This Christmas, pay attention to the persecution of Christians
The oppression of religious minorities and religious authoritarianism are both on the rise.
There’s an interesting piece this week in the New York Times about the growing persecution of India’s Christian minority, driven in part by a new anti-conversion law that has been used as a pretext for violence by Hindu nationalists. India is, troublingly, going the way of many conservative nations by making a single religion definitional to the country’s identity, and walking the path toward rejecting pluralism and democracy.
In India, Christians face financial boycotts, raided churches, and even physical violence, despite a constitution that protects religious freedom. Over Christmas, Hindu nationalists launched a series of attacks on churches and holiday festivities. Conservative Hindus are afraid that Christianity is growing via conversion — that Hindus are being hoodwinked into converting to a religion that isn’t their own, and that compromises the Hindu character of India.
I can understand the anger at evangelism and religious conversion — I feel it too, and frankly think that the kind of evangelism you often see in developing countries, which ties basic aid to religiosity, is morally abhorrent. Every year, thousands of missionaries decamp to places where they believe people are unenlightened, and seek to profoundly change their way of life. With their work they repeatedly and predictably bring abuse, exploitation, and cultural destruction. It’s incredibly arrogant, and incredibly damaging.
But being critical of evangelism, or even barring religious missionary work, is very different than effectively outlawing Christianity, or suggesting a public Christmas celebration is “religious conversion under the garb of celebrating Christmas” because it is “brainwashing children through drama and speeches into accepting Christianity”. What seems to be sweeping India is a kind of anti-Christian hysteria, not so unlike the anti-Muslim hysteria that swept the United States in the wake of 9/11. The question is whether it will subside or simply become an ingrained part of the national fabric.
I often criticize US laws, but I think our constitution more or less gets it right on religious freedom: Maximize the ability of individuals to practice their religion as they wish, while maximizing the ability of other people to not have any religion imposed on them, by the state or otherwise. The Supreme Court has gotten this wrong, and the Republican Party has been exploiting the ideal of “religious freedom” to mean “freedom of conservative Christians to impose their worldview on everyone else.” But in an ideal country, individuals would be free to practice their religion, the state would be solidly and resolutely secular, and individuals would be fully able to live their lives free from religion if they so chose.
That is not the direction much of the world is moving in. Many states are imposing religious values on their populations; others are making it more difficult for individuals who are religious minorities to worship as they choose and adhere to the strictures of their faith.