I went into London today to have lunch with a friend who is ‘in media’. On the way in I read that ‘80% of Bill Bailey’s new show is a rant against Christianity’. Can’t remember exactly where I read it, but that was basically what it said. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “here we go again. There’ll be more protests about Christians being persecuted and attacked.” And I was right! (Which is shameful when you see what is happening in the real world in Iraq…)
I am beginning to feel in a minority of one in being a Christian who doesn’t think we are being persecuted. ‘Misrepresented’, ‘misunderstood’ and ‘an easy target for people too lazy to think through their own assumptions’, maybe. Subject to educational and political assumptions that are sometimes staggering in their arrogance and ignorance in relation to Christianity in particular, definitely. But ‘persecuted’, no way.
I go with the agnostic Marxist Terry Eagleton when he complains that the so-called New Atheists have bought their atheism on the cheap and that this enables others to think that their easy dismissal of ‘religion’ (let alone Christianity) has inherent intellectual credibility – that Dawkins’ position is self-evidently true because it is Dawkins who says it. And it is obvious that the methodologies Dawkins adopts in his television tirades would never pass the editor’s desk were it to be driving towards a theistic theme. (It would be like me depicting Stalin in the first minute, extrapolating from Stalin that all atheists are on the same road as the Soviet dictator, then writing off atheism as having any intellectual, cultural or ethical credibility worth thinking about.)
As contributors to this blog have demonstrated, there is a thoughtful and intelligent discussion to be had between atheists and Christians (or theists) – one that presupposes mutual respect. I usually find Bill Bailey sharp and funny, so look forward to his new show. But, if it does turn out to be an easy potshot at Christianity, I guess I’ll just have to be big enough to take it. Popularity and big laughs don’t prove any point whatsoever.
The problem is that there is much about Christians that is funny or odd or open to question. Now is not an easy time to speak of ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ in a context in which Christians appear happy to accuse each other of all sorts of nastiness. But, if our reputation is tarnished and our credibility low, then we cannot blame anyone else for this… even if the reputation also involves selective reporting, misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
Anyway, to go back to the main point, being misunderstood or misrepresented by a liberal elite who dominate the public discourse with a confidence that is ignorant of its own (religious) illiteracy, is inconvenient, painful, embarrassing and should be countered. But, it isn’t persecution. Bill Bailey is not pulling our finger nails out or stopping our kids from going to university purely on account of their faith – he is simply doing what people have done to Christian faith since Calvary. It’s not clever and it is boringly predictable – get used to it. The way to counter it is to stop being ‘against’ anything we don’t like and proactively present what we are ‘for’ in the public space. And, for God’s sake, try to enjoy it.
I come back again and again to the need for Christians to put their own house in order, gain confidence in the content of the Christian faith (which, strictly speaking and in shorthand, means in ‘the Word made flesh’ – the person of God seen in Jesus Christ), question the assumptions of those who attack or question Christianity, and stop complaining about being victims of other people’s horribleness.
And the BBC still needs a ‘Religion Editor’…