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Persecution, not as complex as it might be

Your Humble Blogger reads with dismay the story of some maniac in Cornwall who is threatening and attacking his curate because she is a woman. Riazut Butt (and here I refrain from joking about the name of the writer), in an article called Woman curate on temporary leave after hate campaign puts the series of attacks in the context (as I think it should be) of the Church of England’s path to sexual equality for priests. I was disappointed in this quote from a spokesman for the Church: “The church's attitude to women priests is that priests are priests, whichever sex they are. However, the church also respects the integrity of those who find it difficult, or even impossible, to accept the priestly ministry of women.” I don’t have any problem with the Church sympathizing with those who find it difficult or even impossible to accept the priestly ministry of women. But respecting them? Respecting their integrity? Why? And in the context of unhinged attacks on a woman, on a priest, on anyone, why would you go out of your way to make that point? I only hope that the statement was made in some other context.

Now, Your Humble Blogger connected that, in his mind (where there is lots of room to make such connections) with Mitt Romney’s speech on Faith in America the other day.

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.

Governor Romney is presenting himself as the victim of intolerance. People are demanding (or at least preferring) that he give up his religion. Those people are unnamed, largely because they don’t exist. Oh, some of them do, I suppose, but naming them would just expose their lack of power or authority. So he doesn’t. He places himself in a line of Americans persecuted for their faith: Ann Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and Brigham Young. And then he talks about the twin dangers of atheism and Jihad (the latter “infinitely worse”, it’s true). “In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day.”

The evils and dangers of the day.

We on the Left have often pointed out that there is a dangerous strain in the conservative movement, a tendency to see themselves under attack, persecuted, endangered. It seems preposterous to us that the institutions, rituals, symbols and values of white, Protestant Christian, suburban capitalist America are in some sort of jeopardy. They are not. Like Christmas, they are doing fine, and need no defending. Or so it seems to us. Mitt Romney, I think, is tapping into (or trying to tap into) that feeling of persecution, that feeling that the old ways are under attack.

I feel fairly certain that the crazy Cornishman thinks that it is him (or her) that is under attack, fighting only a rearguard action, defending himself against the onslaught. And, I must say, I have some sympathy with that. His way of life is disappearing. He does not have a male priest in his hometown parish, and if he can’t accept the Bread from a female, he loses communion (or community, by leaving for a parish with a male priest). I don’t share that point of view at all, but I can, dimly at least, sense that something valued is lost. But let’s be clear. It was the vicar’s car that was set on fire.

We have killed far more “violent Jihadists” than they have killed Americans. We have most of the money, most of the guns, most of the movies. We’ve caused most of the climate change, and will very likely escape the brunt of the damage. Yes, they are threatening us, but mostly they are ineffectually threatening us, while we are actually destroying them, their way of life, and their world. You cannot set the vicar’s car on fire from anonymous safety and claim to be a victim of persecution. You cannot make a gazillion dollars, spout vicious, racist, ignorant, nasty rhetoric and lead in the polls for President of the United States and claim to be a victim of persecution.

Or, at least, when you do make such a claim, I will deny it. And I’ll try to make sure that everybody else denies it, too. Because it’s a lie.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


When Rowan Williams was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, I had great hopes for the C of E moving quickly and efficiently into the 21st Century. Instead, we have things like this. Now in America, the Episcopal Church has had women priests since the 1970s. The current Presiding Bishop in America is also a woman. Rowan was supposed to be good on social issues. He'd recognized and elevated gay priests to the level of bishop (not, I hasten to add, because they were gay, but because they were good at the job and were respected in their communities).

After Gene Robinson was made bishop in his diocese, there was much ado about the fact that he's gay. That year, the North American Episcopal Church's yearly council meeting was lobbied to not recognize Bishop Robinson. Some folk were quite rabid about defrocking Robinson. I think the council came to the one and only sensible conclusion: Robinson was supported by 98% of the parishioners in his diocese, therefore they would honor the local decision to elevate him, and short of the man committing an actual crime, they would leave him be.

