Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It's alright ma (I'm only whining)

I'm writing this in response to a number of articles or statements that I've read in the last while, where any claim of discrimination by Christians is dismissed outright as whining. Just Google "Christians whining,"  for anyone who's wondering what I'm talking about. First off, it's interesting because these statements seem to assume a western perspective, and often no mention is given of Christians who are indeed persecuted in many parts of the world. There's a book that's just come out by Candida Moss that argues that the early Church was not persecuted in the way that is commonly understood. I'm not going to get into that discussion here, but recently I read an article by Moss's Godfather in which he concluded in reviewing Moss' book that if ever there was an age of Christian persecution that we're now living in it. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/344557/persecution-christians-then-and-now-john-o-sullivan

The numbers are staggering, with more martyrs in the last century than the previous nineteen centuries combined. Add to that churches and homes being burned, forced marriages, kidnappings, murder, rape, imprisonment, forced labor, all the markings of second class citizenship. And I do wonder to what degree our secular culture's bias against religion and Christianity especially is part of the reason why these abuses are largely ignored. And it's not just Christians to be fair, Muslims and other religious minorities are often targeted as well by religious extremists and under communist regimes. So we have to remember context when we enter into these sorts of discussions, and to be careful not to generalize based on our limited western experience. But with that said, could discrimination against Christians happen here in the west? Do we ever have a case when complaining, or are Christians just whining? http://www.pewforum.org/Government/Rising-Tide-of-Restrictions-on-Religion-findings.aspx

I don't know. That's the short answer, but If you had asked me a number of years ago, I probably would have said yes, almost without thinking, because that is how I felt. If you'll allow me a moment to speak from my own experience, but when you're a kid as I was, and you say a simple prayer that changes you from the inside out, makes all the difference in your young life, but you soon realize that no one wants to hear about it. Not your parents, not the neighborhood, not school, and so you learn to keep your faith to yourself while staying out of the way. While trying to avoid the conflict that you've seen so much of,  you become smaller and a little bit different for every little group that you don't really feel part of anyway. But it's easier that way, just surviving, until you have 5 kids in 6 years and you don't know who you are anymore and you don't have the mental energy to remember what it is you're supposed to say next. You also realize along the way that not everything that has carried the name of Jesus has deserved the name of Christ. So, while you're trying to separate the baggage from the beautiful (while blowing a gasket), you're left with so many unheard and unasked questions, what do I believe, what does it mean, was it real, the delusion in my head? But if it wasn't real, then why does it affect me so? Why does it seem to bring me back to those parts of myself that seemed all but forgotten? The same old story I've heard so many times, to the kid who wanted her mother to leave, who wanted her parents to get divorced by the time I was seven. I'm not an idealist, and yet again and again, a simple retelling of an old story, an innocent man's stripped back burning on a splintered Roman cross for my cynicism, brings me to my knees and makes me weep. Why should I even care? It happened so long ago.

So I'm old enough to know what I'm supposed to say, but by the time you get to the little university and hear the little stabs by the little professors and the little atheists who look you in the eye and jeer, "are you a Christian?" And that's where I would want to pick up the discussion, that we should not assume that because a group of people is in the majority, that they couldn't be discriminated against, because it happens all the time. It could be the story of human history, the little majority gets beaten again and again by the powerful few, as much as the other way around. Christians may still be the majority in certain respects; they may still be able to affect a vote in some areas, but we are no longer the voices that dominate western culture. That's what I want to point out here. Christianity is being marginalized more and more. Hollywood is the sculptor of ideas, professors are the painters of pictures, the undoing of the minister's and the parents' sacred places. Contrast that reality with the saints names on the hospitals and the schools and the charities of times before, the speeches of Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King that assumed a Christian context as they pursued a common public good. Christians and other people of faith I expect, increasingly feel the need to compartmentalize their faith in favor of a secularized public square. To get the reviews by the major secular publications in the once Christian universities, to be a part of  the writing on the secular media wall. And don't you dare ask questions. Don't question their assumptions, that the secular is on the side of secular science don't you know, the secular is the secular progressive. The secular is spectacularly superior and the biggest assumption of all, that somehow the secular is supremely squarely neutral, and natural. But is it?

Well, it's not like it's being debated so how would we know?  But I've listened to enough more learned people than myself discuss these things to know that a lot of scientists who may be well respected in their fields are not trained philosophers. Yet they unequivocally make philosophical and theological statements and draw conclusions about empirical data without questioning their logical assumptions while claiming authority because they have a PhD in another field. For example, Richard Dawkins may be a respected biologist, but he has little in the way of qualifications as a theologian or philosopher. Just ask yourself if the statements that are being made can be proven by science. It may surprise many to realize how poorly reasoned many of their philosophical assertions are. What I would suggest is that the new atheist movement (being the prime example), is not a scientific movement as claimed by it's leaders. Rather, it is a cultural movement against religious institutions and a knee jerk reaction against the religious right.  But do they have a point?

