Dear "Persecuted" American Christian:
Last week while doing some research for future blog posts, I noticed that many of you feel that you are persecuted for your faith. In this letter I thought I'd explore that belief, and write an open response to your perceived victimization at the hands of your alleged oppressors.
Image by loswl via FlickrIt's very true that your brothers and sisters in Christ who live and work overseas are often subject to real hardships for practicing their faith. Missionaries in North Korea and China face censure and death, Coptic Christians in Egypt are isolated and marginalized, Laotian church workers are regularly arrested, and so on. It should not be denied that religious persecution takes place, that it is devastating to the cause of international civil rights, and that it needs to be curtailed wherever possible. It should not be denied that Christians the world over have been the targets of violence, abuse, oppression, and discrimination. As a firm believer in human liberty and free religious expression, I stand with you in seeing such persecutions as the abhorrent practices they are, and in believing that they need to be halted and redressed.
I understand that many of you also believe that here in America, Christians face dire oppression as well. I can certainly recall my own days as a Christian, when I was taught that believers are beset on all sides by agents of Satan, who seeks to destroy our relationship with Christ wherever he can, using whatever agency he can. Like many of you, I believed that my right to worship was being restricted more and more, and that Christianity was under attack from a sexualized media, increasingly secular education, and a hostile political environment. The Bible told me that I would be persecuted and insulted for my faith, and like many of you, I saw such persecution quite easily.
But was I really being persecuted? Are you? Is there really a systematic, widespread oppression of Christianity permeating American society?
No. There isn't.
Christianity is the dominant religion in America. Most Americans are Christians of one stripe or another. Oh, plenty of you complain about atheists picking on you with our books and our blogs and our criticisms of your belief. Plenty of you cry foul when atheists make our presence known in some way or another, as if our mere existence is a threat to your religious freedom. Plenty of you whine that our assertion of our rights entails a violation of your own. Plenty of you believe that there's a widespread War on Christianity, that enemies such as the "liberal media" or secularization of public schools or the division of church and state are destroying your perceived right to impose your religious morality on the rest of us.
But the real truth is: when you claim that America is a Christian nation, you're right.
I don't mean to say that America is a Christian theocracy, though some of you would like it to become one. What I mean is: Christianity is the dominant religion in America. Most Americans are Christians of one stripe or another. The Founding Fathers were affiliated with Christian congregations, and sought to create a secular government that nonetheless accommodates religious freedom. You're everywhere. Your churches count as non-profit organizations and are exempt from paying income taxes, and you are allowed to educate your children at home or send them to a private Christian school if you wish.
You are not arrested simply for being Christian. You are not fined for it. You are not put to death for it. Your houses are not raided in search of Bibles or Christian propaganda. You are not barred from marrying, owning property, or running for public office because you're Christian. You are not detained and beaten by police because you're Christian. Your women are not systematically raped for being Christian. You are not barred from receiving an education because you are Christian.
You can broadcast your beliefs via any media you like: radio, television, internet, or satellite. You can publish religious books, blogs, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, broadsheets, or posters. You can release Christian albums and play Christian music on the airwaves, on your very own channel if you like. You can take out ads or purchase billboard space in any major city to advertise whatever religious message you like. You can show up at women's health clinics with graphic images of bloodied fetuses smeared across sandwich boards and protest signs and scream whatever insults you like at the women seeking treatment there.
There are churches on every corner. There are Christian businesses listed openly in the Yellow Pages. You are allowed to pray, preach, or proselytize on any street corner you like. You can read your Bible openly, in public, at school, and sometimes at work. You are allowed to form private Christian clubs which exclude anyone you wish. You've managed to influence science education, sex ed, and medical research by electing officials that will use federal dollars and government oversight to shape public policy as you see fit. You've hijacked an entire major political party, turning its agenda to your own ends.
Under certain circumstances, you are even allowed to use your right to free religious expression as an excuse to discriminate against groups you don't like. You can bar women from serving in positions of authority in your churches if you want to, something that would never fly in either the corporate or government world. You can deny same-sex couples the right to marry, not only by citing your right to be selective about who your church will or won't marry, but also by banding together and contributing millions of dollars to political campaigns to make same-sex marriage illegal. You can deny someone a job in your church or religious organization because they're the wrong religion.
You put god on American money and into the Pledge of Allegiance. You can open sessions of public legislative bodies from Congress to town council meetings with a prayer, and if anyone other than a Christian says the prayer, some of you are rude enough to walk out or boo in protest - and it won't get you impeached. (In some localities, it'd even get you re-elected.) Every President has been a Christian of some sort. Christian displays are allowed in and on government property in many places, despite your belief to the contrary.
Moreover, you can freely insult and abuse atheists for our lack of belief without anybody batting an eye about it. You can convince the courts to deny us custody of our children just because we're atheists. You can force atheists in the military to attend religious services whether we want to or not. You can spread lies about who we are and what we believe, calling us immoral or un-American or questioning whether we're fit to hold public office.
If there's any widespread religious persecution going on in America, then Christians, you aren't the target of it. You are pampered, protected and supported by a nation that considers you the religious standard to which the rest of us must conform. You hold a position of power and privilege, not one of downtrodden disadvantage. Your noise is not the justly outraged cry of an oppressed minority, but the petulant whine of a spoiled child who suddenly finds that he has to share the playground with other kids too.
No no, dear American Christians, on this soil, in this land, you are not victims of persecution. The presence of atheists might make you uncomfortable, you might not like some of the more sordid parts of American morality, or you might not get to legislate that everyone else should live according to your beliefs, but such things do not constitute persecution. You inflict all sorts of indignities on nonbelievers, but you yourselves are only victims of your own persecution complex.
So I have just one question for you: what the fuck are you whining about?