When a Majority Feels Persecuted
Peter A. Taylor
I would rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.
-- William F. Buckley
How is it possible for Christians, who are a majority of the US population, to feel that their religion is being persecuted?
1. Christianity is not really a single religion but a family of related religions. There are many denominations, whose members may or may not regard members of other denominations as "real" Christians, and who may or may not cooperate politically. People who call themselves "Christian" may be in a majority, but extremists like the Moral Majority (MM) are a minority. Many nominal Christians may be more properly described as apathetic agnostics who are merely trying to avoid an argument. Other Christians are wildly heretical. Many people, perhaps a majority, take a "Chinese menu" approach to religion, being "Christian" in terms of a selected subset of the Bible's moral teachings, but not the cosmology, or vice versa. Wildly heterodox interpretations of the same Biblical passages are available to choose from.
2. Many Christians, particularly of the MM variety, are quite simply paranoid. In many cases, they are projecting their own behavior onto others.
3. In so far as Christians do see themselves as a majority, they often feel cheated by judicial activism that is openly undemocratic and Constitutionally often complete nonsense. Roe v. Wade is an obvious example.
4. Traditional Christianity, which is Constitutionally disestablished, has gotten cross-wise with other belief systems, such as the modern "hard" sciences of geology, biology, physics, and astronomy, which are (quite properly) supported by the state and which (quite properly) use the state's education aparatus to spread these beliefs to the Christians' children. The Christians who feel persecuted over this are completely wrong on the scientific technicalities and they are wrong in wanting scientific doctrines to be regarded as constitutionally disestablished religious doctrines, but they are correct in thinking that their tax money is being used by the state to forcibly indoctrinate their children with ideas that conflict with their religious doctrines. I find this sad, and it brings up the legally troubling issue of what is and is not "religion," but the problem seems unavoidable.
5. Christianity has also gotten cross-wise with "soft" science and non-science systems of belief and opinion such as much of sociology, anthropology, philosophy, history, political science, the humanities, and the arts. This is really a much more serious problem than getting cross-wise with the hard sciences. Christians can afford to lose a few debating points where astronomy is concerned, but moral teachings are core values, and the psychological importance of being able to claim a position of moral leadership is enormous.
It's easy to frame this conflict in terms of religious questions: "Why is there evil in the world?" and "What do we do about it?" A seldom articulated but perhaps equally important question is "Whom may I use as a scapegoat?" People who prefer secular language may wish to avoid the words, "evil" and "scapegoat," but the same questions arise never the less. A typical Christian answer to the first question, misleadingly described in terms of "original sin," is that human nature in inherently flawed. Protestants in particular typically don't have much use for the concept of saints. Everyone is a sinner, without exception. The necessarily incomplete solutions to this problem are institutional checks and moral teachings that have been developed over two millenia. Philosophically, this is pretty much in line with Thomas Hobbes. Christians have a tendency to scapegoat Pagans and atheists, whose directly competing beliefs throw the Christians' moral leadership into question. They also tend to scapegoat homosexuals, for reasons which I don't really understand.
Arrayed against Christian moral leadership is a body of fashionable intellectual opinion that, within the field of sociology, seems to be roughly equivalent to the so-called "standard model" within physics. This "philosophical anthropology" is more closely aligned with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the US, it has become the dominant world view outside of Christianity, and to a considerable extent, within it. Rousseau often appears on the Christian "Chinese menu." The gist of this view is that people are naturally good, and that evil is the result of bad institutions such as capitalism and traditional Christianity. The solution is to destroy these institutions and rely on people's naturally good intuition and "scientific" analysis. The scapegoats, obviously, are traditional Christians and "capitalists" (including libertarians). Here again, moral teachings are core values, and being able to claim a position of moral leadership is just as psychologically important to journalism professors as it is to Christians.
Here the question of what is and is not a "religion" comes back with a vengeance. Is Progressivism a religion? It is popular in both Hollywood and academia, but the evidence to support its theses on the evils of traditional religion and private property is remarkable mainly for its irreproducability (see footnote). Here the Christians who feel persecuted are correct that their tax money is being used to support academic attacks against them, but they are also largely correct on the technicalities of human behavior, and they have a good case to argue that these opposing state-supported doctrines constitute a de-facto religion. Institutions such as the entertainment industry and the soft sciences, to the extent that they are not state supported, are still powerful and are still dominated by intellectual fashions that are hostile to Christianity.
See Laurence Iannaccone's website . In particular, see the papers