Nonbelievers in the US are only too aware of the ubiquity of religion. Churches and religious billboards are everywhere, Christian broadcasters fill the radio and TV, and public prayer and other forms of pandering to religion by politicians and other public figures is commonplace and even required if they are to be elected to office. So it is a little disconcerting to discover that some Christian conservatives see themselves as a persecuted minority.
David Gibson has an interesting article exploring this perception of these people seeing themselves as either seeking or being in a state of ‘internal exile’ paralleling that of the biblical Babylonian exile.
But today, the culture war descendants of those Puritans are feeling increasingly alienated and even persecuted in the society they once claimed as their own. They’re shifting to another favorite image from Scripture — that of the Babylonian exile, preparing, as the ancient Judeans did, to preserve their faith in a hostile world.
“We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs,” Carl Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, wrote in the latest edition of the conservative journal First Things.
Rampant secularism and widespread acceptance of sexual mores once deemed taboo, Trueman said, mean that “the Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.”
So what are they recommending?
As far back as 1981, moral philosopher Alasdair McIntyre’s book “After Virtue” argued that the idea of inevitable societal improvement is an illusion. Amid the ruins of civilization, he said, believers must adapt the model of St. Benedict, the sixth-century founder of Western monasticism, and reconstitute themselves into small, intentional communities of faith largely removed from the surrounding culture. Dreher calls this the “Benedict Option.”
Others see this as simply wallowing in self-pity.
Yet others see all this talk as indulging in what Alan Noble called the “Evangelical Persecution Complex.” Writing this month in The Atlantic, Noble, an assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, defined that complex as the temptation “to interpret personal experiences and news events as signs of oppression, which are ostensibly validations of our commitment to Christ.”
In The Christian Century, the flagship magazine of liberal mainline Protestantism, Lutheran pastor Benjamin Dueholm also weighed in, echoing Noble’s criticism and calling the exile idea “a dubious and highly troubling premise” because it “trivializes” the experience of real exile, such as Christians and religious minorities who are suffering today in actual Babylon, or what we call Iraq.
Unfortunately, the exile they speak of is a metaphorical one so they will still be around, continuing to annoy us with their whining about how tough it is to be a Christian in the US while at the same time enjoying the benefits of being the dominant religion.