Home/Rod Dreher/The Coming Oppression Of Christians

The Coming Oppression Of Christians

What's the matter with communism? Americans who grew up after the Cold War have no idea (juhy13/Getty Images)

About an hour ago, I finished writing what will probably be the most intense chapter of my forthcoming book about the lessons for us from the experience of those persecuted by Soviet-bloc communism. It’s a chapter on the meaning of suffering. It consists almost entirely of stories of Christians who endured persecution, even torture, at the hands of Communists. Most of it comes from original interviews I conducted, but several occasions, I draw from testimonies of former prisoners that have been published elsewhere. For example, this from an interview Father Gheorghe Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest, gave in 1996 about the year he spent in a dungeon cell caring for a fellow Christian who was dying from tuberculosis and the battering he had received under torture:

Constantine Oprisan

They had beaten him on his chest, on his back and had destroyed his lungs. But he prayed the whole day. He never said anything bad against his torturer, and he spoke to us about Jesus Christ. All the while, we did not realize how important Constantine Oprisan was for us. He was the justification of our life in this cell. Over the course of a year, he became weaker and weaker. We felt that he had finished his time here and would die.

… After he died, every one of us felt that something in us had died. We understood that, sick as he was and in our care like a child, he had been the pillar of our life in the cell. Then we were alone without Constantine Oprisan.

Read more about this interview here. 

It comes from this collection of interviews, sermons, and essays by Father Gheorghe, who died in 2006.

Anyway, I just put that chapter of my book to bed, and checked Twitter. There I found this from an Australian journalist I follow:

Here’s a link to that story. Here’s how it begins:

China will rewrite the Bible and Quran to ‘reflect socialist values’ amid crackdown on the country’s religious groups, a report has revealed.

New editions must not contain any content that goes against the beliefs of the Communist Party, according to a top party official. Paragraphs deemed wrong by the censors will be amended or re-translated.

Though the Bible and Quran were not mentioned specifically, the party called for a ‘comprehensive evaluation of the existing religious classics aiming at contents which do not conform to the progress of the times’.

The order was given in November during a meeting held by the Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which oversees the ethnic and religious matters in China.

“The progress of the times.” Right. One thinks back to this 2018 piece of news from the Vatican:

“Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” a senior Vatican official has said.

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, praised the Communist state as “extraordinary”, saying: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. Instead, there is a “positive national conscience”.

This is important to know — which side churchmen like Bishop Sanchez are one. Don’t you dare forget this. Nor dare you forget the courageous witness of Christians like Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong, who is not having this Francis regime propaganda. Excerpt:

As he has in the past, Zen criticized [Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro] Parolin and his methods, saying “nobody can be sure” of what he wants at a given moment.

“It’s a real mystery how a man of the Church, given all his knowledge of China, of the Communists, could do such a thing as he’s doing now,” Zen said, adding that in his view, “the only explanation is not faith. It’s a diplomatic success. Vainglory.”

Zen also criticized Francis’s approach, arguing that in his view, given the pope’s moves on China, “he has low respect for his predecessors.”

“He is shutting down everything done by John Paul II and by Pope Benedict,” he said, accusing Francis’s allies of giving “lip service” when they insisted the pope’s moves are in continuity with his predecessors. “But that’s an insult,” Zen said.

I’m telling you, folks: watch China. I believe it is going to be a model for the West in the decades to come, as we move into what I call “soft totalitarianism” — “soft” because unlike in China, I don’t think our governments will resort to prison camps, but I do believe they will adapt Chinese methods of social control, e.g., the social credit system. I’ll explain why in the book.

Today The Guardian, which is The New York Times of the UK — that is, the mouthpiece for mainstream Left opinion — used its Christmas Day editorial to denounce conservative Christians. “The battle to defend the rights and human dignity of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexuality, is having to be fought all over again,” the editorial warns, and concludes with praise of left-wing Christians, urging secular progressives to join with them to resist the Religious Right.

