Impotence, Shame, Disgust–And Bitter Joy

Impotence, Shame, Disgust–And Bitter Joy July 23, 2014

“[My father] was trying to cover my three-year-old nephew with his body. They took the child and shot a bullet in his head.”

This is the fate of Christians in Iraq. This testimony does not come from these latest days when the last Christians in the millennial community of Mosul are being driven out. It comes from 2010. This is not new.

At the time, Christians of the Levant and organizations supporting them in France organized a protest. I took part. We weren’t in the evening news. But that day, in the evening news, there was an interview with Bruce Willis to promote a movie. I understand. Life is full of tradeoffs.

The persecution of Christians happens under a great shroud of silence. Maybe, as John Allen has argued, persecuted Christians are too Christian for the Left to care, and too third-worldy for the Right to care (but, you know, there’s a War on Christmas on). And the worst thing for our governments would be to be seen in non-Christian lands as having any sort of special solidarity with Christians (yes, wouldn’t that be terrible), so better to err on the side of indifference. Right?

This blood is particularly on the hands of the American government, which has a special duty to help them and, I am sure, will do nothing of the sort. As my friend Koz writes [FR], the Christians of Iraq are already dead. We won’t do anything to stop it. No one will.

Today, Christians in Mosul are tagged with the Arabic letter nun, shorthand for a pejorative, which we naturally take up as our own in a sign of defiance.

Some of us have changed our avatars or added the character on social media.

Isn’t that the worst kind of pathetic #slacktivism?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that from a religious perspective signs matter; that the plight of persecuted Christians gets less attention than comparable atrocities and any attempt at “awareness-raising” can perhaps help reduce that delta. But really. Pathetic.

My brothers and sisters are dying, displaced, spat upon, and I write self-righteous blog posts and edit my Twitter profile.

Impotence, shame, disgust. Shame and disgust at myself.

And yet. Yet. Yet there must be joy.

The Pauline hope, the anticipation of the Eschaton: yes, in the fullness of time, every knee will bend, every mouth will proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and every tear will be wiped from every eye. And in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the martyrs will reign as gods in unimaginable joy, their glorified wounds illuminating the new Heavens and the new Earth.

But there must also be joy today. Because for as hard as it is for us in the Modern world, for us who are still infants crawling on the path to sanctity, as Christians we must view martyrdom as an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. Happy are you when you are persecuted for my sake, the Lord tells us. Happy are you when you receive the great privilege of being an icon of the Cross, a mirror of God’s glory revealed in the form of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, of being totally faithful to the Teacher.

As Ignatius the God-bearer writes: “Permit me to imitate my suffering God… I am God’s wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” Read Ignatius today.

A contemporary hymn sings:

If the Father calls you to the work of apostleship,
Quiver with joy! Quiver with joy!
For your names are written forever in Heaven!
Quiver with joy! Quiver with joy!
For your names are written in the heart of God!

Through my tears, I must rejoice, for joy is the proper response of the Christian to martyrdom: joy of testimony, joy of fidelity, joy of Christlikeness, terrible joy of the Cross.

May all Christians give perfect testimony of the total love of Christ and give glory to God in the centuries of centuries.


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  • Antiphon411

    I suspect that Christians who are persecuted in the Middle East are also too Christian for Judeo-Protestant American conservatives to care. Fire a few missiles into Tel Aviv and you get the Hannities calling for war. If a born-again Protestant Nigerian gets in trouble, Pat Robertson will talk about it. But no one cares about Catholics or the “Orthodox”. Ancient Christians aren’t really Christian, dontchaknow.

  • MeanLizzie

    I have avoided changing my avatar for exactly the feelings you expressed so well, here — slacktivism and shamefully insufficient gesture — and yet as you say, signs are important. You’ve expressed many of the things I have been thinking but have been too emotionally drained to articulate. Thank, PEG. I needed this.

  • Harold Steiner

    I’m given to understand that many have fled to Kurdish areas (and possibly beyond). Is there any organization out there helping the displaced?

    • Nicholas Haggin

      If they can physically get in there, I presume CNEWA will be all over it.

