[religion|culture] The self-valorizing Christian myth of persecution

Yesterday on my Facebook wall there was a fair amount of commenting conceding my blog post entitled “What I Believe About What You Believe”.

At one point, Brad Torgersen said:

[F]or a growing body of zealous atheists, their interpretation of “freedom from religion” includes quashing all public manifestation of faith, be it aural, or visual.

I responded:

As a committed First Amendment supporter, I’m not concerned about public manifestations of faith. I’m concerned about publicly-sponsored manifestations of faith. There’s a vast and unsubtle difference there which many people of faith pretend not to understand because it’s much easier to be outraged if you don’t make the distinction.

Without stopping to think about it very hard, I came up with a quick list of public manifestations of Christian faith which are not publicly-sponsored. These permeate our culture every day, and for there is no serious attempt to undermine any of these public manifestations of Christian faith via legislation or executive action or even public pressure.

  • Christian schools and colleges
  • Christian broadcasts on radio, television, and cable
  • Christian movies
  • Christian Internet sites
  • Christian publishers
  • Christian bookstores
  • Christian signage in outdoor media such as billboards and bus signs (which in many areas of the country are forbidden to atheists)
  • Christian church buildings (including their placement and architecture)
  • Christian church signs (which are an entire cultural trope unto themselves)
  • Sunday, the Christian holy day, being the default day of rest for most workers
  • Christmas as a nearly universally observed public holiday (no other religion in America has anything remotely approaching this privilege)
  • Christmas carols being almost inescapable in public gathering places between Halloween and New Year
  • Easter, or at least Good Friday, as a widely observed public holiday (no other religion in America has anything remotely approaching this privilege)
  • Christian phrases such as “God bless America” being nearly universal in our public discourse
  • “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
  • “In God We Trust” on the money
  • The Bible being used to swear witnesses into legal proceedings
  • The Bible being used to swear politicians into office
  • Roadside crosses as a nationwide symbol memorializing traffic deaths
  • Crosses as a near universal symbol in cemeteries other than those reserved exclusively for non-Christian faiths
  • Bumper stickers and those little fish decals on automobiles everywhere in America
  • Christian apparel worn every day in every city and town in America
  • Christian jewelry worn every day in every city and town in America

Some Christians like to cite the so-called “War on Christmas” but that’s a marketing meme invented by FOX News, the same organization which has successfully sued for its First Amendment right to lie, and whose viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of any other major news source in America. Professional liars, in other words, and not exactly a trustworthy source. Besides which, the last time I looked, Christmas was doing just fine. There weren’t any FEMA troops blocking church doors this past December 25th, and practically the whole world wished this atheist a Merry Christmas.

What offends Christians insofar as I can tell is the slowly increasing restrictions on publicly-sponsored displays of faith. Not public displays. Publicly-sponsored displays. The Nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall has been banned in many places. The Nativity scene on the lawn of the church, or anyone’s private property, most certainly has not. School prayer has been banned in many places. Private prayer, even in schools has not. The explicit legal privileging and protection of Christian practice is not quite as ironclad as it used to be, but the social privileging carries on as strong as ever in every aspect of life.

Brad went on to say:

And yes, I can read Jay’s retort before he even writes it: American Christians are just upset because their domination of the public square is being questioned, boo hoo. Dominance in number is one thing. Dominance in law?

Got it one, Brad. The Christian perception of persecution in America is nothing more than a slight erosion from the unthinking privilege of absolute cultural supremacy to merely overwhelming cultural dominance. Viewed from outside the framework of Christian faith, the persecution claim betrays a laughable lack of awareness combined with an apparent need for self-valorizing outrage. That entire list of public displays of faith, and the hundreds or thousands more items which could be added to it, is in no danger whatsoever from legal action, executive fiat or public pressure.

(And yes, I’m sure angry Christians can come up with isolated counterexamples for almost anything I’ve mentioned above. Be careful if you want to play that game. For every outrageous report you might come up with, practically every gay, lesbian, Jew, atheist, liberal-progressive, pro-choice activist and secular humanist in the country can bury you in shame with their own Christian-inspired pain stories.)

While public displays of faith are not endangered, what is endangered is the Christian freedom to require other people to conform to Christian mores, which is what almost the entire Culture War boils down to. What is endangered is the Christian freedom to force children of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists and many others to bow their heads in Christian prayer or watch as Christianity is promoted by the state at the expense of all other faiths. What is endangered is the Christian freedom to promote arrant cruelty and profound bigotry agains gays, lesbians, and the transgendered in the name of religious values. Just to name a few examples.