Now, there are some fairly creepy conservatives in ECUSA (the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.). Karl Rove comes to mind. There is also a very politically active contingent (I've forgotten their name) trying to martial ECUSA's resources as a wing of the Republican Party (this group includes Fox News Pundit Fred Barnes). Personally, I don't think we have any need of the Catholic-Lite version of Opus Dei. After the council decision I mentioned above, I met a fellow at church who wanted me to know that his check was for the local church only, and not a penny of his $10.00 was to go to the national church. Hey, no problem - I live to serve! He was also dead certain that our naughty, liberal news media were deliberately not reporting all the gosh-darn good news out of Iraq. I pointed out that it was a war they were reporting on, and if he wanted feel-good stories, he'd be better served looking elsewhere.

World-Wide, the Anglican Communion was getting making some pretty surly noises toward the church in the US and Canada. The Anglican Church in Africa seemed particularly put out with us. I confess that I have no clue why they'd care if Canada allows gay marriage or not. African Warlords generally favor more strident religions, so they'll have to forgive us if we don't ask them to sign off on how we treat our women or how we handle GLBT issues. I don't mean to sound flippant. Conditions for the Anglican Church to flourish in, say, northwest Africa are not ideal. The leaders in that church may well be in a "war of ideas" with Muslims, where "war" is not a metaphor. The appalling lack of conviction at the head of the world-wide church has been so bad that I'm not surprised to hear about this woman being attacked. The church can offer understanding in a "let he who is without sin" kinda way, and I'm good with that. But this wishy-washy reaction sounds like the Anglican Communion is endorsing bigotted ideas and violent outcomes.

If I could address the parish in person, I would ask the people there one question: Are testicles the sole source of Christian spritual leadership? I really want to know. I don't recall that being specified in any of the Gospels.

Huh, weird that it came out "anonymous." I stand by it and want to be clear, just in case if anybody reads the above and wonders why it was posted guerilla-style...

Good discussion. The part that most interests me about all this is this:

We on the Left have often pointed out that there is a dangerous strain in the conservative movement, a tendency to see themselves under attack, persecuted, endangered.

Yes--but I would generalize that further (as I may've done before) and say that I think most people these days have a tendency to see themselves as under attack. And I think that's often a fairly legitimate concern; lots of people's ways of lives are under attack. Being part of the dominant culture doesn't make you immune to attack.

And I think for a lot of people on all sides of any given issue, the response to feeling under attack is to strike back, which of course increases the other sides' feelings of being under attack.

I'm tempted to say that maybe what the culture wars need is a cease-fire and negotiations, but (as shown by the Episcopal stuff Chris is talking about, among many other examples) negotiation doesn't always work out to everyone's satisfaction.

Maybe what's needed is more awareness of culture as a multiplicitous and ever-changing dynamic balance between differing ideas and approaches. That's scant comfort for those who live within a hierarchical organization that has to take a single stance on a particular issue (like, say, a nation that has a single set of primary laws), but it's all I got right now.

I don't understand the extended embracing of persecution rhetoric by the Christian right. While it may nullify the complaints of those who actually are persecuted, it does so at the cost of feeling persecuted. Is that fun or satisfying? When I was growing up, I had my share of being taught about the historical persecution of my faith, about the murder of much of my extended family 30-40 years earlier because of our faith, and about contemporary threats to my faith. I experienced plenty of religous bigotry and prejudice. None of it was fun or satisfying. What I learned from it was that it is important work to try to reduce persecution in the world, and that persecution is a miserable experience. So why do people try to feel like victims? Is there some psychic benefit that I don't see? Or is it just a way for leaders to arouse defensive anger in their flocks?

Being part of the dominant culture doesn't make you immune to attack.

Really? Doesn't it at least make the attacks seem unlikely to inflict any damage?

re Michael's question: so why do people try to feel like victims?