I think they do. In my experience people tend to have a point when they get all fired up, because I think that's the way God made us, that we spiritually and physically respond to perceived injustice, mind, body and spirit. Religion can be corrupt. Religion can be used to abuse people. Religion can be used as a recruiting tool, to distort people's natural spirituality and so forth. But does that make the vast majority of people's innate spirituality intrinsically wrong? If something is innate, or physically derived from an arbitrary evolutionary process, how could it be wrong? And if faith is an evolutionary redundancy, why does nature seem to insist on preserving it for the vast majority of people cross culturally and internationally? I like what Alvin Plantinga pointed out, that from an evolutionary perspective it makes a lot more sense that people would be paranoid. Bush, what bush, what's behind the bush?  Faith might slow you down, keep you from jumping far enough away from every perceived danger.

But I have no trouble as a theist admitting that there have been plenty of wrongs committed and to be honest, sometimes when I listen to the news it's tempting to think like a new atheist, black and white, find someone to blame, religion is the problem. People want someone to blame. It's human psychology, but nothing is simple. And something else that I wish to point out here that I realized while I was writing this, that a very good clue or even proof of what the dominant culture is, is in the things that you are not free to question. See, I get Huff Post Religion on my Facebook page, and I do try to keep an open mind, honest I do. If I didn't I wouldn't have Huff Post religion on my Facebook page and I wouldn't keep it there despite the fact that every other time I go on Facebook I try to figure out how to get bleeping Huff Post off my Facebook page. But here's my point, if Christianity were as dominant as people claim, Huff Post would not so easily be able to write stuff like "was Jesus gay or married or both? Probably both" insists Huff Post. Yeah, try again. It is nothing less than trash fashionable to say things like that, because there is a market to attack Christians. Period. In the middle ages, do you think people would get away with asking that question? Most definitely not, because the church was in control. In the Middle East today, do you think someone would dare to publically make a similar comment about Muhammad yet alone Allah? Not if they value their life, but please remember that Jesus is more than a prophet to Christians, and when I hear things like that I feel like I'm being spit on. What you cannot question tells you who is in control.

Now ask yourself what you are not allowed to question in this culture. Take a moment. Abortion?  Homosexuality? Global warming? Naturalism? The things that get you sidelined and branded, not that I'm making definitive statements on any of the above, but I think we can all agree that none of the above are representative of a distinctly Christian culture. However, the divinity of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, the relevance of the Pope or other religious leaders, the sanctity of life, oh you can question those things all day long if you like, and make lewd statements and call it art while you're at it. Yes you can, but contrast a phony gay and married Jesus with the people who's academic careers are now in the toilet for daring to question evolution or global warming...or the sexually explicit materials that took months to come off the walls of public schools in Toronto. Ask yourself how long it would be before a Christmas tree or a baby Jesus nativity scene was taken out of a school. They'd never get it in the door. What you cannot question tells you who is in control.  http://online.wsj.com/articl/SB10001424052970204301404577171531838421366.html

Yet again, I and many other Christians have no trouble admitting that Christians have made mistakes, because quite honestly it fits with our worldview that we would. Our need for forgiveness as we forgive others, that we're sinners, that we so often miss the mark. It's part of being human to make mistakes and it's part of being a Christian to recognize our need for redemption. Having said this I do not see the same willingness on the part of our secular culture to admit mistakes. All I see is a tendency to oversimplify history and blame religion for everything and divert responsibility when much of secularism could just as easily be blamed, the consumerism of our present secular society being a prime example. May I suggest, do a bit of research. Look at the numbers, for every time that someone throws the crusades or the inquisition or witch hunts in the face of Christians. I'm not excusing any of that to be clear, but how many people died in the crusades? Be my guest, look it up and write it down. How many people were burned at the stake? Note that and note as well some of the apologies that have been given by church leaders over the years. Then look up the numbers and find out how many people died under Lenin. Find out how many of his own people he purposefully starved to death in in attempt to make them forget their God. Find out how many priests were sent to the Gulag and worked to death if they weren't tortured and shot in the head first. Then look up Stalin, because communism was just getting started under Lenin, and he was a boy scout compared to Stalin. Find out how many people died under Stalin. Read all about the animals, and how all the animals were supposed to be equal, but some of the animals became just a little bit more equal than all the other animals. Then look some more. Find out how the locals were treated when the Red (Soviet) Army drove their tanks into Finland or Eastern Europe or Afghanistan. Don't stop there! Look at China, if you're still feeling enthusiastic, or Cambodia or Italy under Mussolini. Count the dead  there too! Found out how many people were buried in unmarked mass graves under Pol Pot, or check out the present day Gulags in North Korea, it's not like they've closed them down. Why would they? Things just keep better and better don't they? Isn't that what we're told? Please forgive my sarcasm, but I'm growing very tired of a culture that lacks grace as it lacks humility as it lacks memory. Secularism has nothing on religion, but how do they respond? While people are still being tortured and sent to labor camps and often starved and worked to death for their faith -religion did it!