You know what? If that counts as persecution, then I’m a proud persecuter of Christians. But whatever my personal feelings on the matter, I don’t object to Christian academies or bus signs or Nativity displays on church lawns or Christmas carols or all the other myriad Christian symbols and practices that permeate our culture. The same First Amendment that protects me from your faith protects your faith from me. Public displays of Christian faith are not just alive and well, they are pervasive in America. With this atheist’s blessing, because, hey, it’s your freedom of religion.

And all of this hardly constitutes Brad’s “quashing all public manifestation of faith, be it aural, or visual.” It barely begins to level the playing field for people of other faiths or no faith at all. And claims of persecution are quite literally and sadly laughable.

When Christians in America claim persecution, at the kindest interpretation they appear uninformed and unselfaware to anyone who isn’t sharing their faith framework. Come to me when you are pulled over by the police for your Christian bumper sticker. Come to me when Christmas is no longer celebrated as a holiday. Come to me when millions of your fellow citizens vote to deny you civil and legal rights because you are Christian. Come to me when your churches are denied zoning and building permits because of their potential for evil. Come to me when your children are forced to bow in Islamic or Jewish or Sikh prayer in school. Come to me when carrying a Bible is probable cause for you to be stopped and arrested. Come to me when you are forbidden to travel because of your religious garments. Come to me when Christians are beaten and tied up with barbed wire and left to die in the cold because of their religion. Come to me when the FBI investigates you and your church looking for terrorists.

Then we’ll talk about persecution.

26 thoughts on “[religion|culture] The self-valorizing Christian myth of persecution

  1. i puffy <3 you jay.
    PUFFY. <3

  2. Albatross says:

    Any time someone’s privilege is challenged, or even pointed out, that person will feel victimized. Christians take their privilege for granted, and pointing out what they take for granted makes them feel shame and feel attacked.

  3. Rita says:

    Quibbles: federal offices shut down on major christian holidays counts as publicly sponsored to me.

    I agree on the conflict being over mores, but the side counted as ‘Christian’ seems to be a subsect – kinda like a female muslim soccer player thanking Allah for a goal it titularly of the same faith as fundamentalist muslim activist haranguing girls who dare go to school- theres a wide range of mores available.

  4. I would also add Christian symbols on advertising and business signs. It was common in Springfield, MO when I lived near there, and I see it with frequency in Kansas, too.

    Our courthouse had a huge stone Ten Commandments sculpture on the grounds until about 15 years ago, when a group of citizens asked for it to be removed because of separation of church and state. The town refused, a lawsuit occurred, the town lost. They gave the sculpture to the local Christian college and pretended like this was a victory. The college created the largest, tackiest display to draw attention to it and placed it right next to the street as a deliberate attempt to upset nonbelievers; it didn’t work, and to this day, you can upset many Christians in town by saying you’re GLAD the sculpture was moved there because that’s where it belonged in the first place.

    Nowadays, after seeing several events of a similar nature, any complaint by Christians of “quashing all public manifestations of faith” makes me snort in derision.

    1. It occurs the “outdoor media” you listed probably already counts as the advertising I was mentioning. Still, I glanced at our Yellow Pages and we have quite a few ads with Christian symbols in them. I didn’t (and haven’t) seen any other symbols to represent non-Christian religions in ads.

  5. Jay, believe it or not, I think I grok you from a tangential direction.

    When I lived and worked in Seattle, the socio-political culture really got under my skin. Not all at once. But gradually, over time. Upon enduring conversation after conversation with people who insisted they were “open minded” but reacted badly any time anyone actually admitted to thinking and believing things that were truly against the zeitgeist in that city.

    I had classmates call me a killer upon learning I was in the military, despite my never having fired a round at another human being in my entire career. I had to sit and listen to people tell Utah and Mormon jokes, believing entirely that a Utah Mormon wasn’t in earshot. This, from mouths that would sooner gargle acid than utter a Jew joke or Muslim joke. Students at my 2-year college made great sport of harassing and abusing Army recruiters, desecrating the U.S. flag during anti-war marches from Capitol Hill, etc. All of it as a whole being rather personally offensive to me.

    I was glad I moved. Not because Seattle the city was not wonderful and impressive; it was. But the culture itself? The culture gradually grated on me to the point that I found myself carting around a hot little coal of anger. All the time. At the seemingly mindless and heedless assumptions being made by the self-oblivious people I had to deal with at that time and in that place.

