By Dr Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – email) | Dec 10 2021
Just by watching the news from the past week, you can see the rise in overt hostility towards Christianity. Consider these titles:
I’m sure you get the picture. You probably already knew him. But what are the underlying causes?
In some cases over the centuries, hostility to Christians arose out of popular loyalty to false gods or – as we know from the goldsmith riot in Ephesus recounted in Acts 19 – simply because of the financial benefits of promoting pagan worship. Most often, of course, the root cause of Christian persecution has been Christian witness to the moral life. This cause is strongly emphasized in secular societies, and there is an important sense in which all pagan societies have been deeply secular because they do not worship a God who deifies by grace and cares about our moral behavior.
Pagan religions focus on rituals meant to appease morally capricious gods. There is no question of becoming more like God. There is no emphasis on converting life. There is little to no interest in transformative ultimate bliss – nothing that goes beyond the vague myths of the afterlife. Christians are abhorred by pagans because they reject these “gods” as manifestations of the devil, and to pagans this disrespect seems likely to result in divine wrath, threatening security and prosperity here on earth. But above all, Christians are abhorred because they testify against immorality. Christians cannot avoid rejecting pagan ways of life, reminding their neighbors that this way of life is in many ways both naturally and supernaturally unworthy of their human nature.
While philosophical “religions” such as Confucianism and Buddhism, which are natural religions in that they are religions at all, may arouse little hostility towards Christianity, they may also arouse little interest in Christianity. this one. Hinduism is a strange case; I would classify it as an essentially pagan religion, filled with absurdly repulsive mythology, but it is still very widely adopted in the Indian subcontinent, so it is not surprising to see Hindus constantly attacking Christians. Islam, of course, is a special case. It contains elements borrowed from Judaism and Christianity (such as monotheism, a moral code, and a strong sense of the afterlife) and some elements clearly borrowed from paganism (such as sensual notions of bliss). Unfortunately, its warlike doctrines and hostility to Christianity find much support both in its founder and in the Qur’an.
But in today’s secular societies, it stands to reason that the most important source of hostility from other religions and ideological groups to Judaism and Christianity are found in the counter-testimony of the Judeo-Christian tradition against the immorality and / or the thirst for worldly superiority which characterizes the pagan and atheist conception of life. This hostility comes to a head when it is directed against the Catholic Church, which, even in its weakness, serves as a frustrating and enduring institutional witness to the truth about God and man. The one thing Christians have been almost universally denounced for is their refusal to place their highest priority on this world and the pleasures of this world. As a direct consequence, along with the Jews who came before them, they are blamed – they become the scapegoats – for any social, economic and political failure.
This scapegoat arises directly from the nature of human guilt. When you consider that Catholicism is the only one in the Judeo-Christian tradition to have an immense structure, with its own cohesive governance, and a clear history of witness that has shaped much of the world as we know it today, it is no wonder that contemporary men and women are driven to distraction and fury by contemporary Christian witness just as they seek to return to pagan ways of life. In other words, just like the Roman pagans of their day, modern laity constantly seek to eliminate the counter-testimony of Christianity, no matter what the cost. In this they are urged psychologically, without a possible doubt, by a blinding weight of guilt and denial.
Fairness demands that we recognize the Christian scandal as an incidental motive. Not only has the general Christian divide scandal dramatically reduced the effectiveness of Christian witnessing over the past five hundred years, there is no doubt that disgust with child sexual abuse has increased contempt for the Church and his clergy. In a sense, this is irrational, because the problem is not unique to the Church – and not even as pervasive in the Church as it is in society in general. But if anyone argues that the Church should stand at a higher standard, Catholics can hardly protest.
