Posted by: Ken Brown | July 31, 2008

Persecuted on Every Side

Unlike the other reposts this week, the following has not appeared on this blog before. It is based on two posts from Signs of the Times:

In the aftermath of the PZ Myers debacle (which I promise not to post on again!) a fair bit of persecution rhetoric has floated around. Both sides seem rather quick to claim the status of victims of their overbearing ideological opponents. In fact, this is nothing new, as this has been a popular political game for years. For instance, back in 2006 Joe Carter wrote an interesting post about the Left’s fear of an American theocracy, arguing that it evidences a profound ignorance of the largely populist nature of evangelicalism [I should note that the formatting on Joe’s post slightly messed up; I couldn’t tell you why, but it makes it harder to read].

A number of his commenters responded that this phenomenon of claiming persecution (whether present or in the near future) is not limited to liberals, but appears just as often in conservative circles. As “ex-preacher” notes, for every secularist decrying “the coming theocracy,” there’s a conservative complaining about “the war on Christians”:

Each side is convinced that the other side is out to get them. There’s a strange paranoia among both leftists and rightists that their political/religious opponents are on the verge of coming to some type of absolute power and legislating the other side out of existence.

I think he’s exactly right, and unfortunately, this kind of thinking is self-reinforcing. Since almost any kind of victory or inflated rhetoric by the opposition can now be claimed as “persecution” and used to drum up support for a favored policy or organization, this victim mindset can easily outgrow the facts. What used to be taken as evidence that democracy is working—people disagreeing, voicing their views and voting with their consciences—can now be taken as evidence of a vast conspiracy to take over the culture. This, in turn, is used to justify one’s own inflated rhetoric and the cycle goes on.

The tactic might help draw attention or garner votes, but the result is always the same: Rather than helping to move everyone toward the middle and thus avoid the feared extremist takeover, this kind of rhetoric only furthers the division between those claiming persecution. Each side becomes more extreme and the chances of one group or the other’s fears being realized is increased rather than decreased.

There are, of course, laws that discriminate unfairly against one group or the other; there are “hate speech” regulations that are sometimes abused to restrict freedom of speech; there are also very different views about how this country should be run and there is a chance (however small) that either the extreme left or the extreme right could run away with enough elections to forever change the face of our nation. But there is no coming theocracy, there is no war on Christians. The only way there ever will be is if we insist on our present course of polarizing every debate.

For in point of fact, it is often our rhetoric itself that keeps us from working together. If more of us were willing to give up our victim mindset, Christians might just find that many secularists would be their allies on this matter. For though it is certainly true that left and right, Christian and secular (two very different distinctions) disagree on many fundamental issues, freedom of speech and religion are concerns shared by all. It is only our rhetoric that keeps us from working together. It is our claim to be persecuted that risks leading to the persecution we fear.


  1. Excellent pots, Ken. Thankyou.

  2. Gah! I mean post – excellent post. Although I’m sure your pots are very fine too. Er …

  3. Spot on! Something I have come to realise myself for a while now.

    I have a theory, and this is perhaps just a part of it, but I wonder if this is endemic of the Western World (particularly US and UK) approach to insurance and blame.

    We all know that America has a reputation for lawsuits, and the UK is quickly catching up with you guys.

    The best way to demonstrate this is a car crash. We are taught by our insurance companies not to admit fault, not even to apologise (as this can lead acceptance of fault in some cases), so we simply take down details then present our side of the story.

    A few people will be honest, but generally to my knowledge most people will write down their account from their perspective as the “victim” ie. “she came right out of nowhere”, “he didn’t indicate” etc… It’s then up to the insurance companies and courts to decide who was at fault or if it was partial blame.

    It seems taking the “victim” approach is a way to hold all your cards to your chest and protect your interests (even if you know inevitably you will be found at fault).

    Car insurance is just one aspect but I think this can applied in some measure to our culture as a whole… what do you think?

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