    Now, of course, not everyone in Seattle was like that. But as so often happens with Christianity in America, Seattle (for me) eventually came to be defined by its worst exemplars. The jerks and the loudmouths and the empty-headed children who felt the need to be critical of me and mine — from a seat of what I can only describe as the most profound and thoughtless ignorance.

    So, here’s the thing: is it the job of Seattle’s culture to change so that I don’t have to be irritated anymore, or is it my job to get over the fact that Seattle is what it is, take or leave it? Moreover, how best to effect the desired change? With a carrot, or with a stick?

    I am older now. And a bit wiser. My wife and I may move back to the PNW when my parents are gone. If we do, I will be making a conscious effort to keep the chip on my shoulder in check. Because I singularly won’t be able to change the culture of the place no matter how irritating or ridiculous I find it. Moreover, the culture of the place is part and parcel of what makes it what it is. Me moving back to Seattle and whining about how the culture sucks, is a bit like the non-Mormons who live in Utah and whine about how Utah is awesome, except for all the stupid Mormons. Uhhhhh . . . maybe the reason Utah (and Seattle) are what they are, is because of the majority that lives there?

    I think zealous atheists need to realize that merely banning a religious display — such as getting rid of a nativity from a state capitol — does nothing to change the culture. It does irritate the hell out of everyone who likes seeing that thing. Such bannings make the zealous atheists seem churlish, small, and provocateurish in their approach. “Since we don’t get to have any fun, nobody gets to have any fun! Neener neener neener!”

    Ditto for people who want the little crosses denoting highway deaths removed from the side of freeways and roads. Of what possible harm could such benign symbols be? Should we begin removing the crosses from Arlington too? That’s public land. I won’t be shocked when that lawsuit hits the SCOTUS. Does the letter of the law — separation of church and state — matter at all, if the spirit of the law gets trampled? Ergo, “E Pluribus, Unum.” The ban-happy atheist zealots are sending a deliberate message: public spaces for we, but not for thee.

    In other words, while crying about persecution and “Oh-woe-unto-us we are so trod upon”, zealous atheists who use legal means to punish Christians in the manner described above, are not only not winning hearts and minds, they are flipping the bird at the majority and saying, “Nyah nyah nyah! Fuck you too!”

    Being a secular or an atheist is one thing. Being a belligerent asshole is another. There are plenty of examples of Christians being belligerent assholes. (Westboro Baptists come to mind.) But this does not make seculars and atheists immune from being belligerent assholes too.

    it would be nice if seculars and atheists and Christians alike could learn to share the public spaces without having to resort to legal pugilism, name-calling in the press and on the internet, etc. But that ship seems to have sailed. The culture war is “on” and all that remains is to sit back and see where it takes us.

    And yes, I fully expect you to heap 99.99999% of the blame for the entire thing at the feet of Christians and Christianity. You’ve made your regard for the Christian side of any argument plain as day. We (all of us, mashed together) are the religious bogeymen beneath your ideological bed. You’ve stated as much. In this space. Again, and again, and again.

    I like you a lot, Jay. I’ve said as much many times, and defended you to those who have occasionally been critical of you when I’ve been in the room. You are (mostly) a genuinely open-minded guy. And I ache for your medical trials, and the gradual dimming of your candle on this Earth.

    But on this issue — on Christianity and Christians in America — you are closed. A locked door. Slammed, hasped, and dark.

    1. Jay says:

      Brad –

      I’m sorry you feel the door is shut. I’ve actually taken great pains (obviously without success) to differentiate my views on theology and faith — in effect, yours is none of my business — from my views on the effects of religious pressure on everyday life. The only point I was trying to make in this post is one that unfortunately seems to have passed you by completely in favor of an interpretation that I see faith and the faithful as evil boogeymen. What I was trying to say is that Christians crying foul at current cultural trends are not looking to their own houses at all, nor are they looking to the houses of their non-Christian neighbors. There’s a Bible verse about casting stones that covers this pretty well.

      I am open to suasion. Show me where I am wrong? Show me where in America Christians suffer even the smallest fraction of the persecution that gays and lesbians endure every day, mostly at the hands of Christians. Show me where in America Christians suffer even the smallest fraction of the persecution that Muslims endure every day, mostly at the hands of Christians. If you cannot do that, then your claims of persecution of Christians are coming from behind a door every bit as locked as you claim mine is.

      Can you see my point at all?

