The great "persecution of Christians" myth.

Author:Boston, Rob
Position:Church & State
 
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Early in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Diocletian issued an edict barring Christians from meeting for worship. Christian scriptures were ordered destroyed, and all citizens of the empire were compelled to sacrifice to traditional Pagan gods. The penalty for refusing was death. Diocletian's actions are called the Great Persecution, and for a good reason: It was a real persecution.

Here's something that's not persecution: expecting a person who runs a for-profit business to serve all members of the public, including those who may be gay, atheist, or Muslim.

We hear the term "persecution" tossed around a lot these days. It's a serious word that shouldn't be so lightly thrown. Yet it happens, and the people doing the tossing are just about always right-wing, fundamentalist Christians. If they had any sense of their own history, they'd know better.

The latest spin on this long-running story comes from Rod Dreher, whose book, The Benedict Option, is just out. The book argues that a rising tide of secularism in the United States has created a climate hostile to traditional Christians. Dreher's answer is for Christians to turn inward and focus less on the outside world and more on their own communities.

In a sense, fundamentalist Christians are already doing this. They long ago created parallel structures--private fundamentalist academies to take the place of "godless" public schools, Christian rock instead of Satan-glorifying heavy metal, and Christian fiction to read in lieu of worldly secular novels (which often have--eek!--sex in them).

Dreher seems to be advocating for an additional step. The problem is, his entire premise rests on shaky ground. There simply is no great persecution of Christians in the United States--or even a not-so-great one--nor is any expected. If anything, President Donald J. Trump, a great hero to the religious right despite his lack of personal piety, is trying to hand them much of what they want.

Far from being persecuted, religious groups in the United States enjoy great privilege. A few years ago I wrote a book titled Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn't Give

You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do. In that book, I listed some of the privileges US religious groups get. Tax exemption is one example, with special laws making it next to impossible for the IRS to audit churches. Others are exemptions from lobbying disclosure laws, exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, exemptions from laws...

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