A friend of mine attends an Eastern Orthodox church and I remember her saying to me that she has heard older people in her congregation who emigrated from former East Bloc countries express "that it is happening here too." What could they mean by that? I think they are expressing what I sense, which is the reason why I began writing this. There is a spiteful, mean-spirited and frankly hateful tone towards Christians in our culture that is accepted and encouraged as appropriate. We're the group that it is now acceptable to blame and demonize more than any other for the world's problems, with the possible exception of white men. And that's what worries me. I know we're not a communist country, and we're a long way from life under Stalin or Pol Pot, and I am not an alarmist. I don't think that such changes happen overnight, in terms of moods being politicized and implemented. And to their credit, I know that someone like Sam Harris would say that he's about discussion not force, and I believe him. I really do. But the thing is, is that I think Nietzsche would have said the same thing. I think I would have liked to have met Nietzsche. He was reacting to a stale Christian culture too, but he could not have foreseen the monsters who would come after him who would take his ideas very literally, nor could Darwin most notably. Much of what I have heard about Darwin on a personal level has been positive, devoted family man, a bit racist maybe, but that wouldn't have been uncommon at that time. But again I don't think for a moment that either Darwin or Nietzsche or many other thoughtful materialists would have sanctioned the things that would later be done largely through their influence on Enlightenment European culture. Unfortunately, men of action seem to care little for the nuances of men of thought. All I'm asking is that we try to learn from the mistakes of our mutually violent histories, the theist and the atheist. But understanding does not start with the white-washing of history, nor does it start with a cultural tone that says, you had better agree with me on all of the above-or else. It also doesn't start with a naive optimism that we are necessarily progressing or improving because we have a new gadget. My question would be, what are we progressing toward, if we have no ethical starting point and we have no moral anchor?

In conclusion, in taking a selective narrative, such as the history of the southern United States where abuses by Christians occurred, and caricaturing Christians as the always privileged, always oppressor, while denying and ignoring historical narratives where Christians and other religious minorities have been and continue to be victims of secularism...in classifying the secular as good and revising history to classify anything bad as religious...I fear that the present day secular dominated culture may be creating a biased tone and a hostile environment, so much so that when there are conflicts of human rights that are brought before the courts, that only one side of the conflict is able to be seen or heard by that culture's elite representatives. Would a judge be inclined to rule from the perspective of the freedom of conscience of a religious minority in such an environment, where only one side is ever heard? And I fear we may be seeing the beginnings of that, where one group's rights trump the rights of another group, where we have hierarchies of rights in our society. I don't want to see that happen for the record. I have no interest in seeing that happen, Christian or gay person or Muslim or woman. I simply wish to see an acceptance that there are differences here as we have gradually  learned to do in the past with religious differences. Rather than telling everyone what they should think, that we try to find creative ways for diverse groups of people to live in a diverse society peacefully. Let Catholics be Catholics and have Catholic schools. Let gay people be gay and have gay pride parades and equal marriage. Let women be women and have women's crisis centres and run for office. Let Muslim men have Muslim barber shops for crying out loud haha. Must we force our differences on each other?

When I began this post, I asked the question, are Christians or could Christians be discriminated against in the western world?  The reason I said "I don't know," is because I don't want to comment on specific cases, because my view of such cases would be limited, but I do hope that I've offered food for thought in terms of a larger cultural reality, that I believe is quite capable of biasing our courts and public square. But may I repeat, I'm not interested in winning a battle here. I'm trying to build bridges. There are reasons why people are angry with the abuses of religion. I understand that. There are also reasons why gay people feel like Christians are against them. I understand that too. I would hope that in time some of these battles will get sorted and we can begin to respect each others differences, and give each other room to breathe. If anyone cares to respond, I wonder if the gay community would begin to respect the boundaries of religious institutions, if they were given the same respect for their freedom of conscience, to say this is who I am, in much the same way that religious communities in the western world have learned to respect each others' space over the years. 

A final thought that I would like to leave you with. A number of years ago I remember having a discussion with a dear friend of mine who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was struggling to sort through all of this and my dear friend began very calmly and very gently to talk about the pendulum, and how we don't want to see the pendulum swing too far in either direction. It's a delicate balance he reminded me, and I fear that in righting the wrongs of history, that we may be going in the direction of creating new victims. All I ask, is that rather than assume that some groups in society could not possibly be victimized, that we stop the speeding car as it's turning down the one way street. Pop the trunk of assumption wide enough to see through  the debris, just to be sure that the whining we think we're hearing from a spoiled kid in the backseat isn't the sound of someone struggling and screaming, bound and gagged, while slowly being suffocated in the trunk.

thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey


 “Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen."

(Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521)”

Bob Dylan: It's alright ma (I'm only bleeding)


Os Guinness on freedom of conscience:


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