The Difference between Persecution and Being Corrected

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” – Porte, Joel (ed.), Emerson in His Journals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 206 (entry for Nov. 8, 1838).

I’ve said in the past (here and here and here) that “there is a difference between persecution and the loss of privileged status”.

Emerson’s quote echoes the same sentiment, and it applies to everything from conservative Evangelicals bemoaning the enforcement of the separation of church and state, to Muslim fundamentalists bemoaning new secular democracies, to pseudoarchaeologists whining when it is pointed out to them that their claims are completely bogus and factually unfounded.

Put simply:

There is a difference between persecution and the loss of privileged status.
There is a difference between persecution and being corrected of an error.
There is a difference between persecution and being wrong.

Christian "oppression"

U.S. religious breakdown

Demonstrating that a claim is false and suggesting an ulterior motive for the debunked claim is not a “personal attack”. It is the scientific method.

Just because you didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean that you are “persecuted”. It means you can’t have everything.

Just because facts and evidence demonstrated your claim to be untrue doesn’t mean that you are “persecuted”. It just means you were wrong.

Just because you got outvoted by a majority in a democratic election does not mean you are “persecuted”. It means you got outvoted.

Just because you can no longer rely on a previously enjoyed advantage does not mean that you are “persecuted”. It simply means that existing laws are now being enforced and you can no longer pretend they don’t apply to you because you are part of a previously privileged group.

The above situations are not examples of “persecution”. They are simply examples of people who used to get their way, who no longer get their way. Claiming “persecution” in these situations is merely an attempt to invoke victim status against those who previously were victimized.

While persecution (especially religious and ethnic persecution) is very real (like this and this and this and this), most in the American majority have never experienced real persecution. Childhood playground teasing aside, at most they’ve likely only experienced the loss of a previously held advantage.

But that doesn’t mean that the formerly privileged won’t pretend to be victims when they stop getting their way.

"Religious Freedom"

27 Responses

  1. Right on!

    I have been told that criticizing Fox “News” means that I’m calling all of my friends stupid sheep, and when criticizing John McCain and Rand Paul for mouthing off about Susan Rice before they read about the hearings (which they didn’t bother to attend) that I’m making an unfair attack on their character.

    This says it really perfectly.

  2. Some folks believe that because THEY have convinced themselves that they have a “special relationship” with The Almighty (as members of “The Saved Club” or whatever) … then they should not be contradicted. They are “entitled” IOW.

    How sad (for them) that it doesn’t work that way. Those who believe that way are acting like just about everybody did when he/she was about 2 years old. These folks are reverting to “Terrible Twos Behavior Patterns”.

    . . . but they really don’t like it when you call them on their Victimitis, since this shows “lack of respect for God” … they decide that criticism of their religious views = lack of respect for God and that mind-set really is a type of self-deification. People like that are in need of thorazine and not therapy; they are likely beyond reality-based therapy because delusional people are so resistive to ANYthing that is reality-based. . . . thorazine first, therapy LATER.

  3. Great points here, even though it seems to be a bit biased. Non-religious people say they are being oppressed too whenever someone wants to pray in public (just because they pray doesn’t mean you have to!) but I still totally get your point and agree with it. Also the graph of the Christians VS. Other religions is very misleading. It would look a lot more like this: which shows that more of the world is actually not Christian than it is Christian!

  4. I grew up in an environment where being “free, white, and twenty-one” meant that you were pretty much entitled to rule the world. Free, white, MALE, and twenty-one would’ve been more accurate. Certain members of the so-called “Greatest Generation” had a very hard time accepting that people who were not white, (not male), and not yet 21 (the age of majority at the time) had any reason to expect to be heard or respected.

  5. Thanks for a great piece. I’m so tired of my “religious” friends, who care nothing about the rights of the poor, minorities, LGBT, etc; whine that they are persecuted because there’s no nativity scene on the front lawn of the courthouse, or because they don’t get to have teachers lead prayer each morning in school. I think it is especially insulting to people of faith all over the world who endure actual persecution for their faith, when Americans characterize a minor limitation on religious expression in the public square as “persecution.” And unfortunately, it’s “War on Christmas” season, so they are stepping up the crying about religious liberties.

  6. DeeLemon, thank you! So, so true. Most of these people who are crying “Persecution!” have absolutely no earthly idea what persecution truly is. Why oh why do they consider not getting to impose their religion on others to be persecution? It absolutely is insulting to those the world around who have endured actual persecution, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses who were put in concentration camps, just for example.

  7. That’s correct. The Nazi’s persecuted many religious and ethnic groups. And attempting to claim that exercising the legal separation of church and state by requiring the removal of religious monuments from public lands is in no way, shape, or form ‘religious persecution’. It’s simply the enforcement of the law catching up with reality.

  8. Very good points. This sheds new light on the debate for me, including some conclusions about how its NOT persecution that I’ve never really heard before. That being said, I never seriously thought Christians were necessarily being persecuted in this country; its kinda hard to make such a claim considering Christianity [including those in the Roman Catholic church] make up well over 70 percent of the Nation’s population. I’ve heard about supposedly how rights and freedoms were being deprived of Christians in this country, but I didn’t think such things were seriously happening like that. I can conclude now that its really just because they were not getting their way nor getting to impose specific theological interpretations of social-moral issues of theirs [i.e. same-sex marriage and abortion, the dual package that these “two issue” Christians seem so obsessed with when it comes to morality] as the law of the land. Even if we had a theocracy, so many of these people wouldn’t be happy because it wasn’t their denomination that was the State religion, and even if it was “non-denominational”, certain “non-denominationals” wouldn’t agree with certain issues, practices, or theological concepts that might be professed. Now I am a Christian [Mainline Protestant with heavy leanings toward The Episcopal Church], but I’m sure many of these people [as some of them have] would be quick to accuse me of being an atheist for some things I profess or simply suggest. Thank you for this article.

