The bombings in Sri Lankan churches that killed over 300 people, claimed by ISIS and said to intentionally target Christians in response to mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, bring a moment’s attention to a horrifying underlying trend. The persecution of Christians around the world is at an all-time high. According to Open Doors USA, a watchdog group:
- 1 in 9 Christians worldwide experience high levels of persecution today
- 345 Christians are killed each month for faith-related reasons
- Christian women generally face the worst of it
- China and India, the two most populous nations in the world, have bad records for human rights violations against Christians
- Reported incidents of the persecution of Christians in the first half of 2019 are already higher than they were in 2018
The Wall Street Journal reports an exodus of Christians out of Egypt, as Muslim persecution of this minority grows, and the Christian population of Egypt in the last hundred years has shrunk from 15% to 9%.
Why the increase is a fair question. Surely it doesn’t have to rise. One would hope that as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, all forms of persecution would wane. An increases worldwide speaks of a trend, and trends have causes.
I have a suggestion.
The world of philosophy and its ideas are hotly contested in the University. Some people think of it as nothing more than intellectual banter, but history says otherwise. Ideas propagate themselves from the University and through a culture, and ideas lead to actions, belief spawns behavior. Marx’s ideas about the oppression of workers in the wake of the Industrial Revolution led to the birth of new political regimes and the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the hands of tyrants. What started as philosophy made its way to warfare. Likewise, Darwin’s concept of the survival of the fittest profoundly influenced Frederick Nietzsche, who chided Christianity for protecting the weak. The weak should be put aside, he said. Only power and genius should be allowed to thrive. Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth, took over his estate as he fell to mental illness, and she promoted his works. As Nietzsche’s praise of power was taught in the German universities, the Nazis would take it on wholesale as an ideology. Nietzsche’s work was so influential on the Nazi regime that Hitler attended Elizabeth’s funeral. They agreed, the weak should be put aside. There are dozens of other examples of how ivory tower ideas later carry worldwide influence.
Now, what have philosophers and academicians been saying about Christianity recently?
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a group of boisterous and condescending intellectuals began propagating atheist literature in the public sphere. They had absolutely no new ideas to promote – most of their work was panned by their peers. What was new was the absolute ire with which they approached their subject. There has rarely been such a concerted mockery of religious people as this circle put together.
Richard Dawkins, an Oxford professor, has been perhaps the most sardonic. He refers to the God of the Bible as “the most malevolent bully in all of fiction” and he calls religion “a kind of mental illness.” He says God is “about as likely as the tooth fairy.” Anyone who has been to a secular American university knows that these types of taunt are taken up wholesale by the average sophomore, and Christian students are often mocked into a defensive silence.
It’s been over 12 years since Dawkins began his public attack on religion. It’s been reported that his book has sold over 3 million copies, relatively small for the planet’s population. However, the unofficial Arabic pdf of the book has been downloaded 13 million times. (Arabic is the language of the Quran.)
Now, one could suggest that the book’s popularity in Arabic comes from a number of different impulses – curious, defensive, etc. – none of which have to do with the persecution of Christians. But I want to suggest that there is a growing side effect of the treatment of Christianity in the American University. As the American culture becomes visibly less supportive of its religious bodies, those who see Christianity as a rival become all the more empowered to act out against it. If Christianity is ridiculed in America, it’s unlikely that the financial strength of America’s institutions is likely to be leveraged to make a difference in its defense overseas. Furthermore, according to the Associated Press, church membership in America had dropped over the last two decades from 70% to around 50%. There are simply fewer Christians pleading and speaking out for their brothers and sisters who are minority groups elsewhere in the world. Here, Christianity remains an open target of public ridicule in a way that other religions are exempt from.
If the public voices of the University consider Christianity a fair and easy target for mockery (and no, they don’t give equal time to insulting Islam and Judaism), it’s easy to see that those will be propagated through the culture and ultimately be expressed in the form of action, specifically, action against Christians. A dozen years of vicious attacks on Christianity may be paying off in the form of growing persecution.
Given its general uselessness as a contribution to intellectual exploration and inquiry, it might be fair to ask whether the open mockery of Christianity coming from public intellectuals ought not to be considered hate speech. That seems the most apt description.