Why Not Feed Them to the Lions?
In recent weeks and months, there has been increasing evidence in North America of what can only be called persecution of Christians. There isn't much of it in Canada yet, but in the United States it is happening with alarming frequency.
No, I haven't heard of anyone imprisoned for their faith, or stoned to death in the centre of town. That sort of thing is more likely to happen in Saudi Arabia or Iran and in other predominantly Muslim, Arab counties.
North American persecution is at an early stage. That it is happening at all, given the history of relative freedom in North America, is reason for concern. What is happening, specifically? Well, for instance, a teacher was fired for wearing a cross on a necklace while in her classroom. Nativity displays that had graced town squares and other public places for decades, during the Christmas season, were suddenly prohibited. Students wanting to hold prayer meetings during school hours, found themselves barred from the rooms that had been used for years for that very same purpose. Explanations given are that Christian displays will offend those of other religions (or no religion at all) or that allowing Christians to gather in a school somehow amounts to the appearance of official sanction. Tirades abound in the media about the 'agenda' of the 'religious right' and the subtext hints darkly of intolerance and worse by those who call themselves Christians.
What in the world is going on? More importantly, why should we care?
For context, let's start by examining my own personal history.
I grew up in a Christian home, specifically the Pentecostal denomination. Pentecostals believe that anyone wanting to gain entrance to Heaven must accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour and thereby become ‘born again.’ Pentecostals, Baptists and a few other denominations are considered by many as Christian ‘fundamentalists’ or the ‘religious right.’ Those are the more polite of many appellations I've seen or heard. I won’t repeat the impolite epithets here. Given what has happened since September 11, 2001, one would think that Islam might be the religion under attack and that Muslims would be the ones under scrutiny. After all, virtually every terrorist attack in recent memory has been at the hands of Muslims. Instead, Christians of every stripe, including even non evangelical denominations, are under attack. So we have the truly bizarre situation where Islam is presented as a ‘religion of peace’ and Christians are accused of religious imperialism and worse. Much worse.
Why are Christians under attack? Part of the reason is the desire of many decision makers to placate various activist groups. Many politicians, bureaucrats, academics and their hangers-on and apologists are appeasers. Their desire to be perceived as progressive makes them line up behind whichever group happens to be making the most outrageous claims of being victims of discrimination or abuse. While there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to stamp out discrimination, the zeal to right various wrongs goes astray when some people purport to know what is right for everyone else and then set about creating policy or rules to enforce their own particular prejudices. Yes, Zachary, you read that correctly... I did say prejudices.
Dictionary definitions of 'prejudice' simply point out that the word means 'holding preconceived ideas.' The definitions do not state that the ideas in question have to be the product of reasoned analysis. They are simply notions that seem 'right' to some but in all probability appear 'wrong' to others. Racial discrimination is a prime example. Gender discrimination is another. And (gasp) religious discrimination is yet another. There are still those who believe that blacks and/or women are inferior. Thankfully, nobody I know has their head that far up their rectum.
So, if it is wrong to discriminate against blacks and women, why is it fair game to discriminate against Christians?
Although I had extensive experience with Christianity as a child, I rarely go to church anymore. I realized, at about age eleven, that the Bible and the teachings of our church created more questions for me than answers. Many things that were taught to us in Sunday school made little or no sense to me. We learned about a good and just God, but I had only to consider the history of my own family to see many examples of mayhem and misery. Why would God allow war, intolerance, disease? Why were watching movies and going to dances sinful? Why would having an alcoholic drink or taking a puff on a cigarette buy you a one-way ticket to hell? Why would girls wearing slacks, makeup or jewellery be condemned to perdition? The churches have all lightened up a lot since I was a kid in the 1950s, but that is the way it was then.
Our church was a member of the German Branch of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. At that time, all services were held in German. Tuesday nights, I attended choir practice. Wednesday nights were for prayer meetings. On Saturday nights, our Youth Group met. Sundays meant Sunday School at 10:00AM, then church service with the adults from 11:00AM until well after 12:00 noon. Evenings, services lasted from 7:00PM until about 9:00PM. Until I was old enough to refuse, I was in church for what often seemed to be every waking moment.