Well, first, let me note that there is a significant difference between "feeling like a victim" and "being a victim," and that the former may well be much more satisfying than the latter.

If one feels like a victim because of , as V. put it, "that feeling that the old ways are under attack," this feeling may have a couple of psychological payoffs.

1) Feeling that the old ways are under attack may be preferable to feeling that the old ways are changing because either a) you personally haven't done much to sustain them or b) they may not have been so good as all that in the first place. It seems generally easier for human beings to blame others than to engage in self-examination.

2) Feeling that the old ways are under attack and that one is the victim of malicious enemies simplifies one's obligations in dealing with those who don't share your value for the old ways. You can treat them as ones who are seeking to destroy you, against whom you are justified in taking pretty much any action, since anything is justified in self-defense, and you certainly don't have to bother trying to understand them, reason with them, communicate with them, or in any way consider their positions, except insofar as they pose a threat to you that you have a right to remove.

Does Mitt Romney have no claim to have been persecuted? I doubt it: if we want to play misery poker, everybody has a hand. His may not be a winning hand, but that doesn't mean he can't sit at that table. Laura Bush said, of the Iraq war, "Nobody suffers like we do" (or words to that effect). Now, should someone who is seeking to be President of the United States be playing misery poker on his campaign? Obviously not, and he appears petty and contemptible by doing so.

re Jed's point about lots of people having a legitimate concern about being under attack: few people lead lives of complete safety, just a few people don't even have a hand to play for misery poker. The question is, how does one live with that knowledge, and how does one respond to the factors that may be inconveniencing, complicating, impeding, changing, threatening, undermining, or destroying one's way of life, or one's very life? Making a reasonable evaluation of what those factors are actually doing to one's life, and seeing them in broad perspective of human experience is an important part of responding sanely to those factors. However, recognizing that no one is ever safe, and that therefore courage and empathy are necessary virtues for living well, is also requisite. Those two virtues have not been sufficiently cultivated in America of late (though they may never be sufficiently cultivated), and so we have self-absorbed, corrupt, craven, and malicious politicians like Mitt Romney who think they can advance their political careers by playing the victim. It won't work, but it does not reflect well on us that he would play at the misery poker table while campaigning for the Presidency.

Or is it just a way for leaders to arouse defensive anger in their flocks?

I think it's pretty much a way for leaders to arouse defensive anger in their flocks. It is my belief that a bunch of - let's just call them evil people, to use a shorthand convention - have realized that the conservative voting block is made up of primarily credulous people without much training in analytical thinking, and they are using the conservative voting block to acquire money and power. Their weapons are lies, fear, and a complacent media which bends over backwards to pretend to objectivity, after more than two decades of being labeled "liberal" by the pawns of these evil folks. You don't have to be liberal to check your sources, or to be critical of someone who's obviously lying, you pansy media sheep! All you need to do is tell the fucking truth!


I think playing the victim is an attempt to equate whatever bugs you with something genuinely horrible. For instance, anti-abortion activists referring to abortion as "a holocaust." If I use the right language, I can probably get some people to see whatever irks me as an extension of some historic oppressive force, making my point of view an extension of some historic noble struggle. A closer examination of would be all it would take to point out the ridiculousness of it all. So if I tried to start a movement against how expensive it is to park in D.C. by referring to the Civil Rights of Commuters, I almost certainly would have otherwise intelligent people in Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland repeating my talking points in short order.

It reminds me of the book VIRGINS by Caryl Rivers. The book is a coming of age story set in a Catholic High School in the 1950s. The protagonist and her best friend decide at one point to enliven a regular feature on the lives of the saints in their high school newspaper by adding creative details. The feature becomes more popular. Emboldened by this, they print the story of "Saint Leon of Skorytt," which wins them a lot of acclaim that they don't want, since they basically canonized a noted Communist martyr. "Skorytt" is Trotsky spelled sideways...

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