The Christian persecution complex is one of the great marvels of American society. It truly is amazing. For someone who is so fascinated and, honestly, angered by the American Christian persecution complex, I’d like to point out that as an American atheist, I don’t really feel “persecuted” myself. I know that organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have to fight for religious freedom constantly, but on a personal level, I haven’t really had religion imposed on me by the government—at least not overtly.
Christian churches and organizations claim to be persecuted in our “secular” American society in several ways. One organization, for example, feels persecuted because of the passing of less strict abortion laws, the societal acceptance of referring to transgender individuals by the pronouns of their choosing, and the controversies between Christian businesses and LGBT clients looking for services, most often related to their weddings.
It really should go without saying that these three topics don’t have to do with the freedom of Christians at all. Straight, cisgender Christians who don’t want abortions aren’t in any significant way affected by these laws and emerging social norms. But as you might have guessed, gay and trans people, as well as pregnant women who feel that giving birth is not in either their or their fetus’s best interest, are affected. And in gaining more rights, acceptance, and validation, the three aforementioned societal shifts are making life better for these groups of people.
If you’ve been following my logic thus far, then you may conclude that American Christians are indeed not being persecuted as society progresses for the LGBT community and women. This is why it angers me so much when they claim that their “marriage rights” and “family values” are being infringed upon from these circumstances. Nobody’s forcing you to marry someone of the same sex, get an abortion, or change your gender. Therefore, your rights in any of these areas are not being infringed upon.
Until this point, I have never directly addressed Christian persecution overseas. Often, the Christian persecution complex arises out of solidarity with Christian individuals living in countries where they are not free to profess their faith. As a matter of fact, the United States doesn’t even appear on the World Watch List, which is a list of all of the countries with the worst Christian persecution.
Topping the list is North Korea, which is listed officially as an “atheist state,” but after some Wikipedia reading, I found that it is more of a communist state consisting of a personality cult for their dictator. Christianity and other religions are outlawed there because they would get in the way of their nationalism. While North Korea is the first on the list, it is also one of the only countries in which the Christian persecution is not due to Islamic oppression.
For the sake of time, I didn’t look through all fifty countries on the World Watch List, but what I did was saddening and shocking. The second country to badly persecute Christians was Afghanistan, which, like many other countries, is professedly Islamic in its constitution. It’s true that Christians aren’t allowed to build churches there or criticize the Islamic faith, and that they must always identify their homes and themselves (in the case of women) as non-Muslim.
But you know who else doesn’t have religious freedom in Afghanistan?
. . . Anyone.
In religiously oppressive nations, no one has either freedom from religion or freedom of religion, unless you coincidentally happen to voluntarily practice the religion of the state. You will be persecuted there for being Christian, or being atheist, or Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, or basically anything but the exact right kind and amount of Muslim.
That is to say, the real persecution of Christians is what happens when a country legislates its citizens’ religion instead of keeping church and state far away from one another.
The separation of church and state has been the goal of many secular organizations for a long time. And this separation, as well as secularism by definition, means you don’t have to be atheist (remember that an atheist state and a secular state are very different), but you can be atheist—or Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, or anything else.
We secularists, who advocate for church and state separation, and Christians who want to end the persecution of their Christian brothers and sisters overseas, have something in common. Something big. And it’s the same thing that the LGBT community in America wants, too. All we want is freedom. We want to be able to live without someone else’s religion being imposed on us, whether that means we can freely speak online about atheism, commune in our own religion’s house of worship, or marry who we love.
The sooner that the American Christians who claim that they are being persecuted in this secular, free country (as it strives to extend equal rights to everyone, despite their beliefs, sexuality, or anything else), realize that freedom only begins where state-imposed religion ends, the better.