Every summer, our family spent a week at Bethel Church Camp, near Port Glasgow, Ontario, on Lake Erie. Afternoons, we had a few hours to play or go to the beach. The rest of the time we were in church services. Mornings meant special services for kids, followed by regular services until noon. At 7:00PM, there was an outdoor service for an hour or so, then we adjourned to the ‘Tabernacle’ building where things went into hyper-drive. Sometimes, it would be after 11:00PM before we finally left. There was singing of hymns. There were special presentations by solo singers or musicians. There was preaching. So much preaching. Then, finally, there was an altar call. Sinners (everyone was a sinner) were invited to go to the front of the church and accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour.
Are you exhausted just reading about this? Imagine how I felt.
While sitting on those hardwood pews, I was quite inventive in finding ways to keep myself awake. I would cross my legs in ways that would cut blood circulation and cause them to fall asleep. When one or both was completely numb, I would uncross them and as the blood rushed back into my limbs, the pain would keep me alert. I practiced holding my breath, following the sweep of the second hand on the German Junghans watch I got as a gift from my parents. I daydreamed. In my reverie, I travelled the globe, invented things, even had romantic fantasies. I survived.
Am I bitter about all this? Do I hate my parents? No. Although I was bored stiff and often wanted to run screaming from the building, I didn’t want to hurt my Mom and Dad. I understood that there was something very fundamental about their desire to see me in church and to assimilate and adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Imagine any fundamentalist Christian parents. Like any other mother and father, absent any prohibiting pathology, they love their kids. They know, because the Bible and the minister of their local church have told them so, that if their children aren’t ‘saved,’ or ‘born again,’ they will go to hell and be doomed to an eternity of torture. So what do mom and dad do? What any loving parent with those convictions might be expected to do. They make their kids go to church. They press them to answer altar calls and to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. The strength of this conviction may not be easily understood by those with no direct experience with these ‘fire and brimstone’ churches, but it should not be underestimated. Nor should it be ridiculed. Would any parent, given an absolute conviction that their son would be run over by a truck if he ventured outside on any Friday the 13th, allow him to leave the house on that day? Not likely. That comparison is not an oversimplification.
Many people mock fundamental Christians. At the same time, they themselves are faithful (read rabid) communists, liberals or even Objectivists. To them, Karl Marx or Bill Clinton or Ayn Rand become demigods. Every utterance is accepted as gospel. Critical, independent thought vanishes. So, tell me, how is this different from the way Christians act? Human beings, seem to me to have an inexplicable compulsion to be led around by the nose.
In Roman times, so the story goes, Christians were forced to fight lions in public amphitheatres and were often fated to become lunch or dinner for the hungry cats. Let’s hope that those who are anti-Christian in our time, won’t revert to Roman ways and feed today’s Christians to the lions or find some other way to persecute them. The Pilgrims and others came to North America to escape religious persecution in Europe. They made enormous sacrifices for their faith and the freedom that they wished for their children and grandchildren. Look around our globe. Those societies built on Judaeo Christian values are the most free, most tolerant, most prosperous. Everyone wants to live there. Look at other societies. Everyone there wants to leave. Oversimplification? Open all the borders and find out.
What’s the bottom line? Christians, fundamentalist or otherwise, have the right to believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, just as others have the right to worship Allah, Buddha, Krishna or Beelzebub. Each of us has the fundamental right to be left alone, to believe what we wish, to worship where we wish (or not at all) and to go about our lives peacefully. Who cares what others do, as long as there is no threat to our lives and liberty? Live and let live.
Your Mom and I, Zachary, actually took you to church for a few months, several years ago. Remember that? We have also talked to you about the different religions and about Atheism. We want you to be exposed to different ways of life, different points of view, different religions, so that you can make up your own mind about the path you wish to follow in your own life. Whatever you decide, it will be an informed, carefully considered choice and we will support you. That is the way it should be.
I want you, as you grow up, to be tolerant of others, their customs, their beliefs, their religious convictions. If you are going to rail and crusade against anything, pick intolerance and ignorance. You will have your work cut out for you.