The Myth of Christian Persecution

The Myth of Christian Persecution June 27, 2013

A few days ago I caught this interview by Samantha Bee of a Christian named Matt Slick. I thought it was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time. The interview concerned how tough it (apparently) is to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ in America nowadays. However, this guy sounded much more like a greatest-hits episode of Fundies Say the Darndest Things. Christians in America really have no idea what martyrdom is anymore–but they’re sure that they’re being persecuted enough to qualify for the term.

There's big business in martyrdom. (fusion-of-horizons, CC.)
There’s big business in martyrdom. (fusion-of-horizons, CC.)

LUDICROUS SPEED.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away from how beyond ludicrous the “Christian” was in this interview. He was over-the-top with the caricature–what an awesome parody! He was talking about how he’d met this guy in a hot tub, how they went dancing all the time, and how shocked he was to discover the guy was gay.

He insisted that gangs of gay kids roam around looking for Christians to beat up. He was sure that there was going to be this major persecution coming down the pike against Christians. Of course, he didn’t have evidence for a single one of his claims. But he was just so very positive! He kept talking on and on about how hard, how so terribly very hard, it was to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ in this day and age in America.

Then I found out he was for real, this was on the level, he really thought this way, and actually he’s said even more bizarre things in his out-loud voice. Someone claiming to be his daughter has shown up on Reddit since then to verify that yes, indeed, he’s really that wackadoodle.

(Update: Since writing this post, I’ve met someone who’s actually talked to him personally and extensively. She vouches for his sincerity. So yes. He really thinks the way we see displayed in the interview. — CC, 10/20/16)

The Myth of Persecution.

For some reason the myth of persecution figures very prominently in to the most toxic flavors of Christianity. Please understand, Christian readers, that I don’t include most Christians in that assessment. Most Christians are well aware that they are the dominant culture in this country; they’re already aware that it’s the non-Christians and especially the atheists who have it the hardest. They’re as disgusted as we non-believers are about how much whining their fellow Christians do about their supposed “persecution.”

Aside from feeling that Bill Clinton was the anti-Christ, I knew better than to pursue the persecution myth when I was Christian, and I knew a lot of Christians who felt the same way.

But toxic Christians can’t get over the idea, and they’re a lot louder than the “normal,” housebroken sort. The idea is ingrained thanks to a bit of well-poisoning their Bible gave them and they just can’t let it go.

Here’s a slew of verses about persecution. It boils down to this idea that any ill-feelings a Christian generates in non-believers comes solely and entirely from the “message” they’re giving rather than any anti-social, boorish, threatening, or rude things the Christian said or did while giving that message.

So any time a Christian gets a negative reception by anybody, it’s because people just totally hate Jesus and are in thrall to Satan, not because the Christian in question was being a complete jackass.

Abdication.

It must be liberating, in a way, to be able to entirely abdicate one’s social responsibilities and divorce oneself from having to treat other people with respect and integrity. I can’t do it. I couldn’t even as a fundamentalist. I tried hard to be as loving as I could, since Jesus had commanded me to be that way, right? But I was in the minority there.

Biff, my preacher ex, made big buttons that said things like “Turn or burn!” and “Fly or fry!” and he wore these things in public to get people defensive so he could argue with them. Just the idea of doing something that confrontational repelled me. Of course, the Christians I knew who did this sort of thing cried persecution any time they got ejected from public spaces or refused a soapbox anywhere. I knew they weren’t being persecuted, but I was never able to persuade them of it. I think they just liked the feeling of it.

The worst part of the persecution myth is that it probably didn’t happen from the beginning. Stories about early persecution and killing of Christians were likely inflated by sympathetic mostly-contemporary writers. Imagine that: Christian writers exaggerating! Who’d have thunk? But the idea that Christians got killed and tortured purely for being Christian doesn’t align with history. These early Christians were disobeying rules or refusing to cooperate with authorities, not “just being Christians.” Their treatment had nothing to do with their faith in general, but in how they practiced their faith and treated others.

