A trending headline came up on my news feed the other day that read “80% of American Christians think they are persecuted.” Now I can’t find the original article, but I found this one from the Atlantic which was published in June of last year. That might make it old news to some, and the Atlantic article is nice because it really dives into the factors that contribute to this finding. But for myself, I am not at all surprised to find out about this. Now the argument one would consider making is that White Christians are probably the LEAST persecuted demographic in the United States. White Christians, evangelical Christians especially, tend to be seen as wielding immense political power that protects them (us, I suppose) from suffering at the hands of things like institutional racism. However, it is my opinion that most American Christians do not actually participate in the Church, and as such, it is no surprise that many who identify as “Christian” also identify themselves as being persecuted.
Let me elaborate.
Last week I wrote about the New Imperial Cult. I believe that the perception of persecution and the influence of the New Imperial Cult are linked.
The Atlantic article which I linked to at the beginning of this article is much more charitable than I am in my reading of the survey results which returned this 80% number. The Atlantic points to all the things that pollsters and analysts have been pointing to that ushered in the current political temperament such as drastic demographic and economic changes. The Atlantic suggests that all of these factors, none of which are deliberate persecution against Christians, nonetheless create an environment which those who live in it perceive as hostile to their way of life. Essentially “I can’t say who is persecuting me, but I am certainly being persecuted.”
I accept it as a possibility, but there is another possibility that should be considered: cognitive dissonance.
American Christianity, finding itself to be an imperial cult, also finds itself at odds with its historical identity: the Imperial Cult has traditionally been the key persecutor of the Christian faith. This creates cognitive dissonance which many choose to reconcile by latching on to any historical fact that can be seen as critical to the Christian identity. However, rather than latch on to the person of Jesus, because that would offend the Imperial institutions, adherents seem to have latched on to the history of “suffering for the Cross” ie persecution. This creates a shared narrative between the Imperial Cult and Christianity that reconciles the cognitive dissonance while maintaining the Imperial Heresy of the Cult (Jesus did say “blessed are those who suffer for my sake”).
I find this offensive for many reasons some of which point to my own short comings as a Christian. I do not think that I am generous enough. I do not think that I sufficiently serve in any capacity. I do not think that I bless the poor as I should nor that I stand out as any particular kind of paragon. I do not think that I love my enemies or the common enemy of my countrymen (whoever that may be) as well as I could. All of these things are the kinds of activities that would have alerted authorities to my faith and caused me to be persecuted. And even if I did all of this, and I did it to the fullest of my ability, if I did beyond my fullest ability and recruited ten thousand people to help me – under what law could the US government arrest me?