  9. Yes there is a difference in persecution and not getting what you want. But he is minimizing the persecution in this country and if left unchecked will become more prominent. He also is misrepresenting the intent of separation of church & state. It was meant to prevent a state required religion (i.e. Church of England) not preventing atheists from seeing any reference to God in the public.

    Here are examples of USA persecution of Christian faith:

    Judge denies bid for nativity scene in California town

    Under Obamacare, Free Birth Control Starting August 1st
    (Because you are forced to purchase healthcare and all healthcare MUST provide this).

    Chick-fil-A same-sex marriage controversy
    (Not only was his faith attacked but HIS right to state his mind was. Innocent employees had to endure weeks of harassment for just trying to do their job.)

    It is not about getting your way but making sure that the moral decay in this country does not bring us to our own destruction (I.e. Rome). If you really want God out of sight then you are free to move to China or Russia where they will welcome you with open arms. Personally I prefer that we do not turn our back on Him.

  10. To Mr. Cargill-All very true what you said but I am curious, what prompted you to post this?

  11. Constant, constant claims of religious persecution from folks in a white, middle class majority angry about not being able to impose Evangelical beliefs on public school kids.

  12. BC: Your last comment: They have problems adjusting to the fact that not only are there non-white, non-evangelicals IN the US, but that those folks also claim the SAME RIGHTS as the white evangelicals claim, which include the right to have a say in how “things are run” … given the fact that their numbers now are growing larger (wasn’t true in the past).

    . . . IOW the ethnic and ideological majority is slowly being outnumbered by a diverse group of people. … life and the type of persons one sees are no longer as it was depicted in those 50s and 60 sitcoms, and some folks find that upsetting.

    It’s a defensive reaction to claim “persecution” when one’s prior prerogatives are being challenged, and it’s clever to select “religion” as being the supposed “target” of all of “them-thar people”. These prerogatives are claimed to be “the REAL America” or “the America we grew up in” or “America the way the Founders intended it” (well … they do have a point THERE!!). Well . . . tough.

    Re: religion: what these folks really resent is the mere asking of genuine questions. They don’t even like THAT. Poor babies.

  13. I like your article but I feel obligated to point out, when you include links in a sentence, it helps maintain the reader’s interest/sympathy to include a short description of the contents of the links included, rather than abbreviating the links with the likes of “as I’ve said previously here, here, here, and here.” I’m not persecuting the author; I am asking to extend a bit of courtesy to the reader for clarity’s and civility’s sake. I understand this has become a convention in the blogosphere. It comes across as rude, however unintentional. Thanks.

  14. If you want to know about actual persecution of Christians around the world, Voice of the Martyrs has been documenting it for many years (www dot persecution dot com). Many Christians in America are the persecutors (as Mr. Cargill has aptly written), not the persecuted.

  15. Tracey, yes, this is a problem, and it is a common convention in blogs. it’s not ideal, but it’s a quick way to footnote.
    one thing to try is hovering over the link (without clicking). in many browsers, this shows you a screencap preview of the article at the other end of the link.


  16. […] Robert Cargill: The Difference between Persecution and Being Corrected […]

  17. […] professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, posted a blog on “The Difference between Persecution and Being Corrected“, or perhaps more accurately, the “difference between persecution and the loss of […]

  18. Hi. Dr. Cargill, May I make a suggestion? Please? It’s Christmas and it will be my only request for you. ;-) Read Corrie ten Boom’s account of life in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII if you want to understand what real persecution is about. Her autobiography is “The Hiding Place” (1971) and is still in print. Her father and sister died in the camps.

    On a lighter note. GO CYCLONES!!! My B.A. and M.S. degrees are from Iowa State University so I just had to get that in. Once in every ten or so years we actually beat you guys in football (like this past fall). Anyway, I’m currently living in Florida. ~Sara

  19. By the way, I totally agree with your comment that “most in the American majority have never experienced real persecution.” For the most part, we haven’t got a clue (there are definitely some exceptions–e.g., those in our military who were prisoners of war and other examples–and I’ll check out your links above, too) but they are few and far between when you take in the whole US population). ~Sara

  20. DeeLemon: I haven’t heard “War on Christmas” so much this year as in the years before. Usually it kicks off right after Halloween. I can only conclude that this year a lot of Christianese Culture Warriors are still hungover from the election.

    Raeann Thomas: Ever heard the one about how “You scream PERSECUTION(TM)! when you’re not being allowed to persecute everyone else”?

  21. […] this blog, written about a different context but that seems to apply, whose writer goes on to […]

  22. […] through the centuries when we confuse a lack of privileged status with persecution.  As Robert Cargill has noted: 'There is a difference between persecution and the loss of privileged status. Just because you […]

  23. […] persecution through the centuries when we confuse a lack of privileged status with persecution.  As Robert Cargill has noted: “There is a difference between persecution and the loss of privileged status. Just because you […]

  24. […] perception & persecution: * The Difference Between Persecution and Being Corrected by Robert Cargill; * Christians and Persecution, Then and Now by James McGrath [required […]

  25. […] Just because you didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean that you are “persecuted”. It means you can’t have everything. Robert Cargill […]

  26. Dr. Cargill, I have felt exactly this way forever, but I could never figure out how to express this idea. Thank you for putting it so succinctly.

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