Over time a mythology sprang up around the idea of a group who got treated badly just for being who they were. Yeah, I know. The irony burns.

Fake Persecution.

Even today, most Christians who get persecuted–like really persecuted, not the “didn’t get their way” loss of privilege that Christians fondly imagine is persecution–get that treatment not because of the message they’re preaching per se, but because they were breaking the laws of the countries they’re in or were being loud and pushy and unpleasant in some other way.

Do you happen to remember that guy who got handed a jail sentence for (as the Christians put it) “hosting a home Bible study”? Oh, if you actually read the stories, though, instead of listening to the shrieks of Christians, it turns out he was actually breaking a slew of zoning laws. He lied–LIED–to his city about just what the purpose was of the add-on he was building, telling them it was for gaming, and then made it into a full-blown church building.

His neighbors complained about the traffic his church produced in their residential neighborhood, which tells me he was not loving his neighbors as his savior commanded, and he was also in violation of not having the right safety protocols in his building–like handicap access ramps and emergency exit signs (apparently such safety measures only matter to Christians like him if we’re talking about abortion clinics).

If something like a fire had broken out, he might have gotten people hurt or killed through his negligence and belligerence. But apparently all those aspects of the story blew right past the Christians who need to believe his religious liberties were being demolished.

Nope, the issue was that he was hosting a home Bible study and got stopped, therefore PERSECUTION. People just hate the Bible so much!

“The Thaw.”

And, too, most of us have seen that “The Thaw” video. Here’s a good writeup of its worst flaws, but feel free to watch it (there’s a link to the video on Hemant’s writeup) and take a drink any time these petulant kids jut out their lower lips to pout meaningfully at the camera, completely get a situation or law wrong, or totally misstate why they might have gotten the reactions they did from their peers for their behavior.

But please drink responsibly–this is one game that could easily kill you through alcohol poisoning.

The Idaho teens appearing in “The Thaw” genuinely believe, thanks to their irresponsible parents and church leaders, that what they’re saying is the truth. They really think they’re being persecuted for their religion.

In reality, they’re flat-out wrong about everything they’re saying, such as their claim that they’re not allowed to pray in school when they are in fact allowed to do so (they’re just not allowed anymore to ram their religion onto a captive audience). They’re manipulating the truth to suit themselves, like claiming that one of their coaches got in trouble for “allowing local churches to feed his football team.” In reality, he wasn’t just feeding them, but using the opportunity to proselytize and prey upon those young people (you know, that “captive audience” thing that they’re not actually allowed to do).

The teens in the video think that their for-realsies persecution will only end when they are allowed to preach at their peers, use churches to proselytize captive audiences again, and have schools fully endorse religion and let teachers and students alike push it onto non-believers during official school hours and at school functions.

Indeed, nothing less than full appeasement would satisfy these poor, woe-begotten children.

Tacit Acceptance.

“The Thaw” is one of the more egregious examples of exactly how Christians get persecution so wrong. It’s worth noting that I couldn’t find a single example of any Christians setting these kids straight on any of their fibs or distortions.

At least one Christian pastor is taking a stand against such contrived “persecution” with a handy checklist for how to tell if your religious liberty really is being dismantled. Spoiler alert: absolutely nothing Christian culture warriors think is persecution appears on the list.

And worse, most of the cries of “persecution” erupt not over genuine mistreatment but because Christians are simply losing dominance.

There’s no “war on Christmas,” nor a “war on Easter,” nor rampant gay-on-straight bullying, nor some push to marginalize Christians or remove any of their civil rights to worship privately.

What’s Really Happening.

All that’s happening is that Christians have begun to lose just a little bit of their former dominance and privilege in society. That’s it.

