Let Freedom Ring
There’s a mental image in the mind of every single Evangelical. It’s a Triumph, a victory against oppression. The shackles of Christian abuse have been broken. The disciples fought the good fight and won the war against religious tyranny. Christ’s enemies, defeated; his empire, forged by the blood of the martyrs. The Gospel has been spread. They all fought the good fight.
That’s the Holy Grail: a future forged by the brave acts of faithful apostles. Evangelicals want to be those apostles. Christianity is the most popular religion in the world. Jesus won the religion war, hands down. Every single American president, except our current one (his religiosity is as authentic as his wedding vows), has been a Christian. It’s a ubiquitous religion, with unmatched privilege in the United States. Despite this fact, the Christian Right frequently laments the abusive treatment of Christians across the country, and the world. Where is this coming from?
Fighting the Need to Fight the Good Fight
Rebelling against Satan, Evangelicals want to be soldiers for Christ. That’s what makes them tick. It’s a reason for them to get up in the morning. God’s soldiers have “purpose-driven” lives. The average person goes through life without a real cause. But not the Evangelical warrior. They crusade for Christ.
A major component of the Evangelical psychological pathology is an ever-present belief that believers are victims of persecution. No matter how much Christianity monopolizes American culture, Evangelicals still feel that their way of life is under siege. They’re convinced there are dark forces at work that seek to repress Christian traditions and destroy Christian values. What do they do when everything they hold dear is attacked? They rise up (as do their phalluses). There is nothing more titillating to the Evangelical than breaking the bonds of persecution.
Evangelicals’ obsession with defending Christian culture is just as erotically charged as NRA supporters’ love of the second amendment. The reason for such passionate outrage is, what I call, the cycle of fulfillment. First, a Christian identifies with the faith and forms her identity around it. Second, she ascertains that her faith is under attack. Next, she fights back and defends her way of life against the adversary. Last, but not least, she gets the satisfaction and sense of purpose that comes from defending Christ’s earthly kingdom against the armies of darkness.
The end result of fulfillment is not possible unless there’s an enemy that’s threatening Christianity. If there’s no enemy, then there’s nothing to defend against, which means there’s no fulfillment. So, because there’s a need for an enemy, Evangelicals find a scapegoat to fight against. I just wrote a post examining how Christian “discipleship” has become fetishized due to believers’ addictive need to self-validate their authenticity as Christians. For example, sycophantic pastors’ and followers’ public prayers are so pornographically over-the-top that they might as well be giving Jesus a televised blowjob.
The persecution-crusade complex is another fetishized addiction. The average Evangelical’s life is mundane. It’s not sexy (and the sex enjoyed within that life is probably about as hot as Mike Pence). These people need an ego source. They need some means to achieve self-actualization. Fortunately, for them, they’ve found the solution in fighting the good fight for Christ. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, their constant need to be persecuted results in them seeing threats that don’t exist.
Grasping at Straws to Keep the War Alive
The collective need of millions of Evangelicals to have a purpose-driven life requires a lot of nefarious enemies to stand up against. The enemy changes from generation to generation, but there is always an enemy. A key component of the Evangelical machine is, as our president would say, the witch hunter. These are the people that uncover the scapegoats that, somehow, persecute Christians and threaten the foundation of their worldview. The scapegoats are the fuel that powers the fear machine. Without it, the persecution-crusade cycle isn’t possible, and believers don’t feel the fraternal joy that comes from being the Messiah’s marines.
The witch hunters throughout the twentieth century have been extremely effective in finding enemies. During most of the century, the Evangelicals fought these battles on multiple fronts at a time. That’s good news for the Evangelicals, because the more numerous and daunting that the enemies appear, the stronger the rage of the Christian army becomes.
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species introduced the world to the theory of evolution. Rock and roll was born in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1962, the Supreme Court determined that school prayer was unconstitutional because it violated the first amendment through the establishment of a religion. The Satanic Panic hysteria of the eighties and nineties gave Evangelicals the perfect platform to scare their congregations into believing that Satan had infiltrated every single aspect of mainstream society. The counter-cultural movement of the sixties and seventies gave way to many philosophies and lifestyles at odds with traditional Christian culture. The fact that the majority of Americans now support LGBTQ+ rights is another call to arms for Christ’s loyal legions.
Conservative media outlets have been the most effective witch hunters of all. Since its founding in the nineties, Fox News’ activist approach to conservative news has profoundly cemented the Evangelical perception of Christian persecution. Fox provides all the righteous rage fuel that a believer in need of purpose could ask for. It is an immensely profitable business model (highest ratings of any news organization) that liberal outlets, such as MSNBC, are trying to mimic.
Fox isn’t the only witch hunter that makes up the fear machine, but it’s by far the most influential. Well before the new millennium, propagandists like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh warned of the leftist, secular threat to a Christian way of life. Since then, things have gotten infinitely worse. The internet and the advent of the twenty-four hour news cycle have made fact-checking the witch hunters’ persecution claims extremely difficult.
Pundits, radio hosts, commentators, bloggers and many others all reinforce the narrative that Christianity is under siege. They complain about the “War on Christmas” and lament how football coaches aren’t supposed to pray in the middle of the field. They criticize higher education institutions because of their liberal, secular bias. Some of the most zealous crusaders are the creationists. They have been able to successfully create a completely anti-scientific set of ideas (creation science) and generate a national debate about its validity by creating a narrative of “teach the controversy.”
There’s an abundance of evils for Evangelicals to crusade against.
A False Equivalency
The creation-evolution debate is a great example of a false equivalency, which is a concept that repeats itself again and again in Evangelical behavior. Evangelicals have enjoyed unprecedented privilege in the last hundred years. They’ve been able to control the culture and call the shots. Christians had absolute power in America. Now that America is becoming a more pluralistic, multi-cultural society, Evangelicals feel threatened. They have to make some small concessions. They have to play nice. They have to respect other peoples’ religions. For example, Evangelicals raise hell when Christianity is restricted in any way, yet they are totally fine with protesting the construction of mosques. Likewise, Evangelicals despise limits on prayer in public places, yet they are quick to criticize other faiths’ religious expression, Islam in particular.
As the immortal Jon Stewart has stated, Christians confuse the loss of absolute power with persecution. He’s right, but I think he’s missing a key aspect of the problem. They’re not confused. The hunger for cultural war is a symptom of psychological pathology, not a lust for power. This is more applicable to the average Evangelical, not influential Christian lobbyists (they want power). Evangelicals are fulfilled by fighting the good fight. As long as this type of Christianity is practiced, there will never be an end to crusades against evil. Whether they are real or not is irrelevant. The need for persecution is eternal.