“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
There are unfortunately, some things in life you cannot un-see. The images engrave themselves in your mind and haunt you. One scene I came upon when ISIS was going full-steam in Syria was Christians nailed to real crosses and then left to suffer and die. The fanciful depictions of Jesus’ death in religious art have removed us from how ugly crucifixion really is. Being a Christian can exact a horrible price in parts of the world where Islam and communism reign. Despite this, Coptic Christians tattoo a cross on their wrists. They are not afraid to be identified with Christ despite that the mark of a Cross has made them a target.
Contrast this what we most often see in the West - a version that has been called, Christianity without tears. On TV, flashy preachers wearing Rollex watches and million dollar smiles persuade you that faith is a success system that God will accord without personal cost. Sociologist Christian Smith has called this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the kind of religion you can find in the self help section and at speaking rallies. This brand of Christianity allows you to feel good about yourself. It morphs easily to the moment, with little backbone and no grounding in history. It requires little and can be discarded at whim.
We are entering an age of identity politics the West has not known since the enlightenment. During the reign of Liberal democracy, individuals have charted their own course based on the triumph of rationality, and an assumption that every human soul is unique. Politics and the popular zeitgeist have buttressed this assumption. We ignore those parts of the world which look to their group for identity. To be lumped in with a group, is something we in the west are not used to - yet. This is all about to change. Be prepared to be classified according to your ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. The more points you score with certain group markers, the higher your status will be. Newsflash - your individuality no longer matters.
2020 was quite a year. As the National Post news put it in an op ed, “2020 was the year identity politics prevailed — just not for all identities.” New winners and losers were created. Belonging to certain groups raised your stock, and in the same way, held others’ feet to the fire. One identity that has suffered, is that of Christians. Unless your religion is “woke”, you will be reviled. The Christian Bible has been called hate literature, replaced by virtue markers determined by progressive politics. To be woke has now taken on the fervour of religious belief. “…if you believe that your ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but are evil, you have ceased to do politics and begun to do religion.” Joseph Bottum
We are now seeing what Rod Dreher has called soft totalitarianism. You may not get killed for your beliefs, but you will be punished just the same, compelled to conform in more subtle and intrusive ways via those giants who control information. Consider this notice which lately appeared on the Catholic World Report website.
“A few weeks ago, we told you how Twitter locked Catholic World Report out of its account for nearly a week, due to an unspecified violation of Twitter’s rules against “hateful conduct.” Despite our repeated requests, we were never given an explanation of what was deemed “hateful” about the offending tweet. After we went public about Twitter’s action against us, our account was reinstated, just as mysteriously as it was locked in the first place. We were never contacted by Twitter about their apparent reversal, or given any kind of explanation for their decision.”
This kind of censorship is chilling. For anyone keeping score, the censorship has been in one direction only - conservative voices have been silenced on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, often in league with governments who want to squash any bad press. Christians have been directly cited as part of “the problem”. In Canada, our own Prime Minister has told Canadian Baptist Minister Steve Long, that “evangelical Christians are the worst part of Canadian society.” In case anyone doubts his intentions, coercion has been through access to government favour. Your summer program will be funded if you sign on to a statement of belief that ties with the government’s progressive agenda. Otherwise you will be shut out of the party.
This is all very troubling. I have always considered it a virtue to speak your mind, especially if you are championing the truth. It has become clear that this is now a dangerous assumption. My own kids are terrified of espousing any belief that has been proscribed by the herd. They must mirror the group or be punished, no matter what they may believe privately. They have told me that to step out of line will render you unable to work and unable to participate in polite society. People will excoriate you online, considering it a virtue, and your family will pay a price.
This has happened even to people you might consider to be progressives. Harry Potter author J. K. Rollings has lately been the recipient of death threats when she asserted that sex is determined by biology. She was given the label of TERF (Trans-exclusionary-radical-feminist) and the online onslaught began. The level of hate she has suffered has been unprecedented, and remained notably uncensored by Twitter. We are fast being encouraged to violence if the riots of last year are a sign of things to come. It gives chilling currency to what Jesus stated in the book of John. “The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God” (John 16:2)
It has become clear that this rule of the mob is an assault on truth. There are things you are not allowed to say out loud. Truth version 1.0 must be checked at the gate. You will be given your belief system in lockstep with the group, and punished if you dissent. Christians had better be ready for the ride. Christian identity in history has usually come with a cost. It is not the lightweight shopping list we have enjoyed until late. The costs for following Christ are going to catch up with believers in the West.
Saint Paul had no illusions that his beliefs were counter-culture, and that there was a price to be paid. He ended his letter to the Galations chapter six, with this remark. “Let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.(Galatians 6:17)” He was no stranger to suffering when he went against the current of his times. In second Corinthians he says, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.(2 Corinthians 11:24-27)”
That’s quite a resume. In the end, he understood something. He was a man indelibly marked by his experience on the road to Damascus. “For (I) died, and (my) life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)” This is the only way to make sense of what Paul claims as a persecuted Christian. “We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
Word up, Christians. We are now “Contra Mundum”, against the world. This season of Lent, we have new things to consider, and they are serious. I know we are living under the shadow of a worldwide pandemic... but let it be noted that along with freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of association are being pushed into a corner. During the pandemic, Christianity has had to survive behind closed doors. Be advised. The worldwide Church is being pruned. Christianity is quick becoming a stance that can no longer go with the flow, and will come with a cost. It is of some comfort to remember the promise of Jesus. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)