When they inflate that into “ZOMG PERSECUTION,” such behavior not only cheapens real persecution but makes clear they have no idea what persecution actually involves. It also renders them impossible to reason with or even communicate with. When someone believes he or she is being persecuted when that isn’t actually happening, that person is highly unlikely to even consider the possibility of being wrong. It’s a way of defending the ego against contradiction and dissent, and it is a powerful defense indeed.

But Christians’ error becomes even more important when one considers that their religion makes a number of claims to having the ultimate truth. When someone over-exaggerates like that, it makes me distrust their other claims. I can’t trust their discernment their grasp of history, or their honesty. Such people are zealots, and I already know that truthfulness doesn’t matter to zealots.

Scrappy Underdogs.

I wonder if these shrieks of persecution are really more about Christians’ need to feel like they’re the underdog here–like they’re the heroes in their very own action movies fighting for the cause of truth, justice, and the American way against the demons and zombies of darkness. It seems like Christians have always needed an opponent to fight.

It was a shock to me a couple years ago to read that some Christian groups had quietly given up on the war against gay rights and were going to focus more on demolishing women’s rights.

First, of course, it scared me, since I’m a woman and they’ve done enough damage to my rights. But second, it intrigued me–why did they need a new war at all? Why not just worship Jesus and try to live like he commanded and leave us heathens to our sordid little lives?

Why not, indeed?

No Room for Crybullies.

Today, as I write this with tears on my cheeks from watching on-air proposals after the Supreme Court decisions, I can’t take seriously all the Christians freaking out about how their imaginary friend is going to be sooooo upset about gay people getting equality that he’s going to smite everybody (which seems to me to be a pretty impressive second-hand threat considering their god hasn’t lifted a single finger to prove his existence to anybody thus far).

Heck, here’s a bonus link to various bigots doing their usual smarmy, phony-sounding, sanctimonious, concern-trolling tapdance about oh, they desperately hope, oh they hope, oh they do, that their evil, cruel god will forgive the country for allowing gay people to have the same rights as straight people get.

It’s part of their mythology to believe that they’re put-upon and hard-done-by–even while humiliating, dehumanizing, and harassing those they choose to marginalize. It’s just how their religion works to constantly see themselves as being victimized and persecuted–even while they brutally victimize and maliciously persecute others. They couldn’t handle things any other way. Simple things like facts and reality? They don’t matter at all.

Their Thirst for Revenge.

One day if they struggle hard enough they’ll be proven right. We’ll get ours. We’ll be punished. They’ll be vindicated. It’s a sick and diseased mindset to be sure, but there’s a downright prurient and lascivious glee taken by these Christians in imagining this persecution and their subsequent vindication by their deity.

It’s very important that this persecution happen, because if it doesn’t, then the vindication can’t either. If nobody’s being persecuted purely for their faith, then nothing else the Bible predicts about the Endtimes will happen either. Persecution is as necessary to this myth as Israel becoming a country, in that sense.

At least it makes a handy barometer by which outsiders may judge the delusion levels in a Christian. The second you hear any Christian howling about being persecuted or whining about how harrrrrrd it is to be a Christian nowadays, you know immediately just where this person stands!

An Addiction to Feeling Put-Upon.

This addiction to feeling persecuted, this unholy and unhealthy fascination with imagining persecution where none exists, this blindness to other people’s suffering and this inability to recognize that the Christians are themselves causing that suffering–all of it is another mark against the validity of the religion.

And it’s no surprise that young people have some serious problems with how their churches respond to gay rights issues–to the extent that most Christian teenagers will leave the church entirely, many for good, by early adulthood. This is not a good time to be a religious leader, that’s for sure, seeing the numbers dwindling year by year and trying desperately to put some kind of positive spin on the depressing truth that their kind of Christianity, as a force, is fading quickly into irrelevance. (I only link you because I love you.)

To my LGBTQA* friends and allies (which includes many Christians), I stand with you in proud recognition of your right to enjoy the same things I take for granted: the legal right to marry a consensual partner you love.

I’m so happy for you. Congrats!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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