In a recent address, Pope Benedict XVI described Christians as the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith. He cited atrocities in the Middle East and elsewhere but Iraq in particular, where the Syrio-Catholic Cathedral was recently attacked leading to injury and considerable loss of life.
However, this is far from being an isolated incident, consider the following recent events:
- …a bomb in a church during Christmas mass in the southern Philippines wounded six people, including the priest.
- …in the central Nigerian city of Jos an explosion killed at least eight people and wounded another eight, police said. The attacks were rumoured to be aimed at disrupting Christmas celebrations in recent days.
- …An elderly Christian couple was gunned down in their Baghdad home Sunday night in what is the latest incident in a string of religious-rooted attacks against Christians in Iraq.
The following excerpts in an article by Paul Stanway, of the Calgary Herald on December 27, 2010 gives some further perspective:
Not so long ago Bethlehem was a majority Christian town – about 80 per cent – and now is down to less than a third. Nazareth, too, has seen its Christian population almost halved in recent decades, and in Jerusalem itself the Christian community has fallen from a slight majority 80 years ago to below two per cent today.
This is history the West has largely forgotten and ignored. Your average European or North American will certainly be more familiar with the story of the Palestinians and the much-publicized grievances of the Arab world in general.
Yet we’re not talking ancient history here. Many people will have heard something of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey in the years following the First World War, but few would know it was part of a larger religious and ethnic cleansing that also saw the mass slaughter of Greek and Assyrian Christians.
Even more recently, the campaign of violence and persecution against Iraqi Christians is surely one of the most under-reported stories since the invasion of 2003.
However, persecution goes beyond the reprehensible barbarity of physical violence, it can and is far more subtle. It is hidden in many forms from quiet bias to blatant disregard but one of the more widespread types of this persecution is secularism – that insidious purveyor of what is called being politically correct. This pernicious behaviour hides behind the skirts of the ‘common good’, the watered down simplistic outlook of some elements within society which seek to ensure that nothing publically stated, viewed or experienced will in any way result in offense!
While this is definitely not restricted to views on Christianity as other beliefs also have their share of being ‘picked on’, it seems to centre in on Christianity more than most. On what basis does this ‘offence’ arise as it seems ludicrous that for example a Christian cross worn in public would cause any more offense than the wearing of a Sikh Turban or a Muslim burqa?
This phenomenon is predominantly prevalent in the ‘civilised’ Western nations of the North American and European continents. Perhaps this is because these nations have been built on the foundations of a Christian heritage and as such view Christianity as the dominant religious grouping, relegating all other faiths to that of minority factions. In their misguided attempts to protect these minority groups, Christianity has become the whipping boy for political correctness. This can be seen in the destruction of the Christian meaning of Christmas, the prevention of personal liberties such as wearing a cross or crucifix openly, or the open discussion of your beliefs in the work place; while a case can be made against openly proselytising in the workplace, there is no reason you cannot openly express pride in your beliefs, after all peoples[i] liberties allow them to walk away from conversations which they might find to be personally offensive.
Lord Carey of Clifton, former Archbishop of Canterbury says “In spite of having contributed so much to our civilization and providing its foundation, the Christian faith is in danger of being stealthily and subtly brushed aside”.
Modern atheists, particularly those of Richard Dawkins ilk, who are militaristic in their outlook and who regard religion as a dangerous delusion, are more than happy to add their support to a secularist hierarchy. The more religion is marginalised, the closer atheism is to achieving their goal of a godless society.
But…let us pause for reflection here, let us consider religions place in all of this and more pertinent to this discussion, though not exclusively, the place of Christianity. We have alluded to the historical contribution Christianity has made to the building of a Eurocentric society and certainly it has this claim over atheism. However, does this mean that Christianity inherits the right to dictate to the public at large, to foist its precepts onto society and because of this does this mean that it should be brushed aside as Lord Carey puts it?
Christianity also cannot claim clean hands when it comes to persecution, for in its long history and its zeal to spread the Gospel, Christianity has often stepped over the line! A recent example of this is the Bosnian conflict. However, judging a religion by the actions of its fundamentalist adherents does not that religion make! This applies equally in all religions of peace, including Islam whose tenets of tolerance are well known. So, in light of the minority sectarian violence, which can be attributed to all religions, should religion become a quaint relic of the past? This is a rhetorical question and the answer is – obviously not!
I believe that a lot of the violence aimed at Christianity at the moment is sectarian or perhaps better stated, fringe violence; visible and very reportable. This statement doesn’t diminish this form of persecution but juxtaposes it to what I think is a far more subtle and insidious type of persecution, one where Christianity as whole is at far greater risk and one in which Christianity is probably a more frequent target – ‘atheistic secularism’.
What does this mean? This term may seem pleonastic but, in my opinion, atheism and secularism are fundamentally different; atheism – the doctrine or belief that there is no God, the antithesis of theism but faith nevertheless. Secularism, on the other hand, is basically faith in nothing, a selfish system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship. It does not deny their existence but believes it should stay in its place, separated from the political running the affairs of people. Secularism should remain neutral and indifferent toward religion. Combine the two and it moves from being religiously benign to actively eradicating any religious ethos in its goal of a Godless society.
So do I believe persecution of Christians is on the increase? Yes definitely, but it is where that increased persecution is coming from that needs our most diligent attention!
[i] Christian or otherwise