Are Christians privileged or persecuted?

One of the basic facts of contemporary religious history is that Christians around the world are persecuted on an extraordinary scale — by mobs and pogroms in India, jihadists and United States-allied governments in the Muslim world, secular totalitarians in China and North Korea. Yet as an era-defining reality rather than an episodic phenomenon this reality is barely visible in the Western media, and rarely called by name and addressed head-on by Western governments and humanitarian institutions. (“Islamophobia” looms large; talk of “Christophobia” is almost nonexistent.)

This absence reflects, once again, the complex combination of liberal impulses toward Christianity. There is a fear that any special focus on Christians will vindicate the jihadist narrative of a clash of civilizations. There is a certain ignorance of Christianity’s enduringly and increasingly global form, an inability to see Christianity as anything save a reactionary foe or a useful supplement to liberalism. There is a fear that narratives of global Christian persecution will somehow help the conservative side of Western culture wars. (“Sri Lanka church bombings stoke far-right anger in the West” ran the headline of a worried Washington Post “analysis,” as though the most worrying consequence of dead Christians in South Asia were angry conservatives in America.) And there is a sense of Christianity as somehow still “our” religion, the dogmas discarded but the emphasis on self-abnegation retained — albeit in a strange fashion that ends, as John O’Sullivan put it recently, by taking “the good Samaritan to be a parable of why Christians should be the last people to be helped.”

Unfortunately the various conservative alternatives to this liberal muddle are not always more helpful to persecuted Christians.