Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Blessed Are

It seems to have become fashionable to complain about American Christians having adopted a persecution complex. There's an article( over at Slate all about it. And I get it, it's really annoying when people who are legally members of a protected class of American citizens, and one that is an overwhelming majority, to boot, jump on the bandwagon on wailing about how everyone is out to get them. I'll admit that I'm not above snarking about it and rolling my eyes myself. But this is one of those things that should come as a surprise to precisely no-one with a working understanding of Christianity.

My freshman year in college was an introduction to the idea that being African-American could be considered something that more than skin deep, and there was a Right way, and a Wrong way to go about it. Being myself, I learned was the Wrong way. Having grown up in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood, I had the language and mannerisms of a White suburbanite. I also got along fairly well with many White people - and that was my real failing. To the degree that "Blackness" was often seen as being aggressively Not White, being the target of a certain amount of everyday racism became proof that one was being Black the Right way. To me, being "properly Black" often seemed a lot like picking unnecessary fights with people. But what did I know?

For me, Christian complaints about being society's new whipping boys fall into the same mold.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:10-12

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
Luke 6:22-23

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Luke 6:26
Once one assumes a correlation between the opprobrium and condemnation of "people" and being righteous, akin to the prophets and due heavenly rewards, it becomes understandable how that same persecution becomes a positive. Because the more people are against you, the more likely you are to be doing it right. And, as Luke points out, vice versa, so if the broader society openly welcomes you then that would be just as much evidence that you're doing it wrong.

From the outside, of course, it does look ludicrous. People in the United States overwhelmingly identify as Christian. The largest non-Christian religions in the country only poll in single digit percentages. But from the inside, it's often a different story. In my own experience, many Christians, especially evangelicals, are aggressive gatekeepers of the faith, being keen to lock out anyone who fails to live up to this or that standard. And once the pruning is finished, one is left with a much smaller group, one small enough that it could make sense to see them as beset on all sides by a society threatened by their righteousness.

Of course, Christians and African-Americans aren't the only groups that fall into this sort of thinking. Conspiracy theorists are notorious for it. The idea that opposition is evidence of correctness is an old one, and unlikely to go anywhere soon. And this isn't an accusation of cynicism - rather, it's noting a logical progression. So I'm not sure that it does a lot of good to be put out by it, especially when the act of being put out by it can, itself, contribute to it.

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