One is not surprised by The Guardian taking this view, of course, but it is interesting to consider it in light of China’s announced move to revise Christianity and Islam to harmonize with the dogmas of Chinese communism — that is to say, to reflect “the progress of the times.” We will see, and indeed are seeing, a similar push in the West to compel Christianity to be the Democratic Party At Prayer.

Of course it should not be the Republican Party At Prayer either — and this is a problem for us traditionalist Christians. We cannot avoid the fact that there are political consequences to the Christian faith, but we must always work to keep it straight in our heads that our politics must come from our faith, not the other way around. Far too many American Christians of both the right and the left get this backwards. Political Christianity cannot be true to itself and be fully a phenomenon of the contemporary Left or the contemporary Right. 

Having said that, I want to urge you to take a look at this Washington Post op-ed from December 23, by political scientist Paul Djupe. The boldface emphasis is his:

Our research found that white evangelical Protestants believe atheists and Democrats would strip away their rights

Political scientist Ryan Burge and I ran a non-probability sample survey from May 17-18 of 1,010 U.S. Protestants, conducted online through Qualtrics Panels and weighted to resemble the diversity of Protestants in the country. White evangelical Protestants made up 60 percent of our sample.

Of those white evangelical Protestants, we found that 60 percent believed that atheists would not allow them First Amendment rights and liberties. More specifically, we asked whether they believed atheists would prevent them from being able to “hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office.” Similarly, 58 percent believed “Democrats in Congress” would not allow them to exercise these liberties if they were in power. By contrast, 23 percent think “Republicans in Congress” would not respect their rights; those were primarily the views of a small contingent of white evangelical Democrats in the sample.

These are extraordinary proportions for a core question in democratic societies: Are citizens willing to extend rights to groups they dislike? If not, the political process can no longer fairly resolve disputes and the nation may turn to violence — just as far-right commentators and public officials are predicting.

Djupe says emphatically that white Evangelicals are wrong about this, and cites survey data to support his point. He also cites survey data showing that white Evangelicals are more likely to strip atheists of those liberties than the other way around.

I haven’t seen any criticism (yet) of the Djupe piece, and I’m eager to read the informed commentary about it (so post it if you find any from an academic source). I certainly don’t have a problem in theory believing that white Evangelicals and other right-of-center Christians are deeply fearful of what a secular left regime would do to them. I am not an Evangelical, and heaven knows I’m not stockpiling weapons and food to prepare for enduring leftist tyranny, as one far-right conspiracy theorist preacher quoted in the Djupe piece says he’s doing.

But I am confident that oppression, even persecution, is coming, and I believe that pieces like Djupe’s serve both to discourage reasonable critical awareness, and to lay the groundwork for secular leftists and their progressive Christian allies to justify these measures. I’m not saying Djupe intends to do that, but I think that’s the cumulative effect pieces like this, and the Guardian editorial, will have. To be clear, I see nothing wrong in principle with criticizing conservative or traditionalist Christians, but the steady drumbeat of demonization of them — of us; I am one of them — matters, especially as Christianity fades as a force in our secularizing societies. As FiveThirtyEight reported recently, Millennials are leaving religion and will almost certainly not be coming back:

Why does it matter if millennials’ rupture with religion turns out to be permanent? For one thing, religious involvement is associated with a wide variety of positive social outcomes like increased interpersonal trust and civic engagement that are hard to reproduce in other ways. And this trend has obvious political implications. As we wrote a few months ago, whether people are religious is increasingly tied to — and even driven by — their political identities. For years, the Christian conservative movement has warned about a tide of rising secularism, but research has suggested that the strong association between religion and the Republican Party may actually be fueling this divide. And if even more Democrats lose their faith, that will only exacerbate the acrimonious rift between secular liberals and religious conservatives.

“At that critical moment when people are getting married and having kids and their religious identity is becoming more stable, Republicans mostly do still return to religion — it’s Democrats that aren’t coming back,” said Michele Margolis, author of “From the Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity.” in an interview for our September story.

Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper.

