I’ve often commented that it’s not surprising that so many Christians manage to find persecution under every bed and in every closet, since the core event in the history of the religion is an act of martyrdom. There is more to that, of course. Jesus, after all, explicitly warned his followers that they would be persecuted, and further that this is something they should embrace. From the sermon on the mount:
Blessed are those who’re persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.
This provides fertile ground for a persecution complex, a reason for Christians to seek out examples of persecution (though, to be fair, the habit of inventing and exaggerating persecution is limited to a certain subset of Christians). And in some places at some times, that persecution was quite real. The astonishing thing today is that they manage to convince themselves they’re being persecuted even while controlling virtually every institution in our society.
Elizabeth Castelli, Professor of Religion at Barnard College at Columbia University, has a very long essay looking at the historical roots of Christian persecution, both real and imagined. Here’s the final paragraph of her essay:
As the battle over “true victimhood” (Cole) continues to be waged, the emergence of Christians as the singular exemplars of innocent victims in the “war on Christians” presents a complicated new chapter in the ongoing debates within American society about identity and rights, injustice and its redress, and the very foundations of democracy and its reach. Finally, the “war on Christians” generates ever more varieties of Christian militarism, as Battle Cry and other examples show. As resentments and self-diagnosed feelings of moral injury rise and as the language of liberation and rights loses its anchoring in the historical narratives of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, what political theorist William Connolly has dubbed “the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine” takes over (869), and we are left with the Christian persecution complex — a discursive entity impervious to critique, self-generating and self-sustaining.
It’s a fascinating essay to read all the way through.