I first wrote on the topic of religious persecution over two years ago and since then things have only gotten worse. Clearly the situation in Iraq is awful. But here in the U.S. as well, the threats against religious liberty have continued.
Indeed, here in the States it is rare that a respected segment of American life would become vilified and hated overnight. The usual transformation from respect to vilification progresses in stages that grow in intensity. And thus the Catholic Church, once a respected aspect of American life (along with the Protestant denominations), has become increasingly marginalized and even hated by many. It may help us to review these stages of persecution since it would seem that things are going to get more difficult for the Church in the years ahead. Generally there are five basic stages of persecution.
By way of giving due credit, I want to say that these stages were introduced to me by Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace EWTN. She spoke at a fundraiser here in DC for WMET 1160 AM, our Catholic radio station in the Guadalupe Radio Network. She gave a wonderful talk and a summons to courage. Among the things she set forth was a sober vision of how we have arrived at this current place where the culture is increasingly hostile to Christians, and to Catholics in particular. The stages are from her talk; the commentary is my own.
Here, then, are the five stages:
I. Stereotyping the targeted group - To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number and generalize it to describe the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on the observation of a limited sample.
And thus as the 1960s and 1970s progressed, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as “Bible thumpers,” simpletons, haters of science, hypocrites, and as self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.
Catholics, in particular, were also accused of having neurotic guilt and a hatred of or aversion to sexuality. We were denounced as a sexist institution filled with clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals, or pedophiles. We were labeled an authoritarian institution stuck in the past, one with too many restrictive rules.
Basically, as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable—even tragic—group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the “shackles” of faith.
To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but those are the basic refrains. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.
II. Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct - As the stereotyping grew in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, and just plain mean and basically bad people.
The history of the Church is also described myopically as little more than a litany of bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades and inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story: that the Church founded universities and hospitals, was a patron of the arts, and preached a gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbaric times in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. The critics won’t hear any of that, or if they do, will give the credit to anyone or anything except the Church and the faith.
In writing this, I fully expect to get a bevy of comments saying, in effect, that this is exactly what we are. And not only will they feel justified in saying this, but even righteous, so ingrained has this vilifying become in the wider culture.
As with any large group, individual Christians and Catholics will manifest some negative traits, but stereotyping, vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of a few to be common to all is unjust.
Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.
III. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society - Having established the (false) premise that the Church and the faith are very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the critics proceed in the next stage to relegate the role of the Church to the margins of society.
To many in secularized culture, religion is seen as something that must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc. within the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.
In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly, or in any way bring his or her Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go; out with Christmas trees. Even the colors red and green during the “Holiday Season” are forbidden in many public schools!
Do not even think of mentioning Jesus or of publicly thanking him in your valedictory address; you could very well have a judge forbid you to do so under penalty of law. You may thank Madonna the singer, but not the Madonna.
The LGBT club is welcome to set up shop and pass out rainbow-colored condoms at the local high school, but Christians had better hit the road; no Bibles or pamphlets had better see the light of day anywhere in the school building … separation of Church and State, you know…
IV. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works - Can someone say HHS mandate?
But even prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our right to practice our faith openly. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.
Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information about or referrals for abortion and to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e., the abortifacient known as the morning-after pill). Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not place children with gay couples. In 2009, the State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization, and running of Catholic parishes. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they planned to mention God and/or Jesus in their addresses. (More details can be found HERE.)
Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them impose a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and it signals the beginning of the steady erosion of religious liberty.
Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct in their work to separate the practice of the faith from the public square.
V. Persecuting the targeted group outright - If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from facing heavy fines and/or incarceration.
Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.
In this country there are greater provisions for free speech, but as we have seen, there is a steady erosion of our religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are very familiar with having to spend long periods in court defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, and ultimately jail.
Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it looks like we’re pretty well set for stage five. You decide.
Maybe a heavy post requires a light video. Here, Paul and Silas land in jail. It’s so bad its good: