Is it an error in translation? Did the Pope really mean to say that of all the suffering people on earth, Christians are uniquely singled out for persecution? From MSNBC…
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI singled out Christians as the religious group that suffers from the most persecution on Thursday, denouncing lack of freedom of worship as an “intolerable” threat to world security.
As every American Pagan knows, the freedom of religion written into our Constitution is a precious human right. When you have to defend that right on a daily basis, as Pagans and other minority religions do, you really appreciate what it means.
So I’m with the Pope on freedom of worship.
Pope Benedict cites a terrorist attack on a cathedral in Baghdad that killed more than fifty people– a terrible crime of religious persecution, though almost certainly committed with political motives as well. The Iraq War put Christian civilians all over the region in harm’s way. Statements by American politicians that we are in a ‘culture war’ with Islam inflamed the situation.
The Pope, whose public statements are never taken lightly, chose in 2006 to throw out a provocation to the Islamic world that sparked violence and left the Vatican ‘clarifying’ his words. What a missed opportunity to sow peace.
Are Christians really the most persecuted on Earth? When I did a search for a list of persecuted religions I got pages of Christian sites and very little else. No question, Christians believe they are getting the worst of it. But there’s some math involved. Christianity is the number-one majority religion. ( 2-3 billion, between a third and half of the human race.) So if you want to toss a rock at a religious person, odds are you’ll hit a Christian. In all of the religious conflicts raging today, it may well be that Christians comprise the largest number of people affected.
Not to make light of this, but a smaller group, say a Native American nation whose children have been forcibly taken away and re-educated are persecuted in a different way. They face the eradication of their religion and history. Benedict, whose own personal history could be used to help heal the relationship between Christians and Jews, has avoided real dialogue about the failure of Germany’s Christians to defend German Jews.
Christians throughout history have persecuted each other and other religions. Christians have used the power of numbers to suppress religious minorities. This statement from the Pope seems to suggest that might makes right…
[Pope Benedict] blasted what he called “more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion, which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of its citizens.”
‘Denial of history’? Let’s look at some recent history. Let’s look at what happened when a majority practiced identity politics. The young Joseph Ratzinger saw it firsthand. Western secularism and separation of Church and State was the recourse of minority Catholics in our own country, when anti-immigrant hatred led to attacks on churches and clergy. Ireland, a very religious country, is still recovering from decades of religious war where Christians murdered and terrorized one another.
The Catholic Church doesn’t get its Popes off of turnip trucks. When they speak, they don’t speak lightly, or imprecisely. Pope Benedict is provocative, both in what he says, and in what he leaves unsaid. The Catholic Church opposed the Iraq War, but has been muted and ineffective in its opposition. The Iraq War, among other conflicts, is a cause of attacks on Christians.
Is Benedict really defending freedom of religion as a human right, or selecting atrocious acts against Christians worldwide to make a case that Christians are suffering more than other persecuted people?
A favorite tactic of warmongers is fostering a sense of grievance. The latest message from the Pope will be useful to politicians in majority Christian countries who are already using religion to define their enemies.
A sense of grievance will not help minority Christians in Muslim countries. They have already been betrayed many times by pundits and climbers who shoot off their mouths from the safety of a TV studio.
To help minority Christians, the Pope has to be a real peacemaker. To ensure a world where the Christian majority can practice their many versions of the faith in dignity and safety, he has to defend the rights of all. To do less is to leave the door open to religious war.