What if Christianity's critics got serious?

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I'm not one to jump on the "Christianity is under attack" bandwagon. However, there's no question that Christianity is the target of far more legal action in this country that any other religion and people are far more sensitive to mentioning "Jesus" than Buddha, Mohammed, or other religious figures. (Which is a significant reason in my thinking that there's actually something to this Christianity business). But in looking through the media recently and noticing that the voices against Christianity seem to be growing – and getting more hostile - I spent part of the holidays wondering what would happen if the pendulum swung just enough to shift the majority's thinking? What if the majority decided that Christians are the problem in this country and we need to do something about it?

And it's not just my wild imagination. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League at the end of last year indicates 64 percent of Americans say religion in America is under attack.

"This has become more than a seasonal witch hunt by the ACLU," said World Net Daily Editor and founder Joseph Farah. "The attacks on Christianity in America are alarming. We are witnessing more than religious bigotry now. We are entering the early stages of what could become persecution and outright criminalization of Christianity if it is not exposed and fought vigorously by all freedom-loving people."

Farah's word "criminalization" is interesting. I spoke at a conference a few years back and met the leader of one of the country's largest Christian ministries to the gay community. He mentioned even then his organization was already preparing for a time in the near future when offering a gay or transgender person an alternative to that lifestyle will actually be illegal. Just offering it – will be illegal. Far fetched? In Madison, Wisconsin, David Ott, a former homosexual, was arrested for a "hate crime" for sharing his testimony with a gay man at a gas station. He faced a $10,000 fine and one year behind bars. Seven thousand dollars in legal fees later, [he] was ordered to attend re-education classes at the University of Wisconsin. Regardless of what you believe about homosexuality, it appears that even discussion about it may be illegal soon.

The thought police are indeed out there.

While to a person of faith, many of the critics seem – well, insane – I have to admit, their rants do get picked up by the mainstream media. And to the uneducated, or those with no religious experience or knowledge of religion in America, the comments seem to make sense. Here' a few choice quotes.

From blowhard scientist Richard Dawkins: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal….

Columnist Maureen Dowd: "Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy."

Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials): "The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake."

Comedian Bill Maher: "Christians and others who are religious suffer from a neurological disorder that "stops people from thinking."

Bestselling author Sam Harris: "A person who believes that Elvis is still alive is very unlikely to get promoted to a position of great power and responsibility in our society. Neither will a person who believes that the holocaust was a hoax. But people who believe equally irrational things about God and the bible are now running our country. This is genuinely terrifying."

It's not just the criticism, but the attitude that it's becoming more and more "OK" to trash Christians, and to offer more offensive and sometimes violent options for dealing with these perceived "Christian extremists."

From a more direct perspective, Tom DeLay had this to say: "We are, after all, a society that abides abortion on demand, has killed millions of innocent children, degrades the institution of marriage and often treats Christianity like some second-rate superstition. Seen from this perspective of course there is a war on Christianity."

By the way – I particularly love those who are terrified by the vague but impending "theocracy" that seems to be taking over the country. But the truth is, if you've ever tried to organize anyone at church you know just how nuts the idea is that Christians are taking over America. Couple that with the incredible erosion of religious morals and values in this country and it does seem far-fetched. And yet bookstores are filled with recent books on the terrifying future of the theocracy that's somehow taking over America.

The bottom line is that hostile statements are becoming far more regular and they're coming from the mouths of people who are respected. Worse, because of the typical journalist's ignorance of Christianity, these fringe and extreme statements are not being challenged by the press. When a popular writer like Sam Harris calls atheism "a moral and intellectual necessity," someone needs to challenge that incredibly shallow idea.

So what do you think? Is this a time for serious reflection regarding the perception of Christianity in America? When I was young, those indifferent to Christianity pretty much left us alone. But now, not only do they speak out, but feel they can level volleys at us that they would never do against other religions. Christians are the last group that those in the mainstream media can criticize without fear of retaliation or retribution.

Is it too great a stretch to wonder if there will come a time in our country similar to pre-war Germany? After years of refusing to speak up to defend the Jews, it was a simple thing for the Nazis to take the next step toward extermination.

Could it happen here?


Phil Cooke is a media consultant and television producer with a Ph.D. in Theology.  He's the founder and creative director of Cooke Pictures, and his new book is "The Last TV Evangelist:  Why The Next Generation Couldn't Care Less About Religious Media."  Find out more at philcooke.com.

Published, February 2009