Ross Douthat has an insightful blog today about “Pagans and Christians” that you should read. Among other things, he argues that America isn’t really a “pagan” nation yet. So much of its middle-class spirituality is still deeply informed by the judeo-christian tradition. He is certainly right about that.
He also argues that secularists don’t know what to do when Christians outshine them in acts of mercy and charity. Case in point: the overwhelmingly Christian identity of western doctors on the ground in Liberia right now. They are missionaries, they are there to heal, and they are there to proselytize. Everyone likes the healing part. But secularists get really uncomfortable about the preaching part. Douthat says that Christians ought to relish the tension that this creates in our secularist friends and neighbors:
[A secularist’s] real complaint: Not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.
Read the rest here. It’s good stuff.
I would tweak Douthat, however, on one point. Douthat says he doesn’t like it when American Christians complain about persecution in this country. He thinks that such complaints are really hollow in light of the carnage inflicted on brothers and sisters living abroad who are losing their lives for the faith.
In what I’m about to say, I do not wish to suggest an equivalence between their suffering and the suffering of American Christians. We do well to recognize that some Christians suffer to the point of shedding blood, while others do not (Heb. 12:4). Nevertheless, Jesus spoke of persecution in terms that embrace the whole spectrum of human suffering and mistreatment. For example,
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. -Matt 5:10-12
Clearly, Jesus includes public insults and social marginalization underneath the aegis of persecution. This is not to say that suffering insults is equivalent to being murdered. It is to say that the hatred that leads to insults is on the same spectrum as the hatred that leads to murder (Matt. 5:21-22). Failure to acknowledge this fact blinds people to the ugly seeds that will one day bring forth a harvest of grave public injustice. We need to be clear-eyed about how those seeds are being sown right now before our very eyes. And we need to bear witness to injustice when others refuse to see. Losing the language of persecution to describe what is happening now in America will not serve us in that task.