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Blessed are those with a persecution complex?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5: 10-12)

These, we are told, were the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and persecution has been a hot topic for Christians ever since. True, they have dished out more than their fair share of the stuff to non-Christians (or ‘wrong’ Christians) over the centuries and have at times rivaled the most sadistic of Roman emperors in their dedication to inflicting agony on their hapless victims; true, too, that recent scholarship has cast doubt on the ferocity of the persecution faced by early Christians; but all the same, there is no doubt that persecution has been a horrible reality for some Christians throughout the last 2000 years.

Indeed, it still is. There are many parts of the world where to be a Christian is to take your life in your hands. Many Islamic nations, in particular, are not known for their tolerance towards other faiths. From Afghanistan to Yemen, Christians have been attacked, forcibly converted, banned from positions of power, or even murdered for their beliefs. And Islam is not the only culprit: Christians in India have experienced violence at the hands of Hindu extremists, while in Communist China imprisonment awaits Christians attending non-approved churches.

Since I don’t believe in a heaven where suffering will be rewarded, I see no silver lining in such atrocities. There is only this life, and if it is blighted by persecution on any grounds, religious or otherwise, that is a bad thing and should be opposed.

Still, Christians are taught that persecution is part of the package, practically a badge of honor. And that’s not easy to achieve in modern, democratic western societies which fully accept the universal human right of freedom of religion. In most such societies there is still widespread respect for religion, even if it is not widely believed in: some of the most strident opponents of ‘new atheism,’ for instance, are not Christians but what Dan Dennett calls ‘believers in belief.’ Difficult, in such circumstances, for a Christian to find herself facing anything deserving of the term ‘persecution.’

This does not, however, stop them trying.

Read on

TAGGED: RELIGION, SOCIETY


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