Tempting God »« Louder than words

Two questions, three (incomplete) answers

The Right Side News (“The Right News for Americans”) has a couple of questions, and three answers.

Why are Christians, as a new Pew report documents, the most persecuted religious group in the world? And why is their persecution occurring primarily throughout the Islamic world?

No, none of the three answers is “Because the Pew report went out of their way to make it look like Christians are more persecuted than they really are.” But there’s some interesting stuff in the answers Right Side News did publish.

Answer number one is “Christianity is the largest religion in the world.” There are more persecuted Christians because there are more Christians, period. This is “big tent” Christianity, of course. Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, liberals, Christian Identity, and so on—groups that in other circumstances would be quick to dismiss each other as “not real Christians”—are only too happy to shed their differences and be counted together when the goal is to see who has the biggest, er, flock.

Answer number two is “Christianity is a proselytizing faith that seeks to win over converts.” This, of course, does not play well in Islamic countries, since Islam is just as zealous as Christianity in trying to convert people, and possibly even more so, at least ever since the Renaissance. One of the problems with worshipping gods that do not show up in the real world is that there is no objective means of resolving questions or disputes regarding divine character or commandments. That leaves it up to ordinary people to settle their disputes via other means, such as peer pressure, personal charisma, and plain old persecution. Inevitably, the minorities in any given area end up holding the short end of the stick, and since Christians are in the minority in Islamic countries, they get persecuted (and vice versa, though the Right Side News does not report that).

Answer number three is “Christianity is the quintessential religion of martyrdom.” This answer makes a lot of sense: Christians truly believe that they will live forever, and will immediately be with Jesus in heaven as soon as they die, with extra, eternal rewards for those who die as martyrs, so naturally all Christians will actively travel to Muslim and boldly preach the gospel in hopes of being murdered as soon as possible.

Oh, wait, no, that’s not it. Answer number three would make the most sense if Christians really did believe in eternal rewards, but they don’t usually go so far as to put that belief into actual practice. When I was a believer, a popular definition of faith was to picture someone sitting in a chair. You can talk all you want about how strong you believe the chair is, but the person who actually sits in the chair is the one who *really* believes that it’s sturdy enough to take their weight.

When it comes to eternal rewards, believers are talkers, not sitters. They’ll gladly agree that a martyr’s “crown” is the greatest reward a Christian could achieve, but given a choice, few are willing to take the simple steps that will win them one. Doctrine is one thing, but real, material, physical life is quite a different matter. In that respect, Christians usually follow the much more sensible example of atheists and skeptics.

Right Side News tries to make it sound like believers are being persecuted because of their bold professions of faith, but in fact the actual incidents reported by Pew were mostly ethnic attacks. Few, if any, arose due to actual, individual martyrdom and testimony, and even those few were no more common among Christians than among those with other faiths, or even no faith at all. Overall, this sad litany of violence and death says more about the barbarity and intolerance of theists than about any particular merit in the victims.

When it comes to picking winners and losers in the conflict between Christians and Muslims, there are no winners. The true source of all this persecution is people who abandon reality as the ultimate standard of truth, and attempt to subject one another to laws based on Because I Said So. Or Because Moses/Jesus/Mohammed/Father Moon Said So. It’s “truth” without any basis in real world fact, and therefore people can only make their “truth” dominant by dominating and oppressing others.

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    When it comes to eternal rewards, believers are talkers, not sitters. They’ll gladly agree that a martyr’s “crown” is the greatest reward a Christian could achieve, but given a choice, few are willing to take the simple steps that will win them one.

    “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, nobody’s in a hurry to get there.” -Irish proverb

  2. rapiddominance says

    Non-theistic ideologies have their own history of persecuting others, too.
    Why might a person embrace materialistic reality and still wipe out resistance from opposing viewpoints? It probably has more to do with his/her own personal ambitions and inner conflicts as opposed to the worldview itself.
    But I don’t know–I’ve never interviewed a secular, oppressive dictator. My guess is that they’re probably not open to being psychoanalyzed.