      1. Dee Price says:

        There’s quite a track record for those who do nothing. There’s no doubt the persecution in the U.S. isn’t even on a scale compared to the horrendous suffering elsewhere in the world, but what “even an uninformed fool doesn’t see the aggression taking place here.Yes, the atheists, gays, muslims, etc. are entitled to their opinions, but Christians know they had better stand their ground now, or lose it. As far as the belief of a Christian is concerned, we know the Word of God is not a smorgasbord, a pick & choose religion. God made the rules, not us, so who are we to pick the parts we like. As far as Muslims go, I only hate the part where they want to behead us, but other than that part, they seem like pretty nice folks.

    2. David Wilford says:

      “Ditto for people who want the little crosses denoting highway deaths removed from the side of freeways and roads. Of what possible harm could such benign symbols be?”

      I have no problem with temporary memorials, except on freeways where even a little distraction can be a problem given the volume of traffic. But permanent markers, no, because highway right-of-ways are not cemetaries.

      “Should we begin removing the crosses from Arlington too?”

      Not unless you’re proposing to construct a freeway running through it.

  6. Jay, I’ve read your blog for years. You’ve done quite a bit — over many instances — to make it plain that you think American Christianity (of which I am a member, like it or not) is both a cultural and an institutional blight. Shall I tell you of the times, when your name has come up in casual conversation with other writers who are Christian to one degree or another, that your reputation for being “anti-Christian” has immediately surfaced? You have banged the pot too often, and too long, and too loudly, for it to not be enmeshed into your “brand label” as it were: Jay Lake, SF/F author, who really, really, really *doesn’t* like American Christianity.

    For Christianity in America to cease to impinge on your psychic space to the degree you very much wish it would not impinge, Christianity and Christians would essentially have to go into the closet. That place where gays and lesbians languished? That’s where you seem to want to put us Christians. All of us.

    As for your employment of the heirarchy of suffering, I could point out the recent Pew study citing the gross erosion of Christian religious freedom in ostensibly Muslim countries, but since you seem to believe Muslims in America deserve special status (as a protected victim class) I will simply state this. It’s not a matter of “He who has endured the most pain and woe has the most right to call the other guy a jerkface” it’s a matter of admitting (as a country) that public spaces — yes, even state and federal public spaces — were never intended to be religion-free zones.

    I’ll state it again, so that you understand the specific thrust of this response: the separation of church and state was never intended to turn state or federal public spaces into religion-free zones.

    It doesn’t matter if you think Christians are dicks who need to shut up because they’re dicks; to gays or Muslims or anybody else.

    The law is what matters. And right now, there is a concerted effort by separate atheist organizations to turn various forms of state and federal land and property, into religion-free zones. If not explicitly Christian-free zones.

    Because what’s glaringly apparent (as it often is in your own posts) is that America’s atheist zealots don’t hate all religion equally (Muslims: protected victim class) but *Christianity* in the specific. Christians are the *enemy.*

    I can only see and hear that put forth (in the courts as well as in the social and traditional media) so many times, before I have to start taking zealous atheists at their word: I am the enemy, whether I want to be or not.

    How shall I respond to being enemy-ized? or should I just shut up and take it, because, you know, Christians are dicks?

    1. ClintJCL says:

      You just proved his point. You want to make me have to look at YOUR gods when I’m in a public space MY taxes pay for, and you consider it an infringement of your rights to NOT force me to look at your graven images that I have no respect for and don’t want to be exposed to.

      How would you like it if your children were forced to play at a park next to a giant pentagram? You wouldn’t.

    2. Greg says:

      Hi Brad,

      You managed to completely ignore Jay’s question.

      “Show me where in America Christians suffer even the smallest fraction of the persecution that gays and lesbians endure every day, mostly at the hands of Christians. Show me where in America Christians suffer even the smallest fraction of the persecution that Muslims endure every day, mostly at the hands of Christians.”

      Note that here, we’re talking about the USA. It is beyond question that Christians suffer persecution abroad where other religions hold sway. You’ll find that secular organizations in those areas concentrate on fighting back primarily against whichever religion is most powerful in the area. This has the benefit of applying not only to persecution against the non-religious (which is near-universal) but against the less powerful religions, as well.

      It is customary and sensible to focus on the largest problems first. Christianity has such an incredible, ridiculous, and oft-unquestioned dominance in American public life that – when secularists attempt to apply the establishment clause in spirit as well as in letter – invariably the most egregious offenses always come from that quarter. At such time as publicly sponsored displays of Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, etc etc faith become anywhere near as prevalent as Christian ones, I am sure we’ll start to see complaints (and the accompanying push back) over those, as well.

