Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Suffering and Persecution

I've had this post stewing for a while. I'm sure I've mentioned something like this before - perhaps in relation to all the Chik-fil-a backlash last year - but it deserves another visit, especially with all the religious discussion happening after the attack in France and further talk about persecution and suffering. It's not so life and death here in the USA, our persecution discussions seem to be more about principle and comfort, but it's time for us to face reality.

It is NOT persecution to be required to follow the same rules as everyone else - that's not persecution. Persecution is being singled out for different treatment based on religious beliefs. We've come to call it persecution in this country when we're asked to do things we don't like, even though everyone else is required to do the same thing. That's not persecution, it's society. Expecting the rest of the world to cow to your beliefs and opinions is selfishness. It's not persecution.

For eons, people of faith (all kinds of faith and moral persuasions) have been exempting themselves from all or parts of society to maintain purity or conscience. Passing a law that forces some measure of self-exemption is not persecution. It's life. We are not guaranteed the opportunity to have our cake and eat it too.

What's more, as a Christian, this sort of sacrifice is expected, it's promised to all followers of Christ. Christianity is a different way of looking at and interacting with the world. It is, by definition, contradictory. To expect anything different is a sort of narrow, short-sighted perspective.

Last month, demi-hero Brian Zahnd wrote a blog piece addressing torture and Christian perspective on such. In the midst of this piece (which, overall, has little, if anything to do with my post here), there's a shortened version of the historical position of Christianity as it relates to world power.

For three hundred years everyone knew that it was dangerous to be a Christian, and therefore knew what it was to be a Christian. Then things changed and Christendom was born. Christendom was the subordination of Christianity to the sovereignty of empire. More to the point, Christendom was an attempt to invent a risk-free Christianity. And it was a “success.” But it came at a price. The price was that no one quite knew anymore what it meant to be a Christian. How can you be a Christian when there is no risk? How can you take up your cross and follow Jesus if there’s no danger of suffering? Removing all risk makes Christianity incomprehensible.

We've reached a point where we're so removed from any sort of suffering, it's become a bogeyman. We call suffering persecution because it impedes our self-determination. Pleasure, ease, and comfort have become the gods we serve. Anything that feels bad or unsafe or risky becomes the enemy.

I'm not saying we should go out looking to suffer, but we shouldn't be afraid to choose suffering if it makes sense to do so. I watched Unbroken last week and recoiled at the kind of suffering people endured. I kept saying to myself, I'd rather die than suffer. Why? Because it's the easy way out. It used to be that life was suffering (life is pain, highness), now life is all about avoiding suffering, putting it off, or pretending it doesn't exist.

I think the gospel message is supposed to be something about peace, forgiveness, love. Somehow we've twisted that into lazy self-indulgence. Peace is hard work. It takes sacrifice. It's not easy. If you want your life to be easy, stop standing for anything. The path of least resistance is often really successful in our time and culture (just ask a Kardashian).

There is real persecution in the world. Being forced at gunpoint to don a yellow Star of David, that's religious persecution. Being forced to claim a religion to get an ID card or medical care or to vote, that's religious persecution. Getting your head chopped off for what you think is religious persecution. Having to choose between following the same laws as everyone else or violating your conscience - that's just life.

As much as we recoil against it, choosing to suffer is not always the wrong choice. The example of humble, patient suffering is a profoundly strong one in our self-gratification culture. Pope John Paul II chose lengthy, painful public suffering as a testimony to the grace of God and his belief in something deeper. People might disagree with him, but they certainly respect his commitment to the cause.

When we ask for special treatment so it's easier to live our faith, we've gotten well off track. Anything real in this life, anything worth doing, anything of value, is worth suffering for. Peace is tough. We must be willing to work hard; we must be willing to sacrifice.

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