  • Nicholas Haggin

    When Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe appeared on The Colbert Report concerning #BringBackOurGirls, Colbert’s first question was whether hashtag/avatar activism is a good thing or a bad thing. Sr. Nyirumbe answered that hashtag/avatar activism is the best we can do right now, and while she didn’t say it in so many words, I got the sense that she agrees with you about the importance of signs.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    We grasp at a sign because there is nothing else we can do. The helpless feeling is too much. We pray. And that’s all we can do. And it doesn’t FEEL like enough. So we want a visible, though pathetic, way to show solidarity. And that isn’t enough either. But it’s all we have. And it is true that signs are important. Symbols mean a great deal.
    You said it all so well. This post is the truth.

    • Shannon Marie Federoff

      and its NOT slacktivism… I am praying for them. I am praying that my government does something. I am praying for the Muslims to feel some mercy. Prayer is also a great gift, and what is needed now!

  • mochalite

    Thank you for shaming me into adding that sign to my Twitter name and changing my bio. It’s not enough, but as you said, signs have import. I’ve also contacted my senators and representative asking them to speak out and sponsor help legislation. Also, as another “infant crawling on the path to sanctity” I’m learning to see joy in the pain of death again, this time in martyrdom.

  • “Today, Christians in Mosul are tagged with the Arabic letter nun, shorthand for a pejorative, which we naturally take up as our own in a sign of defiance.”

    It’s funny how few have bothered to mention that pejorative, which is of course Nazarene- a name we should be as proud of as we are proud of Christian (and some Protestants, ARE).

  • Kasoy

    [This blood is particularly on the hands of the American government, which has a special duty to help them]

    Not just US, but all predominantly Christian nations in the world. A new “Crusade” must be organized to help the persecuted Christians in the Mideast and elsewhere (Pakistan, India, China). Christian member nations of the UN must push the UN to take action to stop the persecution and if needed, an international peace keeping force be permanently set up in the Mideast (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt). Muslims can’t simply co-exist with a Christian minority.

    The grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies will bear much fruit. Like the martyrs of Roman times, the blood of our Mideast brothers and sisters will someday bear much fruit for the conversion of sinners and salvation of souls. Let us shed tears for them and pray that they will persevere in their faith until the end, but rejoice that they will soon see what they believe in by faith, and see and enjoy what they hoped for.

    • Dagnabbit_42

      A new “crusade?”

      That would be the Pope’s job to organize; and he’d have to bid the relevant Christian participants to arm and train themselves for the job since the governments of the countries they came from would not, of course, help.

      It is perfectly true that Muslims simply can’t co-exist peacefully with a Christian (or Jewish) minority. Oh, they can manage for periods of up to a century or so, or however long it takes for Christians or Jews to let down their guard. And then there’ll be another Muslim-run pogrom of religious minorities, which typically includes damage to churches and synagogues and plenty of deaths and takings of property and compelled conversions. And even when that wave of hatred subsides, the Christians and Jews will find that it is against the law for them to repair whatever was damaged.

      So they’ll dwindle under the oppression, as usual. Just ask the Copts.

      This outcome can be prevented in one way: By having Christian-majority regions in countries become separate nations with well-defended borders, plenty of military allies, and strict limits on immigration of Muslims.

      Your “crusade,” if you wish to have one, must be to accomplish THAT. And it will have to be done with armed force. Just ask the Somali Christians. For that matter, just ask the Israelis.

      And do not have any illusions: These “Christian nations” would become every bit as unpopular as the “Jewish nation” is today, for much the same reasons.

      It’s not going to happen. And while it would provide more physical security for Christians if it DID, it would be constantly eroded by the powers of worldwide secular/leftist disapproval, like that levied against Israel.

      In particular, every such Christian enclave would become better-administered than their Muslim neighbors’ lands, and thus quickly richer, and better-equipped militarily. And the next time Muslims invaded or launched a terror attack, the predictable result would be to view the Muslims as the powerless and oppressed underdog and the Christians as the rich-and-heartless aggressors.

      Huh. Maybe we SHOULD do this, after all, if for no other reason than to improve mutual understanding between Christians and Jews.

      But it ain’t gonna happen.