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Answer number three is “Christianity is the quintessential religion of martyrdom.”

    With all the homicide-suicide bombers claiming “martytdom” and present notions of “shaheeds” and “jihads” I’d say Islam would be giving Christianity a real run for its money on this particular point.

  4. rapiddominance says

    Off topic . . .

    There was a certain atheist blogger I used to visit who was a former pastor. He said (and I believe him) that when he left the congregation he became the subject of hateful rhetoric and threats.

    Did you ever run into that problem?

  5. Alverant says

    How is “persecution” being defined in the article anyway? I’ve known christians to claim to be the victims of persecution if they’re not allowed to force people to convert and not given special rights by a secular government.

    • rapiddominance says

      You’re right in that many of us christians throw around the word “persecution” a little too loosely–and I think we both agree that my “ilk” often bring it upon ourselves.

  6. jesse says

    One of the problems is that this is one of those “grain of truth” arguments that as such are sometimes hard to tackle.

    Yes, Christians in particular (and we can be loose with the definition) are persecuted in some countries — the primary examples I can think of are the heavy-handed theocratic governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran, though the latter less so these days. Iraq would probably qualify, the irony there is that Christians fared better under Saddam Hussein. (It wasn’t because he was a nice person, it’s more that religious persecution wasn’t on his agenda and he had bigger fish to fry). There’s been some violence in Sudan, of course, and in what used to be Somalia.

    On the other end, there’s Ethiopia, a Christian country that spent a lot of time and effort going after Muslims. And there has been Christian violence in other parts of Africa (see: Lords Resistance Army). And of course the anti-gay laws in Uganda.

    Then of course there is the racism and bigotry that people who profess Islam run into right here in the US.

    I don’t think you can make a case that any religion is uniquely bad, and I think you have to weigh what the local history of said religion is to decide whether someone is getting persecuted or not because of it. The status of a Muslim or Christian is rather different depending on what country you are in. Do “studies” of persecution, for instance, take into account the situation in a place like Bosnia? Would the Bosnian army’s retaliation against Croat attacks have counted as persecution? What about inter-ethnic violence? Indonesia has some of that, and while some of it is religiously motivated there’s a lot more to it.

    Most religious violence does have a lot more to it, I might add. It is very, very rare to have people say “god told me to kill people” and have them go do it. Being a terrorist or soldier or whatever is hard. You give up nights and weekends, you know? it takes a lot to get people motivated, and it usually requires something other than the word of a local religious leader all by itself. There has to be some other grievance, and when you dig a little you almost invariably find it.

    One other thing: I always ask Christians the following. If you believe in heaven, and getting there is a good thing, then what if I were to subject myself to eternal torment, be willing to give up my own chance at paradise, and kill you? Would that be an evil or good act? I am after all sending people to heaven and willing to sacrifice my eternal soul for their benefit. In that sense, murdering Christians, by their own logic, is a moral act.

    Even Shakespeare got that one right, and satirized it in Hamlet. You’d think some Christian philosopher would have come up with a better answer in 400 years, but no dice.

    • Friendly says

      If you believe in heaven, and getting there is a good thing, then what if I were to subject myself to eternal torment, be willing to give up my own chance at paradise, and kill you? Would that be an evil or good act?

      An even more cutting hypothetical: Most evangelical Christians believe that all children who die before they reach the “age of accountability” go straight to heaven (do not pass GO, do not collect two million sins), but that most people who live past that age will reject Jesus and go to hell. So, rather than proselytize, which the Bible says is bound to produce poor results anyway, isn’t the most moral possible thing to do to take the punishment of hell upon oneself and murder as many babies as possible? I mean, you’d be saving most of those kids from eternal torment! Seems like a no-brainer!

      • Deacon Duncan says

        Yup, if they’re consistent, they’d have to say abortion saves more souls than Jesus, by that metric.

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