“The strong association between religion and the Republican Party may actually be fueling this divide.” Does it not occur to these researchers and those that report on them that the strong association between secularism and the Democratic Party may equally be fueling this divide? I don’t think it does. Because academics and journalists are heavily liberal and secular, they assume that secular liberalism is normative. They don’t see people like me and a number of my friends: theologically and morally conservative Christians who are alienated from the Republican Party — typically for reasons of economics, or the environment, or war — but who feel compelled to vote Republican because we are offended and even frightened by the rising tide of anti-Christian spite on the Left.

About the coming oppression, I emphatically do not believe that all of this, or even most of it, will come from the state, either. I think it will be primarily — at least at first — through actions by private institutions and businesses, like the disgusting, outrageous move Nordstroms in Seattle made the other day:

For 19 years, 85-year-old Dick Clarke has raised money for The Salvation Army during the holiday season — 18 of them ringing a bell beside a red kettle for donations outside Nordstrom downtown Seattle store. He loved the conversations and the feeling of giving back through the more than $100,000 he collected. He volunteered five days a week, six hours a day.

“The best thing I like about Thanksgiving is the next day I go to work,” said the retired teacher and principal.

Or that’s how he used to feel. This year, Nordstrom told The Salvation Army it would no longer allow solicitation in front of its doors.

Beyond stating that policy, Nordstrom spokeswoman Jennifer Tice Walker did not answer questions about the change. But Clarke said he was told in a meeting last week with head of stores Jamie Nordstrom that LGBTQ employees said The Salvation Army’s presence made them uncomfortable.

The sacred LGBTQs! Anything they ask for, they must receive, according to Woke Capitalism, because their feelings take precedence over everything. Note well — seriously, pay attention to this — that no law compelled Nordstrom to do this. And: there is nothing that Donald Trump or any other politician could have done to have stopped this — unless, of course, you want the state to have the power to dictate to private business who they must allow to stand outside their stores collecting money. We do not want that.

Take a look at this local TV news report about Clarke — from 2016 — and realize that this dear old man was driven off the street because LGBTQ employees say he makes them “uncomfortable,” simply because he rings bells for the Salvation Army.

It is vitally important to pay attention to the narratives that the political, cultural, and economic elites tell themselves about the world — and the narratives they teach to the rising elites in their institutions. Take a look at this 2017 op-ed from the Harvard Crimson by Laura Nicolae, a student there whose father and mother lived under Communist persecution in Romania. Excerpt:

Roughly 100 million people died at the hands of the ideology my parents escaped. They cannot tell their story. We owe it to them to recognize that this ideology is not a fad, and their deaths are not a joke.

Last month marked 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution, though college culture would give you precisely the opposite impression. Depictions of communism on campus paint the ideology as revolutionary or idealistic, overlooking its authoritarian violence. Instead of deepening our understanding of the world, the college experience teaches us to reduce one of the most destructive ideologies in human history to a one-dimensional, sanitized narrative.

Walk around campus, and you’re likely to spot Ché Guevara on a few shirts and button pins. A sophomore jokes that he’s declared a secondary in “communist ideology and implementation.” The new Leftist Club on campus seeks “a modern perspective” on Marx and Lenin to “alleviate the stigma around the concept of Leftism.” An author laments in these pages that it’s too difficult to meet communists here. For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.

After spending four years on a campus saturated with Marxist memes and jokes about communist revolutions, my classmates will graduate with the impression that communism represents a light-hearted critique of the status quo, rather than an empirically violent philosophy that destroyed millions of lives.

Statistics show that young Americans are indeed oblivious to communism’s harrowing past. According to a YouGov poll, only half of millennials believe that communism was a problem, and about a third believe that President George W. Bush killed more people than Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who killed 20 million. If you ask millennials how many people communism killed, 75 percent will undershoot.

I had a personal conversation with a Millennial the other day, a friend of some local friends, who was visiting for the holidays. She mentioned to me in casual conversation that she identifies with Communism. “It’s a beautiful dream, that everybody can be equal,” she told me. Then she asked me about what I do for a living. I told her about the book I’m working on. Get this: she is a college-educated American, and had no idea at all that there was such a thing as the gulag. I could hardly believe it!

