The Expectation of Persecution

By Vorjack

Let me return for a moment to the post “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” on Internet Monk.  Spencer acknowledges that he’s no futurist, but he makes a number of interesting predictions. Some seem like safe bets, like the suggestion that the non-religious (which would include the spiritual but not religious crowd) will hit 25-30% of the population. Other statements I am not knowledgeable enough to judge — like his statement that “the emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape.” But one statement in particular caught my eye:

Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

This is my cue to start laughing maniacally, isn’t it?

Things to Come

Pullquote: We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
Michael Spencer

We’ve seen this kind of thinking before. Here at Unreasonable Faith a number of Christians have made comments that predict a coming increase in Christian persecution.

It is not simply that evangelicals will have to deal with the suspicions and misunderstandings that are the lot of the religious minority — the kind of thing that atheists frequently have to deal with now. No, some Christians are expecting political and social disenfranchisement. To quote Spencer again, “We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.”

Perhaps this is entirely rhetorical. Nothing unifies people like a shared experience of persecution. Perhaps it is not an expectation so much as a hope; an unconscious hope, but hope nonetheless. Persecution would allow for a type of heroic expression of faith not seen since Rome converted. Or perhaps some people genuinely believe we’re headed into a time of religious suppression of Christians.

Reality Check

Pullquote: If you really think that Evangelical Christianity is about to become the minority, don’t you want a government that respects minority rights?

To the Evangelical Christians, let me make this as clear as I can: we are not planning to persecute you. If fact, the things that we’re fighting for are the very things you’re going to want if Evangelical Christianity is headed for the dustbin of history.

Atheists have spent the past few decades fighting to strengthen the separation of church and state. If evangelicals suddenly become a vanishing minority, this separation will protect you from government.

Atheists have been pushing to make religion a function of private life. If we succeed, you’ll be protected from the sorts who proselytize, the way you now inflict it on others.

Atheists are fighting for government based on secular values. Remember, “secular” is not the opposite of “sacred” — that’s “profane.”  Secular is the opposite of sectarian, it means “universal.”  A secular value is one that doesn’t require special revelation to appreciate. I suppose some would rather have a government based on their own sectarian values, but if you can’t have that, wouldn’t you rather have a secular government?

If you really think that Evangelical Christianity is about to become the minority, don’t you want a government that respects minority rights? Why don’t you send a donation to the ACLU, sign a petition against school prayer, and join us over here in secular America.

Vorjack is a librarian/archivist and a public historian, living with his wife in history-soaked Albany, New York.

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  • Steve Jeffers

    I live in Amish country. They’re great, nice people and insular but in positive ways. They’re the exact opposite of the evangelicals – they’re worried about people leaving, rather than out there recruiting; they rarely even vote, let alone try to impose their beliefs on others; they already own all the land they need, don’t borrow money and don’t claim welfare (but do pay tax).

    However … they have an expectation of persecution. They assume any question about them is a questioning *of* them. All their narratives are about the pressures of the outside world, European tyranny, how non-Amish are warlike and destructive and want to make the Amish like them.

    This was probably true when their ancestors came over. And they used to face suspicion and pressure to conform
    … then, in the fifties, suddenly the difference between them and the other Pennsylvania farmers became really marked, for all sorts of reasons (cars and other farm machinery; a lot of the young men had gone to war; a general increase in social mobility).

    And the Amish expected an onslaught. The Federal government started imposing things like safety standards (so their buggies have to have reflectors and their construction workers had to wear hard hats), and the Amish expected the stormtroopers to come in, but other than that … they became a tourist attraction. They weren’t persecuted.

    In recent years, the sustainable, tolerant way of life is seen by many as quite desirable and green … shame about all the weird religion stuff.

    And this is (a) the exact opposite of what the Amish expected, (b) for them the ‘weird religion stuff’ is the one and only reason they do what they do so it belittles them and, most importantly, (c) admiration is something they find a lot harder to deal with than persecution.

