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Sunday 09 April 2017

Persecution Complex?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 5th January 2017

On December 21, the offices of Canberra's Australian Christian Lobby were hit by a van, containing gas cylinders. The ACL thinks that it was attacked deliberately, but the Australian Capital Territory Police deny this. Why do conservative Christians believe themselves "persecuted", instead of persecutors?

To be sure, some isolated individuals have taken matters into their own hands and have assaulted individual conservative Christian activists, vandalised their property and made personal threats against them. There can be no justification for this and such activities should be condemned without reservation. However, such behaviour is not systematic, nor is it commonplace. Indeed, conservative Christians have often been perpetrators of such violence, especially in the context of the US anti-abortion movement, although similar terrorism has occurred in Canada and Australia. At the turn of the century, there was an anti-abortion website, the Nuremberg Files, which particularly targeted US and Canadian abortion providers and was implicated in the assassination of at least two doctors.

One recent conservative Christian bromide of the 'persecution complex' variety is the new It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies.Here we go again. Meaningful religious freedom is indeed one of the cornerstone of liberal democratic societies. Freedom of belief, conscience, assembly, worship, speech and doctrine are protected in most liberal democratic societies. So are broad areas of religious practice, but that can never be an absolute- because some areas of religious practice conflict with other human rights and civil liberties. Nevertheless, there are concessions in most jurisdictions that deal with this. Discriminatory ordination practices and marriage doctrines, rituals and ceremonies exist in societies where comprehensive antidiscrimination laws, relationship and marriage equality exist. Granted, the consequence of such policies results in the cumulative and gradual marginalisation and disappearance of such sects, but they are free to believe within this penumbra of core religious observance.

However, the conservative Christian lobby has a deeply hypocritical, sectarian and truncated idea of what religious freedom should be. According to Jonathan Van Maren (21.12.2016) on the far right Canadian antifeminist, anti-abortion and anti-LGBT Lifesite, their definition of religious freedom doesn't apply to religious social liberals. In other words, if you happen to be a liberal Protestant or Jew or liberal Catholic and support abortion rights, LGBTI equality, assisted suicide, and so on, you are "religious quislings' who lack 'sincerity' and 'authenticity' when it comes to your sincere, deeply held liberal religious beliefs, especially if they incorporate new findings from science, medicine or social science into your faith. Van Maren smirks that liberal churches are 'shrinking', while conservative churches are 'growing.' As one liberal Anglican acidly observed to me, cancer cells grow too, but no-one believes they're healthy for the organism under threat. There's a word for this arrogant behaviour- it's called sectarianism, the belief that conservative Christians are 'superior' to liberal Christians and nontheists, as well as those of other faiths. Too bad if you believe differently, if your conscience is such that you feel compelled to support abortion rights or LGBT concerns and if your church takes an antithetical position to the "Christian" Right- you may find yourselves arrested if you perform same-sex weddings, your church may be vandalised or invaded by conservative Christian sectarians. If you're a US abortion provider and person of faith, then you risk assault, harassment and homicide.

Most damningly of all, Van Maren argues that the scourge of widespread conservative Catholic clergy pedophilia is nothing more than an 'excuse' for this imaginary 'persecution' of conservative Christians. One might argue that the Catholic clergy pedophilia epidemic would not have existed if the church ordained women, allowed married clergy, recognised the value and worth of non-procreative sex and women's reproductive freedom. One might also argue for the culture of accountability and transparency that this would encounter. Liberal Catholics recognise this, but Catholic Right apologists for institutional malignancy from this quarter try to mitigate the scale of the offending and its destructive and lethal consequences.

As for this 'persecution', Van Maren wails that conservative Christians are 'losing jobs, losing their businesses, being ostracised in social settings, refused admittance to universities and even their right to indoctrinate their own children in conservative Christian dogma is 'under attack!' Let's look at this argument more closely. If they experience demotion or redundancy in secular occupational contexts, it is because these secular occupations are not part of their core religious practices of ordination or matrimonial rituals and ceremonies. They are therefore engaging in service provider discrimination against others and causing injury to them. They are the persecutors in that context, not the persecuted.

We don't care about bona fide instances of real persecution of Christians outside the western world, they add. Nonsense. Human rights and civil liberties groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch do indeed campaign against such behaviour in Muslim majority societies, or in India, due to Hindu supremacists, and so on. No one would doubt that Christians in those societies do bear the brunt of very real persecution and suffering and it should be condemned without reservation.

Let's get one thing straight, though. Well-heeled lobby groups and activists are not exactly signs of persecution. It is not "persecution" if someone analyses one's rhetoric or propaganda, finds evidence-based rebuttals from medicine, science or social science, and responds logically and rationally to conservative Christian claims. It is civil discourse and dialogue. Of course, hard-line conservative Christians don't want real dialogue, they want dogma.

Fortunately, contrary to Van Maren's assertions to the contrary, conservative sects and denominations are also ebbing as time goes on. Within as little as twenty years from now, we may well find the LGBTI legislative reform agenda completed and conservative Christian activism directed against other objects of anathema. I suspect that will be the euthanasia debate, from current signs in contemporary New Zealand society.


"Australian Christian Lobby car bomb not politically motivated, people say" BBC News: 22.12.2016:

Not Recommended:

Mary Eberstadt: It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies: New York: Harper: 2016.

Jonathon Van Maren: "Real people are being harmed by the left's New Witch Hunt and they don't care" Lifesite: 21.12.2016:

Craig Young - 5th January 2017

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