  • Ricardo

    well the US has gotten control of the oil already so…

    • Dagnabbit_42


  • Dagnabbit_42

    Who says the Right “doesn’t care” about the persecution of Christians?

    I can think of a half-dozen Republican politicians who’ve made dire-sounding speeches about it without even going to Google to look it up. And the Right-leaning blogs and talk radio hosts and news commentators and similar media outlets refer to the fact of Christian persecution frequently, and advocate for the organizations which solicit donations for the persecuted Christians, and run ads telling you to “contact your congressman…,” et cetera.

    It is, so far as I’m aware, perfectly factual to state that the Left is entirely silent about it. But the same is not true of the Right.

    The only justifications I can think of for saying “the Right doesn’t care” are:

    (a.) The mainstream news media, of course, does not report widely on Republicans when they say or do something creditable; so, the fact of the Right’s “caring” goes unnoticed to the casual observer, and only people who scan media outlets with a mostly-right-leaning audience will discover how often the Right discuss this topic;

    (b.) The person saying it is aware that the Right is complaining/warning/speechifying, but wants them to do more; or,

    (c.) The person saying it is trying to maintain a sophisticated-sounding and socially-acceptable stance of moral equivalence between the American Right and the American Left, and thus finds it inconvenient to admit the imbalance between Right and Left when it comes to this topic.

    Now (c.) is not very creditable.

    But (a.) is perfectly excusable. Not everyone listens to Dennis Prager & Company; not everyone reads Instapundit or HotAir or watches Bill Whittle’s “Firewall.” If you’re entirely unaware of right-leaning media outlets, you naturally won’t be aware of the Right discussing the problem of Christian-persecution in right-leaning media outlets.

    As for (b.)? It is in some ways understandable, but is more of an emotional expression of frustration than a logical and rational evaluation of events.

    Here’s what I mean:

    Suppose that we say, “Hey! Christians are being persecuted in Syria and Iraq, and all the political Right in the U.S. does about it is periodically decry it or warn about it or denounce it, which does nothing and is entirely useless except as a politically-expedient use of cheap words to demonstrate that their hearts are in the right place.”

    If we say all that, well, thus far we’ve spoken truly.

    And if we go on to further complain, “Christian persecution it isn’t even the thing that the American Right denounce most, or most-frequently; it’s just one of many things, in amongst complaining about Obama Administration subversion of government bureaucracies for political payback, and the very high lack of workforce participation, and the recovery that only seems to touch Obama’s friends at Goldman Sachs but never helps Main Street, and the crisis in Ukraine, and the crisis in Gaza, and the crisis on the border, and the Obamacare crisis, and the various scandals…” then we’re still speaking truly.

    (Though, with that last item, it’s hard to argue, given all those OTHER problems, that persecution of Christians should be the only thing the American Right is discussing, or even the highest-priority thing.)

    But I think we’re being dishonest or ill-informed if we go on to say: “If the American Right really cared about persecution of Christians, they would have DONE MORE by now.”

    We have to face the fact that in all matters except spending, the American Right is politically powerless in the U.S. at the Federal Level. On every topic related to foreign policy, the American Left is currently in charge.

    What, therefore, could the Right have done? (Assuming, for the moment, that they even knew what to do?)

    And supposing for a moment that the Right held the White House and the Senate and the left merely held the House of Representatives — something that didn’t even happen in the Bush administration, inasmuch as the Senate was always so closely divided that left-leaning Republicans in the Snowe/Chaffee/Specter mode frequently caucused with the Democrats to give the Left a majority — supposing for a moment that the Right held the power in the parts of American government which control foreign policy (the White House and the Senate) …what then?

    What would you have the hypothetical Right-leaning American Foreign Policy establishment do? Invade Syria? Invade Iraq again, to re-establish the security presence which prevented these kinds of jihadi takeovers up until the U.S. forces departed?

    As I said before: (a.) is perfectly excusable. (c.) is culpable.

    But those who want the Right to DO SOMETHING are, I think, failing to remember that we live in a fallen world, and failing to remember the facts about how American government is structured. For the Right to “do something” they must have the power, and some notion what to do with that power. They have neither.

