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Letter to a Christian friend: This is worse than a witch-hunt -- it's an anti-religious Inquisition

Cross-posted from First Things

 

It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies

by Mary Eberstadt

Harper, 158 pages, $25.99

Members of traditional religions became moral outlaws in the United States once equal rights for sexual preference and gender choice were enshrined in regulation and law. To believe that homosexual relations are sinful, as does biblical religion, defines the believer as a bigot in the view of liberal opinion, which is backed by the federal regulatory apparatus and the regulators of most American states, as well as by most of the judicial system.

As Mary Eberstadt reports, expressions of religious belief that society considered innocuous and normal until quite recently are now grounds for dismissal from jobs, denial of employment, and boycotts by the media. Devout Christians believe they must choose between their faith and job security, and they commonly conceal their faith in the workplace to avert discrimination. (Muslims are exempt because liberals consider them a threatened minority and make allowances for their misogyny and gay-bashing.)

Actions or speech (quoting a Bible verse or leaving a religious symbol in plain view) elicit persecution. In some cases, evidence of past incorrect opinion is sufficient: The CEO of the software firm Mozilla, Brendan Eich, was hounded from his post in 2014 for a $1,000 contribution to a 2008 California referendum campaign against gay marriage, evidence of a position he shared at the time with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Eberstadt is a wonderful writer. She has written passionately and with insight on faith and demographics, for example in her 2013 volume How the West Really Lost God, which I reviewed with enthusiasm. She has a great ear for anecdotes, and her field reports of Christians persecuted for ideological heresy entertain as much as they alarm. But her book is not only testimony to the gravity of the problem, but evidence as well: It betrays weakness within the Christian camp. She quotes friends who ask sadly, “Where can we [Christians] go?” and ponders the “Benedict Option,” forming small closed communities of Christians shut off from the world.

Eberstadt calls the persecution of traditional religion a “witch-hunt”—a critical error. A witch-hunt is a search for malefactors who pretend to be good people but really are intent on doing evil. There is a witch-hunt going on today, namely the search for secret racists at American universities. The witch-hunters pillory teachers and administrators who claim to hold politically correct views but allegedly betray their secret racism through wicked actions, for instance by correcting bad grammarin minority students’ term papers. Loyal liberals who commit no aggressions are said to be guilty of micro-aggressions.

By contrast, the purge of traditional Christians and Jews is a heretic hunt, an Inquisition, whose objective is to isolate and punish individuals who actually profess opinions contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy. There can be some overlap between an Inquisition and a witch-hunt, to be sure. But today’s liberal Inquisitors are not searching for individuals secretly in communion with God—yet.

This is a critical distinction. Witch-hunters eventually discover that burning a few old hags does not prevent cows’ milk from souring. Inquisitions, by contrast, usually succeed: The Catholic Church succeeded in stamping out broadly held heresies, as in the Albigensian Crusade of 1220-1229, which destroyed between 200,000 and 1,000,000 inhabitants of Cathar-controlled towns in Southern France. In many cases a town’s entire population was killed, just to make sure. For its part, the Spanish Inquisition eliminated all the Jews, Muslims, and Protestants, although it sometimes drove heretical opinions underground, with baleful consequences for the Catholic faith.