big holiday)

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    @Invisible_Neutrino:disqus : The Canadian legislation of statutory holidays is inherently discriminatory to non-Christians that way, particularly those who do not celebrate Christmas.
    One of the reasons that is so hard to change is that many people just feel “warm and fuzzy” about the holidays and want them to resemble the holidays of our youth.

    I had a long argument about the holidays with a fellow Canadian and fellow atheist who just couldn’t see what the issue was. When I pointed out how discriminatory the holidays were for non-Christians hir response was to say “well it is silly to believe in ANY religion.” 

    Which, I think, gets at one of the problems we have in Canada with changing discriminatory holidays — the atheists/non-religious don’t care/aren’t affected.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    That said, I stand by my assertion that someone, somewhere, will
    inevitably (try to) derail discussions of the faux persecution complex
    with a “but it happened somewhere/when else!”

    Absolutely.  Hell, I first started writing my comment to agree with you.  Then I went back and re-read the comment and the chunk of the OP that it was responding to and realized, “Oops, this says the opposite of that.”

    But I’m sure someone, somewhere, is running a copy-paste on the latest Voice of the Martyrs just to say, “See!  Christians have it really bad,” even though it has nothing to do with the original point about how no one is being persecuted in America.

  • Tonio

    My understanding is that the US doesn’t have the same type of statutory holidays, with the exception of Thanksgiving. As a practical matter, most large private employers follow the holiday schedule for federal employees and sometimes for state employees as well. (Virginia still has that repulsive Confederate Revisionism Lee-Jackson Day on its calendar while including Martin Luther King Day.) There’s a good argument that the Christmas day off amounts to government discriminating against non-Christian employees. Some employers simplify things by doing away with the division between vacation days and holidays, and that’s a good solution especially for workplaces with sizable religious minorities.

  • Lori

    I guess we all need to brace ourselves for another round of “Hep! Help! I’m being oppressed!” The religious belief exception has been stripped out of the Michigan anti-bullying law. Will the persecution of Christians never end?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/gay-muslim-groups-relieved-by-changes-to-bullying-bill/2011/11/14/gIQATv7lLN_story.html

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The main issue I have with the US labor culture of “totally voluntary” days off is that it puts pressure on employees to take as few days off as practical.

    The system I like best is actually how it worked at one place I used to be at. If you didn’t want to come in to work, that was fine, but you wouldn’t get paid. Then again, this was here in BC so, legislated days off even for the private sector meant it wasn’t as fatal to one’s wallet to have a day off and not work.


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