    So they just talk about it.

    Which is, at least, more than the Left does.

    • cajaquarius

      NPR did a story on the ISIS business and there are quite a few out of the way progressives discussing it so trying to claim moral superiority for the right here comes across as you trying to use those Christians as a tool for political ends here in this comment.

      • Dagnabbit_42

        No intention of “using” anyone. Just wanted to be more just about who could plausibly be at fault if one must assign fault.

        Good for NPR and the other progressives, I really hadn’t heard a peep from them myself. I listen to NPR frequently when coming home from work (but not exclusively; they don’t have traffic reports) and I never heard that. The Atlantic online has a piece, although Slate doesn’t seem to. Did the NPR piece get so far as to admit that, had a status-of-forces agreement been reached with the Iraqi government, this would not have happened?

        Anyhow, as I said in my first post, the idea that either side of American Politics is at fault for refusing to “do something” right now presumes that something constructive (in the political arena) actually could be done. I’m not sure it could…in the political arena.

        Outside the political arena, well…I’m right-of-center by most standards and most of the people I know are rightward of me, and the vast majority of them had already sent money to various relief organizations to try and help the Iraqi Christians long before the ISIS thing started. I imagine they’re doubling-up on that, now, and my wife and I sent a Franklin or two just a couple of days ago as things got really bad. And of course there are the usual round of Catholic and Evangelical churches doing the “short-term missionary” thing where possible, though I imagine that doesn’t apply much in this instance. I’m not sure whether the left mirrors any of that.

        But presuming something constructive CAN be done, and the something is political involving the American government’s foreign policy? That, at present, is entirely in the hands of the left. If that is where one’s complaints lie, then, as a matter of mere justice, one can’t ascribe blame to the right.

        If, in the future, the right hold the Senate and the White House again, then it will be their turn to get the blame for either action or inaction, in matters of foreign policy. And if one party holds one, and the other party holds the other, then one can distribute blame evenly. That was my whole point.

        • cajaquarius

          As far as the NPR piece it was mostly focused on the people on the ground sort of thing. You know how NPR does: they go out, get interviews, then explain what life is like for those living in the area based on their personal testimony and the testimony of reporters there. NPR rarely gets into the why of things (one of it’s weaknesses, in my view, as while I love hearing about how things effect the little guy sometimes I would like to also hear about why stuff is going to hell in the first place). Nothing I heard on NPR spoke of what could have been done to prevent this regarding status of forces agreements. I use them as an example since they did talk to Christians and others living in that area near the ISIS business.

          As far as news in the US side, if you mean MSNBC then they are crap. Slate and the big name stuff tend to be crap too. I seem to recall something from Al Jazeera (not sure I would consider them “liberal” perse, as I don’t often follow them much).

  • Satori

    Yes, it would be terrible for America to be seen as being especially sympathetic toward Christians. America is not a Christian country, and Christians deserve no more sympathy than other oppressed minorities involved in these conflicts.

    I consider myself a patriotic America, but I am deeply opposed to all forms of traditional Christianity. If America stopped being a truly secular nation with many religious citizens I would cease to believe in America.

  • $51060174

    You voted for Obama, don’t blame us.

    • Dagnabbit_42

      Now, now. Not everyone who complains about the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East was taken in by that (I thought) transparently dim used-car-salesman. (And those that were, if they are Christian, have often repented since then.)

      So the question of the persecuted Christians remains pertinent, even if the person asking it has a compromised electoral biography.

  • Peggy M

    The blood of dead Iraqi Christians is on the hands of the Moslems who killed them.

    The “signs” —icons and hashtags, etc.—are sometimes the best that most people can do and are the modern equivalent of petitions. They are worse than useless when used by people who do have power and could do more, such as State Department and White house officials.

  • Gordis85

    I am wondering…now that the French government has stepped up to the plate and has offered asylum, any idea as to when this may begin? Will they airlift folks out? I am sure it will be a dangerous mission. I hope more news will be shared as is allowed. My gratitude and prayers for the French as they help our persecuted brothers and sisters.

    Praying that many will take flight into France, eldest daughter of the Catholic Church.

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