02 October 2015
Is it a war on Christians yet?
Some people desperately want there to be a war on Christians in this country -- and those people are Christians. We Americans seem to compete with one another to prove who's more persecuted. The presumption of enmity is almost universal. It's reported that the perpetrator of yesterday's Oregon amoklauf asked his captives whether they were Christian. This is described as the shooter "singling out" or "targeting" Christians. From what we've been told so far, the shooter told at least one person who responded affirmatively that it was a good thing, since the victim would be meeting God shortly. It's unclear whether he denounced God or Christianity at that time, and it's possible that the little scene may have been his terrible idea of dark humor. We still don't know much about the man. Supposedly he described himself as "not religious, but spiritual," or words to that effect, and he is said to have had "problems with organized religion." At the same time, he seems to have been a fan of the Catholic nationalists of the Irish Republican Army. Piecing the details together won't be as simple as some would like, and I question whether the Oregon amoklauf will prove any more of an act of "war on Christianity" than the Charleston Massacre from earlier this year. Yet some Christians do love to feel embattled. Why, though, do they presume a war is in the works? It could be as simple as "they hate us because we're good and they resent it," whoever they are, -- but could there be some sort of guilty conscience encouraging these fears? Who will be waging this war? Some anticipate a multi-front attack. Islamists are already waging literal war on Christians in some parts of the world, while the enmity of "militant atheists" is well-established if not proven lethal. But if we look for some large-scale formal assault we may be missing a war already raging. If there's a war on Christianity it's not a political struggle, a Muslim jihad or an atheist conspiracy. It's more likely a battle repeating itself in thousands of American homes. Ask the question again: why wage a war on Christianity? Yes, the American Christian Right may be obnoxious and in some ways a genuine menace to human progress, but compared to their Islamist counterparts our Christianists have been models of civility. Could their positions on abortion or gay marriage, the hot-button issues of our time, really provoke their opponents to kill them? I suspect not, but that doesn't mean that nothing could so provoke people. I suspect instead that hatred of religion in general is born not in the public or political sphere, but in the home. If there's really a war against Christianity, you'll probably see that it's been waged house-to-house for generations. Real hatred of Christianity is often if not most likely personal rather than political, born from a belief that Christianity (or any organized religion) has made a young person's life intolerably miserable rather than from Marxist analysis or enlightened philosophizing. At the least, if there's ever a real war it'll be waged by people with grievances born at home, or maybe in private schools, not by readers of Richard Dawkins. These will be people who won't see themselves as the aggressors; they'll see a "war on Christianity" as a defensive war and they'll fight it as a guerilla war. That's not how they'll be perceived, but that might only mean that people aren't paying attention.