That Old-Time Religious Persecution

Here is another example of a phenomenon I continue to observe — the “now that’s real religious persecution!” style of argument.  The points in Ms. Timbol’s piece seem to be these: (1) Christians today in the United States “have forgotten what it really means to be persecuted”; (2) “In some places in the world,” like Iran and Somalia, one can still see the genuine article, in the form of honest to goodness beatings, stonings, and maulings by wild animals of what the author feels are authentic Christians; (3) in light of these horrors, it is “reprehensible” that some inauthentic American Christians are claiming that “their religious freedom is being infringed” when they support traditional notions of marriage, including by showing support for Chik-Fil-A in the recent controversy; (4) “This shows just how much is wrong with Christianity today.”; (5) “Until Christians endure the same threats, mocking and ostracization that their LGBT brothers and sisters face every day, they can’t claim they’re being persecuted.”

Just an initial clarification: I had thought that what many felt was troubling — as a matter of religious liberty and free speech — about the Chik-Fil-A controversy was not that different points of view were openly clashing (that’s certainly ok), but that the state and/or its organs were threatening to keep Chik-Fil-A from operating at all in Chicago and Boston because the views that its owner expressed did not meet with the approval of sundry politicians.  So the distinction that this writer draws between government suppression here and abroad doesn’t really work.  Likewise, the ostracism of LGBT groups and persons that the she identifies is, as she says, coming from private parties, not the federal or local government. 

But I take it that the real challenge of the piece is to remind its readers about what real persecution looks like, and to accuse contemporary American Christians of being a “bunch of whiners.”  As I noted in my previous post on this subject, I am struggling to understand the basic point, though perhaps I just haven’t yet seen it.  Is it that we should wait to care about violations of religious liberty until they reach the sorts of persecutorial proportions that one sees in Iran or Somalia?  Is it that it might be a very good thing if Christians experienced some of that old-time persecution?  But why should one wish for that?  And why should one not want to recognize admittedly milder forms of troubling developments respecting religious freedom as worrisome, even if they do not rise to the level of stonings and government-promoted animal maulings?  I’ll be interested to see if this form of argument persists.


I’ve always been mystified by ICANN (the “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers”), the US non-profit corporation that manages the internet. Somehow, and without governmental authority, ICANN has gotten users around the world to accept as authoritative its decisions on internet protocols and, in particular, “generic Top Level Domains,” or “gTLDs” — the familiar .com, .org, and .edu designations at the end of internet addresses. A good example of spontaneous ordering, I guess.

Anyway, this spring, ICANN invited proposals for new gTLDs. The organization is now taking public comments. Given the importance of religion on the web, it’s not surprising that many of the proposed new gTLDs involve religion, and that some of them are causing controversy. For example, the Vatican has requested that it receive a new gTLD, “.catholic.” Among the objectors to this proposal is Saudi Arabia, which points out that other Christian communions, for example, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, also refer to themselves as “Catholic”; the designation would thus create confusion. Actually,  Saudi Arabia has objected generally to new gTLDs that name particular religions – for example, “.islam,” – on the ground that no one entity should be able to claim the internet identity for an entire religion. It’s an interesting point. ICANN will accept comments on proposed gTLDs until September 26. (H/t: Christianity Today).