Yet it is not just a question of moral elevation. Any scandal provides additional reasons to diminish the Church and deprive the faithful of their ecclesiastical wealth, and thus further reduce the effectiveness of the Church’s counter-witness against modern pagan ways of life. As the Church cannot both be herself and avoid a continuing witness against the paganism that she finds all around her (and even among her own members), the Church always to be the scapegoat for those who despise it above all because they must, out of inner comfort, close their ears to moral commitments which go beyond the requirements of the general culture of which they are a part.
It should also come as no surprise that the Church is the most denounced of all institutions when it comes to condemning those of the past who did not already adhere to the most fashionable causes of today. For example, Catholic leaders, like almost everyone in the West, once had a different vision of how best to integrate Indigenous peoples into the new mainstream culture. In the very effort to alleviate the horrors of cultural displacement, from Saint Junipero Serra, the Church has sought to do its best to shelter and protect indigenous peoples from the contemptuous and brutal coercion of secular governments. Sometimes it hurt and sometimes it did. But a secular culture will always condemn the efforts of the Church, not only for its failures but for its successes in years past, as the cultural calculation continually changes.
It’s not always ridiculous, this criticism, but it often is, and often even devilish. Every change in public opinion is used to condemn the ministry of the Catholic Church – from the perspective of those who refuse the Church’s offer of spiritual and moral transformation. Accumulate very complex past decisions as soon as the feeling changes: This is how high morality is most readily grasped by those who would rather condemn the Church than recognize in themselves human error or deficiency.
Assault, political restrictions, destruction of property, exclusion from schools and universities – all of this is inevitable in cultures which have a vested and highly personal interest in silencing the Christian message. For regardless of all the faults of the Church and of those of its members, the most basic truth remains that “whoever does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be revealed” ( Jn 3:20). This alone is enough to explain the manifest hostility of any other religion, any ideology and any sinner who still tries to protect his vices. Or to quote in full:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to have the world saved by him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is already condemned, because he did not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is judgment, that light came into the world, and men preferred darkness to light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to light, so that it may be seen clearly that his deeds have been done in God. [Jn 3:16-21]
Problem in this world
Lately, I liked to quote John 16:33, where Our Lord said: “I have told you this, that you may have peace in me. In the world you have tribulations; but have good courage, I have conquered the world. One of the most amazing things about Christianity is that Christians so rarely persecute those of other religions, so rarely engage in collective violence against them, so rarely seek to deny them their rights, so rarely try to force them to accept Christ. For the Church, of course, a forced acceptance does not make sense, and so she has never tolerated all of this. The long history of Catholic missionary work knows nothing about this, and rebellious Catholics who have engaged in such violence are rare.
If you doubt it, go ahead and look for any Catholic brutality that compares, even from a distance, to the Roman martyrs of the first centuries, the Islamic war of the 8th to the 15th century, or the ideological massacres of more recent centuries both in the East. and in the West. . I am speaking here of the massive Christian martyrs in China, Japan and elsewhere in the Far East; and, most notably for many of my readers, the massive ecclesiastical dispossessions, martyrs and massacres of those great modern secular movements for human progress – the French Revolution, Nazism and Communism.
We must remember that those who do evil hate the light, even to the point of applying this expression of Jesus Christ to our own weaknesses. This psychological fact is one of the biggest problems of human beings, and by far the biggest problem when it comes to hostility to the Catholic Church. It is a problem that is increased and exacerbated by our own sins. As illogical as it may be, Catholics in particular will be condemned not only for following the moral teachings of the Church, but for not respecting them. To take the most egregious current example, the Church will be doomed both for its teachings on sexual morality and for the failure of some of its ministers to abide by those teachings. Such hatred, once we understand its source, is as understandable as it is inevitable.
And by the way, have you noticed that overt hostility towards Christians steadily increases as modern culture becomes more and more openly “open”? Today, the definition of narrow-mindedness, of course, is adherence to the truth. I stress that this is not necessarily a fully conscious progression. But trust Our Lord on this one, and pray even harder: Because those who have engaged in evil really hate the light. And without Christ’s mercy and ours, it can even scare them to death.
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