Nel's New Day

October 12, 2014

Justice, Persecution in Faith

Many Christians tend to wear a cloak of superiority in the world, comfortable in the belief that all others are inferior to them. Yet research indicates that religious beliefs removes people from justice and fairness. Christianity teaches that God’s world is just: sin is punished, and appropriate beliefs are rewarded. That’s why athletes will thank God for winning a game. This philosophy makes religious people believe that poor people, victims of crimes, and “losers” deserve what happens to them. In the biblical story, Job follows the belief that “God will not cast away an innocent man, neither will he uphold evildoers” (Job 8:20) and gets all his wealth and status returned to him. His dead children are replaced with seven new ones. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he says that “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” will get everything in the end. The pain of persecution will result in rewards.

A jury sentence in Florida shows how callous people can be when they exonerated a 22-year-old woman’s rapist. The foreman said, “We all feel she asked for it [by] the way she was dressed.” She wore a white lace miniskirt and green tank top. The Just World Hypothesis is the tendency to believe that victims of misfortune deserve what happens to them because everyone lives in an orderly. predictable, and just place.

On the Fox network, former prosecutor Kimberly Guilfoyle explained how Michael Brown could have stayed alive in Ferguson (MO) instead of being shot in the street because he wasn’t on the sidewalk: “Don’t go out and commit crimes.” Her advice reflects a 1966 study when psychologist Max Lerner watched students inflicting painful electric shocks on classmates. When the student “jury” thought they could do nothing to stop the suffering, it just decided that the victim deserved the punishment.

Nine years later two researchers took this study’s findings to examine the nature of the “jurors.” Followers of the Just World Hypothesis tend to be religious, authoritarian, conservative, and negative toward underprivileged people. While admiring social institutions and authority figures, they “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

Society’s privileged classes follow the same mindset. They literally think differently from the less wealthy, and society reinforces the beliefs, equating success with virtue. This is equivalent with people believing that CEOs making 700 times more than the employees just “work harder” and thus deserve the money.

People with more modest incomes are more generous, charitable, and helpful as they give a larger percentage of their disposable income to charitable causes than the wealthy. Drivers of luxury cars are more likely to cut off other vehicles in traffic than drivers of less expensive models. The wealthy are more likely to endorse lying and cheating because of a sense of entitlement from their self-perception of superior intellect or work-ethic.

Beauty also demonstrates a “reward,” as physically-attractive people are viewed as more sensitive, kind, and better-natured.  (Thanks to Mark Esposito for these ideas about religious and justice.)

One can ask if the following religious figures found their “justice” through their religion:

The U.S. Supreme Court has approved last year’s ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court upholding Mount Vernon school officials in firing a middle-school teacher who would not remove religious materials from his classroom. Maybe John Freshwater, the teacher, went over the edge when he marked a cross on a student’s arm with a hand-held Tesla coil.

God TV, one of the biggest Christian television networks in the world, has serious problems after founder Rory Alec left his wife, Wendy, to move with his girlfriend from Israel to South Africa. The wife says that Satan was the cause. All may not be lost. The Christian network Daystar survived two scandals in two years between founders Marcus and Joni Lamb and their employees.

National Geographic plans to film Killing Jesus, one of Bill O’Reilly’s killing series that includes Kennedy, Lincoln, and Patton. In an act of realism, the Middle Eastern man in the four-part series will be played by a Middle Eastern man. Lebanon-born actor Haaz Sleiman is also a Muslim. Fox, however, is convinced that Jesus is white—at last until O’Reilly’s book becomes a movie. Then may be incensed, but Fox may stay quiet. Note: Sleiman has also played a gay Muslim and a terrorist. Back to far-right fundamentalist Christian wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The U.S. can get rid of Fox host Mike Huckabee if the GOP refuses to fight the recent court rulings supporting marriage equality. On the American Family Association’s “Today’s Issues” program, he declaimed, “I am utterly exasperated with Republicans and the so-called leadership of the Republicans who have abdicated on this issue. I’m gone. I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand. I’m tired of this.”

That old leaky separation of church and state doesn’t hold water in Indiana. Ellen Bogan escaped with a warning after State Trooper Brian Hamilton pulled her over for an alleged traffic violation, but she didn’t escape his sermon. Did she have a home church? Did she accept Jesus Christ as her savior? Then Hamilton left her a pamphlet from the First Baptist Church in Cambridge City that asks to “acknowledge that (she is) a sinner.” His lights flashed the entire time that he was talking religion, and Bogan didn’t feel safe in leaving. He also violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution by keeping her longer than necessary to give her a warning ticket. Bogan is suing.

After years of bigotry toward LGBT people, Fox network, thanks to host Chris Wallace and guest Ted Olson, is trying a different tack. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins attempted to spew his usual hatred on Fox News Sunday, but Wallace asked him how his happy marriage would be changed with a same-sex couple living next door. No matter how much Perkins tried to avoid the question, Wallace returned to it. Olson also pointed out studies showing that children do as well or better in two-parent same-sex households as in heterosexual ones.

Students in three schools of the Rowan-Salisbury School District (North Carolina) are taught that the earth was literally made in seven days. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent a letter to the school district explaining that they are violating the Constitution of the United States.

The far-right seems obsessed with sex, and Phil Robertson, star of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, is no exception. In a sermon last month, he declared, “Biblically correct sex is safe. It’s safe. You’re not going to get chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, AIDS — if you, if a man marries a woman, and neither of you have it, and you keep your sex between the two of you, you’re not going to ever get sexually transmitted diseases.” Earlier this year, researcher Elizabeth Boskey discovered that it’s possible to be “infected asymptomatically” and not test for an std for a long time.

It may not be safe to have religious parents. Pamela J. Christensen, 47, told the police that she tried to kill her three daughters because she wanted them to “meet Jesus Christ.” Her estranged pastor husband had sent her messages telling her the world was coming to an end. The Montgomery (IL) woman’s daughters are ages 12, 16, and 19. The girls refused to drink poison so Christensen stabbed them. Christensen had served her husband, Vaughn, because he had become increasingly violent toward her and the children.

As Valerie Tarico wrote, white U.S. evangelical Christians believe they suffer more discrimination than minorities, atheists, Muslims, or Jews. Christianity is the majority religion in the country and controls all the legislatures and courts, both state and federal. Yet, as Alan Nobel, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, wrote about the “evangelical persecution complex” because victimization has become part of Christian identity and culture. Persecution, according to religion, makes believers more righteous—more like Jesus.

People who are convinced they are wronged cannot see the wrongs that they themselves commit. It also keeps people from making things better and makes them helpless. As Tarico wrote:

“[The theology of persecution] has also blinded generations of believers to the possibility that sometimes the hardships they face are due not to their faith or outsiders hating Jesus, but to the fact that they hit first. And sometimes the bewildering hostility they perceive may simply be something the theology of persecution has set them up to expect, whether it is there or not.”

It’s time for those who feel persecuted to start figuring out how to help others instead of dragging them down.

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