      To address another of your claims: “the separation of church and state was never intended to turn state or federal public spaces into religion-free zones.”

      Correct! I entirely agree. Public spaces can certainly be host to religious displays (if they are privately funded), so long as it is equally host to _all_ religious displays. But we don’t see that. We see Christian displays going up and displays from other faiths (or from the non-religious) being blocked and discriminated against. This is what puts the lie to “equality” of belief or non-belief. We’re seeing it professed, but not practiced.

    3. Ellen Saunders says:

      Brad, did you read Jay’s post at all? Because you’re not responding to what he wrote. You’re responding to something else entirely. Back away from the keyboard and reread his post in two days.

    4. Annie says:

      How many times must the author emphasize that he is writing about “Not public displays. Publicly-sponsored displays.”? Can you really not grasp the difference between a religion-specific decoration on a municipal, publically-owned lawn as opposed to the front of a church?

    5. Jay says:

      Hi, Brad. I’m glad we’re still talking. We might get somewhere.

      You’re still not answering my question. Instead you’re throwing a bunch of other stuff at me. That’s not the sign of a strong debating position.

      As to whether I’m anti-Christian, it’s moot to the two issues we’ve been discussing. One, whether there is a serious effort to restrict or eliminate public displays of religion. Two, whether American Christian claims of persecution are appropriate.

      Even if I were virulently anti-Christian, those questions stand. As it happens, I don’t consider myself anti-Christian at all. You do, that’s fine, there’s no reason to argue the point here. I suspect that if you knew either me or my writing better, your opinion on that might change.

      What I am against, decidedly, is hypocrisy and organized stupidity. Christians in this country, especially the millions of conservative Christians closely aligned with the Republican party, are a dominant force in our politics and culture. At times, the dominate force. As a dominant force, especially one that claims its authority as being derived from moral stances as opposed to say, policy stances, they have many opportunities to display hypocrisy and organized stupidity.

      Specific examples of organized Christian stupidity include embedding evolution denial in the educational curriculum, the wholesale effort to restrict women’s sexuality and health, and the entire culture war over gay rights and gay marriage. Specific examples of organized Christian hypocrisy glare from every corner, but to start with, compare the treatment of Senators David Vitter and Larry Craig with the treatment of President Clinton. Character counted to American Christians very much when it was a Democrat under fire for rumors of misconduct, but when Republican lawmakers are convicted of sex crimes, they are readily forgiven. Also, the entire Catholic pedophilia scandal.

      That doesn’t make me guilty of being anti-Christian. That makes me guilty of expecting Christians to live up to the standards they proclaim for themselves and everyone else. You are free to see that as anti-Christian, but I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken against the miracle of the Resurrection or faith in Jesus Christ. I’ve merely spoken against hypocrites who dominate our culture.

      Also, as a completely sidebar note, I don’t think Muslims in America are a protected class — that’s a pretty standard accusation from angry conservatives to discredit liberal-progressive arguments, by the way, and is both illogical and beneath you in this discussion. I mere observe that Muslims in America are a tiny minority much discriminated against. As such, they have very few opportunities to promote hypocrisy and organized stupidity on the culture as a whole.

      You raise the issue of Christians being persecuted in other countries. That’s a very serious issue, but it pertains to neither of the questions we were discussing, except to highlight my own point that what American Christians call persecution in this country amounts to little more than minor inconveniences. You lose your argument with yourself by bringing that up.

      As for my point about public displays, you’ve gotten quite angry and somewhat ad hominem with me about the issue, but you haven’t actually responded to the issue. You said “quashing all public manifestation of faith, be it aural, or visual.” I said you were deliberately confusing public manifestations of faith with publicly-sponsored manifestations of faith, and gave a pretty solid list of counterexamples to your assertion. Your response to this was become angry and change the subject.

      You’ve essentially answered the persecution of Christians in America question by citing persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. That voids your own assertion.

      I’m curious what your answer is to my response about public displays. Is the Christmas holiday being legislated out of existence? Do courtrooms no longer swear witnesses in on the Bible? Are Christian schools being shut down? Where is the quashing of all public manifestations of faith going on?

      Christians are not the enemy, sir. Stupid, hypocritical people are, especially those operating under the cloak of religious privilege.

      As for me being a dick to you, I apologize. That was never my intention. And you are not my enemy.