    I think persecution is deep in the meme pool of Christianity. It’s how the religion started, it’s how it manifested in Rome for a century or two. After that, of course, virtually every instance was Christian-on-Christian (as in the case of the Amish) or the Christians were ‘persecuted’ for marching an army into someone else’s country. I think the belief that the world is against them, that the government is five minutes away from rounding them up is utterly ingrained in Christianity, even when it’s their own brand of Christian in total control of the government.

    I like the line (Ken MacLeod, I think), which says ‘yes, I want religion to end, but I don’t want to shoot anyone. I want poverty to end, and the way to do that isn’t to shoot the poor.’

  • Valis

    Problem is, these people do not live in the real world. It doesn’t help to try an appeal to reason. They believe what they want to believe and no amount of logic and reason YOU try and argue with them will ever change that. The only way they will change is if it comes from them selves. You have to realise the truth for yourself, the more outside influences apply the more they will cling to their beliefs, like a sailor clings to the mast in a storm. As a recovering xtian I speak from experience.

  • I’ve heard Christians argue that, within a few years or decades, Muslims will be a majority in the US (a few years ago, it was “Mexicans”, and before that, “blacks”) and that the Wall of Separation between Church and State needs to be torn down because “The Founding Fathers were all Southern Baptists”.

    I point out that if they’re right on the first point, then getting their way on the second would directly lead to America becoming a Islamic caliphate under Sharia law, but they don’t seem to understand…

  • This is an excellent (and perfectly fair and reasonable) bit of rhetorical ju-jistu – thank you!

  • Would it be heresy (pun intended) to say that Vorjack is a better blogger on the topic of religionand atheism than Daniel? (Sorry Daniel! I like you and your blog a lot, but your guest bloggers tend to delve more into actual substance – you providing them with a platform and an audience is highly commendable and I hope you continue to do so!)

  • Barry

    Personally I think you have many cogent points, and I’m personally not afraid of any imminent doom. Also I’m not defending the pseudo attacks theories out there whether they about Islamic or Mexican takeovers. On the other hand though, when you hear people calling you delusional (Dawkins) or your religion is a poison (Hitchens) I can see why people may become defensive. You have to “cure” the delusional or at least isolate them, and don’t let poison lay around to be discovered by the innocent.

    I think that Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins use inflammatory language strictly for shock value and attention; I don’t think they would personally harm anyone. But “fundies” run in all circles and I’ve met my fair share of atheists of different stripes who weren’t as well read or thoughtful as many on this site are. Those are the types of people who could turn on you and take your viewpoints to places you personally wouldn’t go. Regardless of what people say about Marx now, he had good intentions and insights but his theories were taken places by men (Lenin) that I don’t think he would have approved of. The same can still happen.

    Having said all that though, Christians should welcome persecution, look at what it did for the early church and even now in places like China where true persecution still happens.

  • cello

    Because Christians have had cultural dominance in the US for so long, any demographic switch where Christianity is no longer the leading flavor could *feel* like persecution to Christians. Even I would feel tinges of it if I left a society where getting a day off for Christmas is a given to one where, instead, Ramadan is publicly and governmentally observed.

    I could also see some sects of Christianity getting more extreme in response to population marginalization – a reactionary move. And maybe some of the practices of these extreme sects would be made illegal (similar to polygamy wrt Mormonism).

  • J. Allen

    Get used to it. From the ‘War on Christmas’ to the ‘Athiest Religion’ Christians will cry persecution at the slightest hint of a policy that does not support them, despite the fact that they are a majority in American and have been persecuting others since they were able to.

    I think it is fair to say that they are projecting their own behaviors upon their supposed enemies. They persecute, so they expect others to do so also.

  • You know me, I don’t fully agree with everything behind this post. BUT big deal, we disagree.

    THIS is the kind of post I started reading UF for. Great post, Daniel. Good grammar, good spelling, and even a thoughtful argument or two. ha ha. Good stuff, really, whether I agree or not.


