February 28, 2011
At the end of last year, as Christians celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, they faced persecution and violence. Between Christmas Eve to December 27, 38 Christians died in attacks across Nigeria. In the northern town of Maiduguri, armed men dragged a Baptist pastor out of his home and shot him. They also murdered two other men preparing for the church’s carol service.
But Nigeria was not the only country to suffer violence against Christians. In Egypt where Coptic Christians follow the old Julian calendar, seven people were murdered following the midnight Mass on January 7. As the midnight service drew to a close, jihadists set off a bomb outside the al-Qiddissin Church in Alexandria. More than 20 people were killed and 70 others injured.
Church leaders in Baghdad had decided to downplay the Christmas celebrations. The pain of the All Saints’ massacre at Our Lady of Salvation Church had not yet healed. Their prudence made little difference. Extremists launched a number of attacks on Christian homes.
Christianity is violently attacked again and again because Christianity is seen as a threat to those who wish to establish a state based on their own religious beliefs. In fact, in the states of the Arabian Peninsula where Islam is a state religion, the many immigrants who are Christians enjoy no freedom of religion. They are not allowed to build churches or even pray in public. Besides extremists who hold there is room only for their religion, there are others who wish to remove Christianity from the public forum for different reasons.
Christianity is Europe’s most widely practiced faith. It is the basis of European culture and identity. Yet, recently, the European Union printed three million copies of the 2011-2012 school calendar. The calendar listed the Jewish Yom Kippur, the Muslim Aid-el-Kebir and the Sikh Baisakhi-Day. Obviously, the calendar is not anti-religion. However, the fact that Christmas and Easter were missing sparked much controversy.
A spokesperson for the European Union admitted that it was a mistake to omit the Christian holidays. He attributed it to an editorial blunder. But this is the same European Union that tried to force Italy to remove crucifixes from their classrooms.
Are we witnessing the collective amnesia of the historical contribution of Christianity to the making of modern Europe? Or are we facing the deliberate attempt on the part of a minority of non-believers to marginalize Christianity and thus remove its influence from the public forum?
Even in this country whose roots are Christian, there is the gradual erosion of the public presence of Christianity. Prayer in public school gone. Christmas scenes and religious symbols banned from public properties. Crosses marking highway deaths removed. The stand-alone representation of the Ten Commandments contested in court rooms. Why this reticence to admit our Christian heritage or embarrassment to acknowledge its presence?
While some overtly object to public displays of the Christian faith for fear of offending a minority of non-believers, there seems to be another agenda. Some wish to relegate Christian values to the private sphere. Others wish to silence the voice of the Christian faith altogether. Why? Because Christianity clearly embraces objective values and standards that transcend the mood of the moment. Christianity is a real threat to the relativism and secularism of our age. Christianity challenges us to look beyond this world and to find through the use of reason a natural law that the Creator has given for the common good.
In countries where there are violent attacks against Christians, there is no hiding the repugnance and intolerance of the Christian faith. In those countries, the persecution is bloody and deadly. In other countries where there is a silent undermining of the Christian voice in the public forum, there is likewise a repugnance and intolerance of the Christian faith. But the persecution, though bloodless, is still deadly. The second century Tertullian once wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Could a bloodless persecution of the Church be much more devastating?