  7. ClintJCL says:

    I love this quote, however…. carrying a bible has been used as probable cause:

  8. Ben Fenwick says:

    “Help! I’m bein’ repressed.” –Peasant to King Arthur on the search for the Holy Grail.

  9. Pam Adams says:

    Come to me when that cross around your neck is required by law, so the government can more easily scoop you up and send you to a death camp.

  10. Before I start, I will apologize for my cross tone today. It is the dividend of having been singled out by name, and held up (perhaps unintentionally by Jay?) as being somehow emblematic of things for which I resent being made an emblem. Which I will discuss in further detail below.

    Now . . .

    Jay, the entirety of your original post ends with this conceit, “If Christian Americans haven’t suffered the same type and level of hurts, wounds, serial degradations, and wrongs as (insert group here) then Christian Americans have no business complaining at all.”

    This is essentially a heirarchy of suffering argument. Ergo, let he who has suffered the most, enjoy the highest pedestal. And since Christians (to your mind) *clearly* can’t hold a candle to gays or muslims or atheists, in the pedestal department, the Christian complaint against zealous atheism is not just moot, it’s ridiculously moot. Christians have no pedestal!

    I get it. For progressives especially, the “more-victimized-than-thou” argument is a powerful rhetorical tool. But it’s precisely because our society is actually very much focused (hyper-focused?) on assisting victims of various kinds of injustice — dare I say, a Christian concept if ever there was one? — if you (general) can therefore lay claim to a pedestal in the suffering heirarchy, you (general) have a potentially superior perch from which to ridicule political and social enemies. And make it stick.

    But if we (general) must discuss the tendency to (undeservedly) self-valorize, let us please also discuss the seige mentality of zealous atheists, for whom religious Christian Americans are an eternal irritant and foe. Few people seem more convinced that everyone is out to get them, than zealous atheists. For whom even “Merry Christmas!” has become a pernicious threat. Likewise, every roadside cross becomes a target for legal action. And the words “In God We Trust” are nigh blasphemous; thus the very currency itself is a personal affront. Heck, the Pledge of Allegiance — surely the most harmless of civic traditions — is morally evil. Something simply must be done about it.

    If that’s the viewpoint, no question, America must be an uncomfortable stewpot of dangerously superstitious and half-crazy people, all desperate to inflict their religion on you from behind every rock, every bush, and every tree.

    And yet, America is not a theocracy tying innocent atheists to the railroad tracks. Proverbial, or literal. Atheism flourishes here. Just as it flourishes elsewhere in the West, where the very Christianity that zealous atheists sneer at, gave birth to the kind of pluralistic soil atheism *needed* to take root in the first place. Atheism exists because (unlike in many Islamic nations) Christians (those same devils you see peering out at you from under your bed) in America actually restrain themselves. They value pluralism and liberty just as much as you do. In fact, many of them have died to defend your right to call their character into question.

    Oh, now and again you have somebody like Fred Phelps pull out a bullhorn and make an ass of himself. If all of us who walk beneath the banner of Christ are to be chained at the ankle to Fred Phelps (or, to flip it around, Al Sharpton) our image and reputation are forever sunk. We cannot possibly redeem ourselves.

    But if not, allow me to put this radical idea to you. In fact, I am going to take your example, and turn it on its ear. The fact that America has so many Christians in it is actually a blessing, not a curse. And here is why.

    Unlike in Islamic lands, the Christians in the U.S. military have not come to shoot you or your family for failing to show up for mandatory prayer. The Christians on the police force have not come to lock you or your loved ones up for violating a chastity or modesty law. The Christians teaching in your schools have not tried to force your kids to pray or go to church, much less take them away from you for being unworthy as a parent. And the Christians in your genre have not tried to bar or ban you from your chosen secondary profession in the speculative arts; for failing to display proper allegiance to the Christian cause.

    So unless you personally, Jay, have had Christians do all of the above, or worse, to you, I am not sure where you get off telling Christians (et al) that we’ve got no business complaining — when a zealous atheist with an agenda tries to use the legal system to restrict any American Christian’s ability to manifest that Christianity in a public fashion.

    Have American Christians too often failed to practice a “live and let live” ethic?

    You bet. And well documented.

    Do America’s zealous atheist activists presently go way out of their way to be legalistic jerks to the Christians around them?

    Unfortunately, yes.