  • Christians have nothing to fear in the present IMO. Though I do believe that in time Alah, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Satan will all go the way of the Sun, the Moon, Zues and Apollo. Imagine the world without them. When I do it makes me smile.

  • Maggie

    The thing is, for the Christians this is really addressed to, the game is rigged. The folks who will understand the reason behind an essay like this and agree with it are already pretty reasonable. For the rest, anything less than a de-facto theocracy where “freedom of religion” is reduced to “we’ll let you live and won’t make being a Christian a requirement for citizenship. But don’t test us. You’re welcome” automatically equates to horrible persecution that must be stood against.

    For those people, the reasonable points you make here are just evidence of your plot to oppress them. It’s “oppression” as defined as “not automatically getting special privileges and authority over others”. When people buy into that definition, compromise is impossible. And that definition is appealing because, as you mentioned, persecution is unifying and (for those who have absolutely no experience with the real thing) even exciting. It’s their chance to be a great hero fighting injustice and the forces of evil. So much of the Christian persecution complex is bound up in Walter Mitty fantasies and I don’t think you can fight those with logic.

    Basically, I think you have to change people’s minds about how they approach religion from a different angle. Only once they start questioning other things do they usually let go of pretending they’re martyrs in the arena.

  • “I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity”

    Within 10 years???? lol no way. It will take at least another 3 or 4 generations to reach the numbers he’s talking about. Remember, logic and reason provide zero comfort when your child is dying of a terrible illness. Reading a science book does not make you feel whole or one with the universe, or provide you with a higher purpose than yourself. There will always be some form of religion, to fill the voids that science, logic, and reason cannot.

  • Jeff Eyges

    I read part of the article. As soon as they start with terms like “secular onslaught”, they lose me.

    Of what I did read – predictions about the decline of evangelicalism, the increasing defection of their younger generations, who come to see evangelicalism as bad for individuals and society, and so on – all I could think was “WHEN?”

  • John C

    Religion, in its cultural context and Christ (those IN Him) have nothing in common. So while you are correct that “religion”, endless rule keeping dogma devoid of the motive of love is going away (thankfully) it actually and paradoxically represents a strengthening and re-positioning of true Christianity which is spiritual (internal) in nature and not external like we see with hypocritical religion.

    The buildings and subsequent attendence are fading, this is true. Its all part of the plan. But the Truth will never go away…He is eternal…thankfully.

    Now, let the “true Scottsman” jokes begin.

  • Jim

    We’re already at, or close to 20%. See my post on the same topic today here:

  • aproustian

    I just read a blog post today by Incertus on the same subject

    A point that stood out: “So while 84 out of 100 people may claim to be a Christian in a general sense, they identify more with their individual churches, and there’s no group in the US that can claim more than a plurality, and a small one at that. And since the smaller the church you belong to, the more likely that your beliefs will be considered extreme (think Amish or Quaker, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness), it’s easy to look at yourself as a potential victim of persecution.”

  • What we can expect is Evangelical Christians growing more extreme as they become even more marginalized.

    What drives modern Evangelicalism – the vocal, anti-science, pro-lunacy version of Christianity – is the fear experienced by a group of people desperately struggling to find their place in a society that rejects most of what they believe.

    If you think they’re crazy now, wait until their political influence has been stripped entirely away.

  • Jeff Eyges

    If you think they’re crazy now, wait until their political influence has been stripped entirely away.

    I’m very much afraid you’re correct. As their influence continues to wane, they’re going to act increasingly like cornered animals, fighting desperately to survive, lashing out at anything that comes near them.

    It’s going to be awful. The only thing they’re right about is that this is a war – and for the sake of human continuity, we’d better win.

  • vorjack

    A quick update: Michael Spencer now has an article up in the Christian Science Monitor. It’s a condensed version of the three posts in this series from his blog.

    This is starting to get him a fair amount of attention. I suspect we’ll be hearing a great deal more about this in coming months.