Much is made these days of the wrongs done to Muslims in traditionally Christian countries. For every nationalist calling for their government to keep the foreigners out, there is an anti-establishment voice urging the politicians to grant entry to whoever wants to come in. The growing idea of the day is that the big, established majorities are inherently bad. The belief seems to be that if Christianity is the biggest religion in the world, it must be wrong, in the same way as people want to bring down the privileged, high-achieving countries such as the US, UK and France.
As regards religion, their view is that if it causes trouble, there should be no religions. Everybody stop believing in your god and let humankind police itself. That is like saying if there is trouble between rival supporters at a football match, let’s ban football.
Being a Christian in the 21st century is not easy. It may, in fact, be the most difficult time since the years immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus. Times were tough then, all right. People were being killed – Jesus himself and John the Baptist are just the most high-profile examples. Jesus warned his followers what was going to happen. He had offended so many people just by existing that they had to get rid of him.
What the do-gooders don’t seem to realize is that while Muslims are struggling to establish themselves in a different culture, there are countries where Christians are imprisoned, tortured and murdered for their religious beliefs.
While obviously most immigrants lead an ordered life and cause no unrest, we can’t deny that there are troublemakers in every group of people. And just because someone is in a racial or religious majority, that doesn’t make them a bad person. Nor is the underdog necessarily a good person.
After the death of Jesus, there was the problem of the disciples, the people who were taking his message out into the world. Hateful people were changing sides. People like Saul of Tarsus, who had been loudly and aggressively anti-Christian. Whatever it was that enraged him about Jesus, it drove him to expose Christians, round them up and have them imprisoned. Then Jesus himself, whom Saul knew to have been crucified, caught him on the road to Damascus and hit him with a dramatic shining light that frightened the life out of Saul and his companions. A voice spoke to him and when Saul asked who it was, Jesus identified himself. He was the very person Saul was working against.
Saul was blinded in the incident, but his sight was given back to him later. And Jesus not only pardoned him for the terrible things he had done and told him the bad days were over, but gave him a job: he was to switch sides and work for Christianity, not against it.
It was a demonstration of power that knocked all the doubt out of Saul. During his short time of prominence, Jesus had performed miracles, and it was easy for people who hadn’t witnessed them to dismiss them as some kind of trick, or attribute them to some kind of mass hysteria among the those who were there.
By confronting Saul in the way he did, Jesus proved that the rumours were true and he really was capable of anything.
What enraged the religious authorities was that this man who came from a humble background had suddenly undermined them. They were the knowledgeable ones, the leaders, and they dictated what happened because they were closer to God than the common people. But now this man was claiming to be the son of God – and people believed him. The upholders of religious law, the Pharisees, were marginalized and discredited. They were no longer the great wise ones.
But they were still public figures and could make trouble, so they did. And that’s what Saul had been doing up to the point when Jesus came to get him.
Saul’s name was changed to Paul and he became the leading missionary of the 1st century AD. He was persecuted and imprisoned. But he went to many countries, as far away as Europe, spreading the word.
We don’t know for sure what happened to Saul/Paul in the end, although one story is that he was beheaded on the orders of the emperor Nero.
The persecution of modern-day Christians takes place, in the main, quietly, subtly. It happens all the time, and often we don’t even notice. It’s in the sniggering of our non-Christian friends, in the banning of Christian religious education in schools. It is, in short, an inside job, based on the arrogance of people who think they don’t need help.
It’ children shooting their parents because they want to be independent.