The Christian Mind: Persecution

You will be hated by everyone because of me . . . in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. (Matthew 10, John 16)

In beginning our discussion on the Christian Mind, I think this is a good place to start. The reason is that we live in a time when the distinction between what is true and what is socially acceptable is blurred. The line of argument that dominates much of the discussion around today’s issues goes something like this: “X is true. And if you think otherwise, you are stupid/intolerant/deplorable/a bigot/evil.”

Which is all fine and well, since from the perspective of human history, those who have stood for truth have often been hated for it. Certainly this is true for Christians, but it is also true for many intellectuals, philosophers, scientists and visionaries throughout history who have been persecuted for their beliefs. One could almost say that to embrace the truth is to be persecuted for it.

From the perspective of human history, those who have stood for truth have been hated for it. One could almost say to embrace the truth is to be persecuted for it.

The difficulty for many of us, however, is we have enjoyed a society for so long that has reflected Christian values, we have become a bit disoriented now this is no longer the case.

We have been surprised, for example, by voices in our society from a place of influence denouncing beliefs we hold sacred as either idiotic or morally reprehensible. Even worse, we have assumed that the level of moral outrage must be an indicator of the untruthfulness of our beliefs. In short, we have assumed that if we are hated, we must be wrong.

But in the context of persecution, moral outrage is always the form hate takes. Under the Roman Empire, Christians were seen as subversive to the Roman way of life and ultimately as obstacles to Rome’s progress and prosperity. They were not just hated; their beliefs were considered morally reprehensible.

We have mistakenly assumed the level of moral outrage against the beliefs we hold sacred are an indicator for the untruthfulness of those beliefs. But moral outrage is always the form hate takes.

And so it has been throughout history. Whether we look at Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years’ War, Jews during Nazism, Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement, or Jesus Himself, we do not find men and woman who were regarded as virtuous but hated anyway: We find instead men and women whose beliefs were considered so morally reprehensible as to be deserving of death.

The point, here, is that what you believe to be true can neither be confirmed nor denied on the basis of moral outrage. If what you believe to be true is considered by the loudest, most influential voices in society to be ridiculous, backward, unacceptable and even hateful, chances are you are onto something.

Of course, this does not mean every morally repugnant thing is true. Neo-Nazism is not true just because we hate it. But part of the pattern of persecution is to conflate. It is to combine whatever is true, noble, right and pure with what is self-evidently repugnant. Christians were accused of cannibalism and even incest during the Roman empire. In our day, Christians who hold to traditional marriage are accused of bigotry.

Of course bigotry, cannibalism and incest are morally repugnant. But believing in the sacrament of communion, calling one another brother and sister, and believing God has limited sexual expression to the confines of marriage between a man and a woman are not. They are simply beliefs and practices which are different than what others hold.

Granted, they may be beliefs that others strongly disagree with, but that does not make them equal to bigotry. According to Merriam-Webster, bigotry is “treating the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.” Having an opinion or belief, on the other hand, is not.

Now if one uses their belief to oppress any group — religious, ethnic, or otherwise — that is bigotry. Bigotry exists not where ideology exists, but where treating any group based on race, ethnicity, religious affiliation or ideology with hate and intolerance exists.

Bigotry exists not where ideology exists but where treating any group based on race ethnicity, religious affiliation or ideology with hate and intolerance exists.

We must therefore change not how we pursue truth but how we see truth in modern society. We must liberate ourselves from the narrow-minded view of our day and adopt a historical view. We must view truth as the thing which the pure in heart have always sought but society most often denounces. Consider this returning to our Christian roots.

And such a return is also, needless to say, a return to our rational roots. The rise of ideological intolerance on university campuses, in society at large, and even in academia has not gone unnoticed by many intellectuals in our day. This can only serve to undermine the pursuit of all scientific and academic inquiry — that is, the pursuit of truth in the broadest sense.

If Christianity is true, it is eternally true. Statistically speaking, it will always be at odds with whatever society holds to be true — or what is just or acceptable or even fashionable — in any generation. And the gap between it and whatever any generation deems true or just or acceptable will not be the extent to which Christianity is irrelevant but rather the extent to which humanity has strayed from its course.

If Christianity is true, then the gap between it and what any generation holds to be true and just and acceptable does not define the extent to which Christianity is irrelevant but the extent to which humanity has strayed from its course.

Further, if Christianity is true, we can also be sure that what is true will, with few exceptions, be hated just as much as it is loved. And to be hated is to be blessed:

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. (Matthew 5)

From this perspective, then, let’s begin our investigation of the Christian faith.

Photo by Torsten Dederichs on Unsplash

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