Challenging Christians is not the same as persecuting them

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A non-Christian may have strong views on the subject of equal marriage, homosexuality, abortion, the role of women in society, evolution, morality or climate change — or any subject you care to name.

And when pressed on those views that non-Christian will be expected to produce evidence to support the stance he takes.

But the Christian has it easier than the rest of us: because the Christian can, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, play the ‘faith’ card.

Alfred Lord Tennyson summed it up in his poem, In Memoriam A.H.H. (a requiem for his friend Arthur Henry Hallam):

Strong Son of God, immortal love,

Whom we, that have not seen Thy face,

By faith, and faith alone, embrace,

Believing where we cannot prove.

In other words, if a Christian can’t knock down your argument with logic or irrefutable fact he resorts to “God’s word” and the Bible.

Homosexuality is wrong because God says so. Evolution is wrong because it conflicts with Genesis. Equal marriage is wrong because it hasn’t been ordained by God. The world is 6,000 years old because Archbishop Ussher added up the sums in 1650 and decided that Creation began in October 4004BC.

You live your life a certain way because God has instructed you to live it that way and failure to do so will result in eternal damnation and punishment.

For centuries the Christian establishments, both Catholic and Protestant, deployed their enormous powers and influence — often in combination with assorted political despots — to keep the masses under control.

They told them what they were allowed to believe and punished those who didn’t toe the line.

Scientists, astronomers, explorers, philosophers, mathematicians, geologists, surgeons, free thinkers et al were punished, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, banished, executed, excommunicated or destroyed for suggesting anything that might conflict with what the theological establishment had decreed or interpreted as “God’s word.”

Then two things happened, albeit over a long period. Increasing numbers of people were given an education and encouraged to think for themselves.

They were encouraged to ask questions, examine evidence, draw conclusions and not be afraid of where those conclusions would lead them.

Then along came Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, after which nothing could ever be the same again for Christians and their beliefs:

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected.

“From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

From that point onwards it became acceptable for people to challenge the assorted views set out in the Bible. And as science marches on and knowledge expands, the contents of the Bible will continue to be subject to detailed scrutiny.

The existence of God will be challenged. The Creation story will be challenged. The claim that Jesus is the Son of God will be challenged. The existence of Heaven and Hell will be challenged. The moral code that underpins Christianity will be challenged.

The absolutism attaching to issues like homosexuality and abortion will be challenged. The value systems of Biblical Christianity will be challenged. The core beliefs of every individual Christian — be he/she Catholic, Protestant or whatever — will be challenged.

The reason I’m writing this is because I’ve been struck by the number of times—particularly in relation to issues like the Ashers case, the decision to prosecute Pastor McConnell, the debate over abortion and the ‘concern’ about equal marriage—that Christians in Northern Ireland use the word ‘persecution’ in their response to what is happening all around them. So, let’s be clear: challenging someone’s beliefs is not persecution. Asking them for something more substantial than “because the Bible says so,” is not persecution. Pointing out that an awful lot in the Bible doesn’t actually stand up to forensic analysis, isn’t persecution.” Or telling them that “believing where we cannot prove” is actually just another way of saying “personal opinion,” isn’t persecution.

Christians are entitled to their beliefs. They are entitled to lead their own lives as they choose to lead them. What they are not entitled to do is insist that their “believing without proof” beliefs should be protected and given equal status alongside the very scientific proof that undermines and refutes the views and opinions set out in the Bible. They are not entitled to argue that they should be protected from challenge.

That said, they should never be forced — and nor should any of us — to do what is morally repugnant to them.

Christians must face the fact that we know more about ourselves and our origins than we could have imagined a few centuries ago when the Bible was translated into English.

Pointing that out and raising questions about the consequences of our expanding knowledge should not, however, be interpreted as persecution.