    I’m perfectly willing to assist and foster atheists having their place in the American quilt. I’m just not willing to sit silently and watch some of the atheist activists pursue an agenda I consider to be in direct contradiction to the founding principles of the country. Ergo, any time any person attempts to use the courts to enforce a “free expression for me, but not for thee” doctrine, I have a serious problem with it.

    So . . .

    Every time an atheist parent tries to get his or her local school to ban t-shirts with religious symbols, or necklaces with religious symbols, (s)he is doing it wrong.

    Every time an atheist group tries to get a crucifix (like the Ground Zero cross for the 9/11 memorial in New York) removed from a public installation, they’re doing it wrong.

    Every time an atheist activist gets a side-of-the-highway cross struck, (s)he is doing it wrong.

    Every time atheists sue to have Christmas trees or Nativities removed from public buildings or public lands, they’re doing it wrong.

    And yes, believe it or not, I am sensitive to the Christian Supremacist question. Me and my kind got run off, burned out, and killed by their forerunners about 150 years ago. No question, for the true Christian Supremacists, there are plenty of moral and ethical reasons to oppose them. Reasons sound enough to convince even Christian fellow travelers, such as myself.

    But just as it’s often said that militarizing against the whole of Islam, to target the terrorists in their midst, simply breeds more terrorists, so I suspect militarizing (legally) against the whole of American Christianity, so as to go after Christian Supremacists, merely breeds Christian Supremacism. Because it fosters the very sense of persecution you (Jay) seem to feel Christians have no business feeling entitled to.

    1. gottacook says:

      Interesting that as soon as Mr. Torgerson writes “The fact that America has so many Christians in it is actually a blessing, not a curse. And here is why,” the first example he gives refers to Christians in the U.S. military. Has he never heard of longstanding efforts to evangelize the U.S. military, or given any thought to the pressures on non-Christians that can be exerted in a military context? (Or, for that matter, a prison context?)

    2. Jay says:

      Brad –

      First of all, I owe you an apology. It was never my intention to brand you, or embarrass you, or hold you out as an example of what I might judge to be incorrect thought. I in fact did those things, and I am sorry.

      Second, I am completely with you on the invalidity of the “hierarchy of suffering” argument. See my own comments on this subject under the heading of my “theory of problems”. Life is not a race to the bottom.


      Your comment about the hierarchy of suffering has make me realize that we’ve been talking at cross-purposes. We’re essentially making different arguments. You’re countering a hierarchy of suffering argument, I’m making a semantic one.

      To begin, let me concede that American Christians are sometimes inconvenienced and occasionally actively discriminated against for their faith. Regardless of whether I think this problem is socially trivial, it is real and meaningful to the people to experience it.

      The problem comes with the word “persecution”. That’s a word used by a certain number of American Christians to describe their experiences. It’s a word with an enormous historical and emotional resonance for any Christian, hearkening back to the days before the Roman church was formally established, as well as the course of mission work and the spread of God’s word all through history.

      But “persecution” is also a word with semantic resonances to non-Christians. It’s a word that makes a specific and powerful claim on the hierarchy of suffering. From my point of view, when a Christian claims to be persecuted, they are placing themselves on that hierarchy through the meaning of that word.

      I’ll quote dictionary.com because I’m too lazy to go drag out my print copy of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary.

      persecution, noun
      1. the act of persecuting.
      2. the state of being persecuted.
      3. a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate a people because of their religion, race, or beliefs: the persecutions of Christians by the Romans.

      Definitions 1 and 2 are grammatical notes on parts of speech. Definition 3 is very specific, and places the word quite deeply in the hierarchy of suffering.

      Which brings us back to my original point, which you’ve never responded directly to. (If you have, I missed it, and my apologies.) You made a flat claim that atheists are interested in “quashing all public manifestation of faith, be it aural, or visual.”

      I made the counterclaim that you’re confusing publicly-sponsored manifestations of faith with public manifestations of faith. I gave a long list of public manifestations of faith with are in no danger whatsoever.

      The quashing you concern yourself with is in fact quite limited, and does not even remotely extend to “all public manifestations of faith”. You’ve not yet countered that assertion, I am quite certain because it is impossible for you do so. That simply isn’t happening in America. Not even in the wildest imaginings of either your posited raving atheists or the most paranoid, embattled Christians.

      And that was the point of my challenge questions about whether Christian schools are being shut down, et cetera. Not to compete on the hierarchy of suffering, but to point out that Christians are vastly stretching the definition of “persecution”, and indeed to point out that by asserting a claim of persecution in the first place, American Christians are themselves trying to compete on the hierarchy of suffering. Which given the overwhelming predominance of Christianity in America is an objectively laughable claim on the face of it.

