Beware Christianophobia

There are some extraordinary gatherings organised by Catholic movements that take place each year but which go largely unnoticed by the media. One is the annual interfaith gathering organised by the Sant’Egidio community in a different city in October each year. Another is the so-called Rimini Meeting named after the Italian coastal city where 700,000 people gather each year in the second half of August. It is organised by 11 full-timers and 3,000 volunteers drawn from Communion and Liberation, a Catholic movement once amusingly described by Mgr Lorenzo Albacete as "Opus Dei for lazy Catholics".

Il Meeting is the leading annual forum in Europe for Catholics who want a dialogue with secularism and Islam which does not involve diluting Catholic identity. John Allen, the Catholic commentator who is usually to found there in search of nuggets, describes it as "one part intellectual discourse, one part rock and roll festival" -- a combo only Italians seem to be able to pull off.


It is where the cream of Europe’s Catholic intellectuals can be found in late summer -- which is why high-level Muslims, humanists and others with whom the Church wants to have a serious cultural dialogue are to be found there too. As the place where each year the Church scans the cultural horizon -- reading the signs of the times -- it is worth keeping in the telescope.

Yesterday the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, spoke at Il Meeting of the need to combat "Christianophobia" as firmly as "Islamophobia" and "anti-Semitism".

The term is interesting because new. Are Christians really facing the kind of pogroms Jews once endured -- or the prejudices which Muslims suffer today in the west?

For a positive answer to both, consider two current news items.

In the eastern Indian state of Orissa, Hindu mobs have killed 13 Christians and caused thousands more to flee their homes. Alistair Scrutton at Reuters has an excellent summary and background here. At Rimini the talk is of Hindu fundamentalism being at least as much a threat to Christians as Muslim attacks on Christians in Iraq or Indonesia.

Secularism is a much politer threat, but in many ways more deadly. In Britain a new coalition of teacher unions, humanists and intellectuals has attacked faith schools for being divisive and discriminatory because they prefer to take pupils who come from the faith community which the school serves.

This wouldn’t matter in other countries such as the U.S. where there is state-church separation, but in the UK faith schools are mostly state-funded and the ideal of education remains one of "equal opportunity". So faith schools are vulnerable to an ideology of equality which sees religious difference as divisive, and schools which select teachers and pupils to preserve their values as discriminatory. Many in the Labor Government share that ideology, and the threat remains real. Faith schools in 2006 may have succeeded for the time being in fighting off a government attempt to demand that faith schools take quotas of non-faith pupils. But a dozen Catholic adoption agencies in the UK will be forced to close or secularise from January because their preference for placing children with male-female parents will be illegal -- because discriminatory against homosexuals.

So there is every reason for to speak, as they are in Rimini, of "Christianophobia". But I am nervous of using the term. Persecuted minorities see themselves as victims, and victims tend to claim a kind of moral superiority which seeks to deny legitimacy to their critics. Attack Israeli security policy, and you are "antisemitic". Ask why Muslims do not speak out against terrorism, and you are "Islamophobic".

Christians need to identify their persecutors and name the persecution and prejudice for what it is. But they also need to beware the temptations of victimhood. The "unity" that comes from a shared sense of victimhood is just as dangerously seductive as that of the hissing crowd.

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10 years 1 month ago
Austen mentions the "new coalition of teacher unions, humanists and intellectuals" which has suggested that church schools, funded by the state, end their discriminatory practices. It should also be added that the new coalition includes Christians, such as myself, and Christian organisations too.
10 years 1 month ago
Jonathan Bartley was right to point out that Christians are part of Accord, although the only "Christian organisations" I can see on its website are two: his own, Ekklesia, and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. The rest -- in the interests of full disclosure -- are: the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (a union), the British Humanist Association, the Hindu Academy, the Socialist Education Association and Women against Fundamentalism. Not what you would describe as the heart of the British religious establishment. Not that that matters. What matters is the ideology that they share. That ideology is an eighteenth-century one, that would flatten all differences in the name of equality. What makes Accord Christianophobic -- and that includes its Christians -- is its strange idea that religious differences are divisive, and the attempt to preserve values discriminatory. However the members of Accord want to describe themselves -- as Hindus or Humanists -- their religion is secularism.
10 years 1 month ago
Bartley claims to be opposed to ''discrimination'' in faith schools pupil intake but the truth is that he's opposed to faith schools per se. Accord opposes the expansion of faith schools but if it were discrimination in admissions which concerned them, they would call for a radical expansion of faith schools to meet demand. If Accord were to be successful, Catholic schools would be forced to turn away Catholic pupils, parents wanting faiths schools would be forced to send their children to secular schools. Accord's ultimate aims are clear: to force faith schools into a constricting straitjacket and gut them of their distinctive character. Why isn't Bartley honest about this? On his own blog, Bartley bemoans a supposed lack of grown up debate from certain British commentators who have been less than complementary about Accord. But by deploying the emotive language of ''discrimination'' and ''segregation'', so redolent of old time Dixie and apartheid, by using misleading arguments about faith schools ''controlling'' admissions, when Accord opposes the expansion which would enable them to free up admissions policies, neither Accord nor Bartley can be said to be engaging in grown up - or honest - debate themselves. In fact, looking at Bartley's blog I couldn't find any comments facility at all. Never mind a grown up debate, he isn't facilitiating *any* debate at all. If Bartley genuinely desires a grown up debate about faith schools, I submit that there is something to be said for leading by example. The implicit contradictions between Accord's glossy mission statement and the small print of its aims is too interesting and important to languish in comment box obscurity. I think Austen should return to this subject in another post and challenge Bartley to let go of the spin and address these points.
10 years 1 month ago
Mr. Ivereigh, thanks for a very informative article and especially for bringing attention to the horrific anti-Christian persecution in India. You are wise to warn that Christians not fall into the trap of victimhood, which is tempting in our modern therapeutic culture. However, as a convert to the Faith from Hinduism, my experience has been quite the opposite. Many of my Christian and Catholic friends and acquaintances have predictable responses similar to that of the mainstream media in reporting anti-Christian persecutions. "Well, look at how Christians behaved during the Crusades." "Oh, these are just clashes of different faiths." We (and I certainly have fallen into this myself) have grown so comfortable in our existences that we have become apathetic towards violence inflicted upon the Body of Christ. So, in whatever manner the meetings at Rimini serve to inform the faithful that ignoring anti-Catholic prejudice and persecution is suicidal, the better we are for it. Sometimes victims really are victims. For more (much more than the Western media is reporting), the readers of this blog may wish to read more:
10 years 1 month ago
Thank you for this interesting background around the pronouncement of ''Christianophobia''. I don't like the word but I have actually experienced the phobia while working with certain groups so the phenomenon is real.
10 years 1 month ago
I'm afraid the violence towards Christians in South Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka, has a long and complex history. Fundamentalists are using a very nasty colonial history in which native traditions were belittled and the colonial power directly or indirectly followed a program of aggressive proselytism, and their using it quite effectively, to stir up aggression and xenophobia towards international Christian religious organizations currently active in the country, even ones which aren't involved in active missioning. I also fear that certain evangelical groups which proselytize very aggressively and can, I think, very rightly be accused of unethical conversion practices great exacerbate the problem. But as long as missionary work goes unregulated and unsupervised by any international body, these problems will continue to fester.


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