But I’m not as well educated about Millennial views on such matters as I should be. The 2019 report of the Victims Of Communism Foundation, a US government educational NGO established by a 1993 act of Congress, shows that only 57 percent of Millennials polled believe that the Declaration of Independence “guarantees freedom and equality” better than the Communist Manifesto. This, versus 94 percent of the Silent Generation.

We are losing the young. This is going to have massive consequences for our liberties, especially religious liberty, in the years and decades to come.

This Millennial woman brought to mind the students of a humanities professor from a heartland state college, who said to me on the phone earlier this year that when she was at Yale working on an advanced degree, fellow students shut her down every time Marxism came up, and she tried to talk about life in the USSR. She said: “I saw in them actual rage. They didn’t want to hear it.”

She told me her students are all fresh-faced, corn-fed white kids, and they all think socialism is peachy. She said:

Some people tell me I’m being alarmist, but more and more agree with me. Yesterday a colleague who teaches physics wrote me from [a coastal state]. He told me that he wanted to speak out against [the campus left-wing mob] but is terrified of becoming a pariah – not for his job, because he’s tenured, but because all his friends would leave him.

In my situation, at my university, I have to live an intellectual and spiritual life underground. I’m silent about so many things with [students and colleagues] because I know that they would honestly and sincerely see me as some kind of monster because of the things I believe, which are in no way radical.

In our phone interview, she told me that she cannot stand Donald Trump, but has come to see supporting him as the only way she can register any kind of resistance against the left-wing campus commissars. She also said that people have no idea how vulnerable they are to this mindset, because of social media.

But yeah, it’s the Republican Party, and conservative Christians, that is entirely to blame for driving people into secularism. Tell me another one.

To repeat: I don’t believe in stockpiling weapons, food, and crackpottery like that. But I believe that traditional Christians are fools if they can’t read the signs of the times and make political decisions based on what they see. And  as I wrote in The Benedict Option, and will elaborate on with much greater detail in my next book (out September 2020), I strongly believe that traditional Christians had better start preparing themselves, their families, and their local communities for the long spiritual struggle ahead. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:

There always is this fallacious belief: ‘It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.’ Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.

You had better believe it. You had better not only believe it, but also act on that belief, while there is still time.

UPDATE: Wow, an actual academic sociologist, George Yancey of the University of North Texas Baylor University, responds in the comments:

I saw the article by Djupe. Busy with other research and so I did not want to really dig into it but if you want an early critique from a social science academia then here it is. Let me note that I do not think this is peer review research. A peer review is likely to bring up some of these issues as well.

1. This is a nonprobability sample. Without more information on how it was collected there is no way I can tell what biases may have effected such results.

2. I want to see results after sufficient social and demographic controls. I am particularly interested in education. There is research showing that educated individuals may engage in more social desirability answers than the noneducated and I know that atheists are more educated that Christians. So I like to know how much of this is explained away by education because if most or all of it is then I think we have more of a social desirability issue than a religion effect.

3. Without some qualitative data we do not know if Djupe’s interpretation is correct. Do evangelicals become willing to take away the rights of others because they know that is what they will do. Careful interviewing of them can find out if that is true. Sometimes quantitative researchers overreach with their interpretations.

4. To that end I like to see if those limiting the rights of atheists also limit the rights of Christians. What we may be looking at is a group that generally is not forthcoming with civil rights no matter who may lack them. I think there is some research that suggests as much but off the top of my head I cannot remember who did that work

5. Finally, even if all of what Djupe says is true that does not mean that anti-Christian discrimination is inconsequential. I could write a book about anti-Christian prejudice (Wait I did – https://rowman.com/isbn/978 … and we are seeing more evidence of anti-Christian discrimination in court cases such as the recent U. of Iowa v. Intervarsity case. There are surveys showing that progressives are less supportive of free speech rights than conservatives. Since atheists are more likely to be progressive I wonder how they would fare with those questions.

Other work I have done shows that conservative Christians are less likely to be hired in academia. So it is possible that conservative Christian do have these illiberal motivations and there are serious problems of anti-Christian discrimination.

Thanks, George!

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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