Persecution of Christians has recently been in the news. Or, rather, it has not been in the news. Not really. Recent readers of Spero News may have seen the story about Christian Iraqi children being crucified as a way for Muslim extremists to frighten their parents into leaving Iraq. And Business Insider recently ran a piece entitled “Eight Countries Where It's Scary to Be a Christian” listing the ways Christians continue to suffer throughout the Middle East, in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Sudan, and in Vietnam (though they missed China). In these countries, Christians are often imprisoned, regularly oppressed, and sometimes slaughtered. But mainstream media outlets have largely ignored the phenomenon. They have certainly downplayed it, often hiding it beneath the euphemism “sectarian violence.” Ethnic cleansing, I think, should not have its horror neutralized in this most dishonest way.
In a recent conversation with a former student of mine, a man in his late twenties, I was reminded why. No one cares. Christians, according to this train of “thought,” are tremendous hypocrites who, according to my former student, “have been doing some hard religious intolerance for a while now.” He pointed to “a Christian organization in America” (apparently the KKK) that used to lynch people of the same faith from trees, and he cited other atrocities committed in the name of Christ (though he was not very forthcoming with examples). Because of this, he bluntly informed me, “I'm sorry, but I kinda don't care that Christians are getting victimized in these countries.” Apparently, Christian Iraqi children deserve crucifixion in the way of a kind of cultural karmic retribution. In short, this line of argument contends that while God may not be just, at least historical process is.
This was a little horrifying.
I would attribute the tragedy of this interchange to the poor education my friend had received. Only, I was this man’s primary teacher (in elementary school) for SIX FULL YEARS—so that is obviously not the problem. It can’t be me! Though I must have at least a little of this blood on my hands, I would like, instead, to shift the blame to “bad deconstruction.”
Deconstruction, at least as it is often practiced by amateurs, is characterized by a certain snarkiness and by a propensity for proving the inherent hypocrisy of any figure from history, any political or religious meta-narrative, or any idea at all—certainly any of them that one does not like. “Bad deconstruction,” which permeates American society, is kind of an adolescently clever (but ultimately tedious) world view that rejects all world views (which displays its own hypocrisy, obviously) and contributes significantly to what Benedict XVI has called “the tyranny of relativism.” That is, in the hands of amateurs. In the hands of a master—like Jacques Derrida—it simply lays bare the contingency of any proposition and leaves one open to the horizon and the “impossible possibility” of achieving certainty in human life. In this way it is not unlike negative theology—and it is no surprise that Derrida had a career-long fascination with negative theology and the Question of God. But, as I said, he was a master.
Upon deeper consideration, I wonder if I am not just as inured to these atrocities as my younger colleague. Of course, I don’t think of them as karmic retribution. I don’t have a justification for them. But am I not also indifferent? Should I not at the very least be weeping for the crucified, the tortured, the dispossessed? I know I should. But I’m not. My real shame is that I am not outraged enough. I, like so many of my contemporaries, have fallen prey to the sin of the existential “Meh.” This, too, is a little horrifying.
Perhaps I should have pointed my friend to Terry Gilliam’s superb film Time Bandits. At the end of the film, the Supreme Being (played charmingly by the late Sir Ralph Richardson) comes upon the Time Bandits and discusses theology with a ten-year old boy. The boy asks the Supreme Being, “Why did all those people have to die?”
“You might as well ask why we have to have evil.”
“Yes, why do we have to have evil?” the boy, prodded, responds, to which the Supreme Being answers, “Ah…I think it has something to do with free will.”
This is the same response given by countless thinkers and theologians going back to St. Augustine, who wrote during a time when Western culture was likewise scapegoating Christianity.
Is there another answer?
Spero columnist Michael Martin is a professor of English at Marygrove College.