      Now, if you’re defining “persecution” as “anything which inconveniences an American Christian, or lessens their sense of freedom to practice their faith”, you can certainly make the claim with success. But you’re playing merry hell with the meaning of the word, in the dictionary sense, in the historical church sense, or in the modern worldwide sense (i.e., your example of Christians in the Muslim world being persecuted). And it won’t make sense to anyone outside your faith framework, which was another of my original points.

      As for your siege mentality of zealous atheists, you are reacting to a tiny, tiny fraction of America as if they held political power or legal power or any sort of hold on the American media and imagination. There are a lot of irritating people out there of all stripes. The zealous atheists you so despise are about as significant in the wider culture as Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Just as you would quite rightly chide me for assuming that all Christians are like Phelps, consider that perhaps atheists and secularists in general are no more like the bogeymen of your imagination.

      You also claim Christians value pluralism and liberty as much as I do. I have a very simple counterargument to that. Proposition 8. Until millions of Christians cease funding and voting for political efforts to strip their fellow citizens of legal and civil rights on a class basis, your argument is null. Christians as a whole demonstrably do not value pluralism and liberty, quite the opposite. They demonstrate this on a regular basis at the ballot box and in the media.

      > Have American Christians too often failed to practice a “live and let live” ethic?
      > You bet. And well documented.
      > Do America’s zealous atheist activists presently go way out of their way to be
      > legalistic jerks to the Christians around them?
      > Unfortunately, yes.

      Are you seriously equating the acts of major Christian denominations (Southern Baptists, Mormons, the Catholic Church etc.) and their political party (the GOP) with a few dozen or hundred scattered atheist activists? Take a minute and really think about what you’re claiming, that a few lawsuit-happy nuts are equivalent in cultural and power and responsibility to millions of Americans and their religious and political leadership.

      Or are there millions of atheists out there organizing and funding Prop 8 like initiatives to strip Christians of the right to marry, and the right to care for their dying loved ones? If so, it’s certainly escaped my notice. This is not an argument about the hierarchy of suffering, it’s a very common sense point about the vastly asymmetrical power dynamic in this country.

      Unless you are clinically paranoid, which I don’t believe for a moment, those are the words of an angry man, not a logical man.

      Does this make any more sense?


  11. Shlomi says:

    As someone who was attacked by a knife-wielding idiot because “I killed christ” I can attest that the war on Christians has been well waged for ages — by Christians against everyone else.

    P.S. If you see someone without the tip of his nose, he might be the one to whom I was referring. Ijit.

  12. Cora says:

    This whole debate still strikes me as very American.

    Around 34% of Germans have no religious affiliation (which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are atheists – some of them may be Christians who don’t get along with the Catholic or Lutheran churches) and yet people getting upset over roadside crosses or nativity displays on public land or religious iconography on public buildings is largely unheard of. This doesn’t mean that Christians aren’t privileged here in Germany, even though the non-affiliated are the single biggest group, because they absolutely are. And as a non-religious person I have issues with many examples of Christian privilege in my country, e.g. restrictions on abortion, stem cell research and the morning-after pill, the fact that labour laws don’t apply to Christian organisations, the privileging of heterosexual married couples and families over pretty much everybody else, enforced closure of shops on Sundays and Christian holidays, etc…, the fact that nuns are allowed to teach at public schools, but muslim women wearing the hijab are not, the fact that non-Christian houses of worship can often only be built in industrial areas, etc…. But roadside crosses and shrines and nativity displays on public land (how do you know it’s public, cause I sure as hell don’t?) don’t bother me at all. Nor do they bother anybody else.

    I guess the root cause of this is the insistence of many people in the US all across the political spectrum never to have to see or hear anything that might offend them. This insistence manifests itself in atheists objecting to roadside crosses and nativity displays on public land on the one hand as well as Christians objecting to atheist billboards, mosques and naked breasts and swearing on TV on the other. And quite a lot of people on all sides are vehement to the point of jerkiness about not wanting to be exposed to something that offends them personally.

  13. Farah says:

    Surely these are publicly funded?

    “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance–takes place in publicly funded schools led by publicly funded teachers
    “In God We Trust” on the money–the money is made with public funds.

    1. Jay says:

      Fair enough. On the other hand, there’s also no way in hell those are going away any time soon.

  14. Clayton Hunter says:

    [coming in late] Yes! Exactly!

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