Thursday, December 01, 2005

the bar of persecution

this article, about 4 pharmacists being suspended for not dispensing prescribed medication, came to my attention today.

and it makes me ask what religious persecution really is.

really. what is it?


jesus chick said...

do you mean it seems as though "we" are being persecuted by the religous?

ding said...

no, i mean just what i asked: how do we define religious persecution - the persecution of the religious?

Wasp Jerky said...

A lot of people tend to think of religious persecution as something like this. But I think that's just silly. It's more about things like people calling Pagan trees (er, I mean Christmas trees) holiday trees. That's what being persecuted is really about.

Sara E Anderson said...

I think it's kind of important to remind ourselves that sometimes, persecution is the only responsible way for society to deal with a religion that is hostile or dangerous to the freedom of others. A person is free to practice their religion as long as it's not infringing on my own freedoms, religious or not. If you're going to step into my confidential doctor-patient relationship, or not hire me because I'm gay, then I'm going to persecute you and your ass whether it is religious or not.

ding said...

um, ok, first of all, kevin - what is up with jesus? is that a rifle?? and second, you're always a few steps ahead of me, you know?

but what do we mean when we say things like 'i feel persecuted' or 'i'm going to persecute your ass'? like the word 'racist', i think perspective around persecution has been lost. i don't think we really know what it means anymore and i think we (the we in the church) are using it just a bit too easily when folks happen to think church/state should remain separate and call us on our shit.

Sara E Anderson said...

ding, I suppose I could be a little less flip. My town contains a church of the yuckiest fundamentalist stripe. They're theonomists and neoconfederates to boot. In their theocratic ambitions, they have run stealth candidates for city council and school board (the pastor of the church has made it clear in public that he wants to edge out the public school scene in our town in favor of his church-run private schools). Unsurprisingly, people not affiliated with this church are not excited about the ambitions of the members of this church. There are lots of letters to the editor denouncing church members and leaders, there are zoning and tax-centered arguments with regard to where and how the church can exert its influence in town, and businesses owned by church members (who tithe to the church) are boycotted. The pastor of the church assumes the "victim" stance, and says that he's not doing anything wrong, and that we're all out to get him. He's right that we're out to get him - he's a bad man who wrote a book about how slavery in the US really wasn't so bad, and thinks that the tradition of dowries ought to be revived. He uses progressive language - asks for "tolerance" - but doesn't see (or care about) the contradiction in insisting that his desire/ambition to stone homoasexuals be "tolerated."

I'd say this sounds like persecution to me, but I would also say it's justified. Hassling someone because they're advocating wearing hijabs or because they want to put up a big glowing cross also sounds like persecution to me, but it is unwarranted.

I certainly do not think that the word "persecution" is being used because people don't understand it - it's being used because it is a loaded word that makes the "persecuted" out to be deserving of sympathy. Yes, people are giving pharmacists a hard time because of their religious belief that they shoudl not dispense Plan B. The fact that it is a religious belief (however well or poorly founded) does not make it unassailable and it does not make it legal. History is full of examples of people who held unpopular beliefs that later came to be accepted by the world at large. The misleading thing about this is that someone with an unpopular belief may assume that their opinion will also eventually be vindicated. Obviously, though, not every unpopular belief eventually turns out to be right.

Wasp Jerky said...


I agree. I think the word has lost meaning, in part because it's often used in this country to refer to things that clearly aren't persecution. If a Christian in the United States is using that word to describe something happening to him or her because of their religious beliefs, the odds are quite good that they are full of shit.

And yes, that's a rifle. Jesus is a big fan of the M1 Garand. He's also a card-carrying member of the NRA. Guns don't kill people. The prince of peace kills people.

ding said...

you crack me up.

sara's situation is so interesting because it shows that what we call religious 'persecution' is really politics: one set of political acts is being met with another set of political acts. the current brouhaha over christmas on fox news is a perfect example. it's not about religion, it's about politics. pharmacists refusing to dispense medication, same thing. it's not about faith but about a political demonstration of faith (let's not be disingenuous - one goes through pharmaceutical training without thinking that, eventually, they'll be asked to fill a birth control prescription?)

but if there's anyone with a more conservative bent out there reading (ahem) i'd like to hear what they think. is the pharmacist situation or the situation in sara's town religious persecution?

Sara E Anderson said...

I don't see why you think that religious persecution could not be political. The example I generally think of regarding religious persecution is the Puritains in England. And it wouldn't help to look up the term "persecution" in the dictionary for good measure. So, to be clear, I would define persecution as harassing, harming, and denouncing a person publicly because of their religious beleifs. Like I said before, their religious beliefs may not strike you as having a lot to do with the Bible, but I don't see how that makes the beliefs non-religious. Misguided religious beliefs are still religious beliefs. With the sway that the evangelical community in this country has on the GOP, I think it's pretty evident that religion does not abhor politics nor vice versa. Or, to put it another way, the personal is political. I understand that the pharmacists refusing to dispense Plan B aren't just doing this to be mean - their belief system has led them to feel that it would be sinful of them to prescribe it. The merits of this feeling aside, their actions are motivated by faith, but the results are political.

As far as what's going on in my town, I think persecution is a completely fair term - the religious beliefs of this church really are not acceptable in a free society. People getting all exercised about hearing "Happy Holidays," are not being persecuted by the phrase, but they're using the term "persecution" because of the way the loaded term cripples the argument.

ding said...

i guess i was thinking of religion in purely religious terms, as in 'i'm being persecuted because someone doesn't like that i'm christian/jewish/muslim/wiccan, etc.' i was thinking of pure persecution, if you will.

you're right, of course. the way religious persecution is framed in our culture right now is through politics. introducing intelligent design or kicking out a school board isn't purely religious (after all, there are no articles of faith based on these things) but they are purely political acts.

i think that's what i'm saying.

jesus chick said...

i have a friend who is a pharmacist and has declined to fill prescriptions for this type of drug in the past. she doesn't make an issue of it, she just goes to her boss or a different pharmicist and has them fill it. i imagine her store has a different policy than that of walgreens.
generally speaking i think that the word 'persecution' is quite inflammatory and has been used (abused?) by every group around. it's almost synonomous with 'discrimination' don't you think? all people are saying is, "because i'm 'this', i'm not being treated fairly". you're discriminating against me and it's persecution.
our country as tried to appease every single individual and i don't think it seems to be working so well; making one person happy is inevitably going to make someone else unhappy and there you go - persecution. did i answer the question or am i on a rabbit trail?

ding said...

but discrimination isn't about the individual alone - it's about the individual as part of a *class* of people. in other words, the women of wal mart had a tight case for sexual discrimination in the workplace when they proved that women, as a class, were discriminated against. not that one or two women individually were mistreated but that there was a systemic effort to discriminate against them.

gays, handicapped people, women and ethnic minorities have proven that they (as a class of individuals) have been discriminated against. (just to clarify)

so. are religious folk, as a class, discriminated against or persecuted by the larger culture?

Kari S said...

I'm not sure this will come out the way I mean, but, in partial response to your question above, I would give two answers - the one answer (speaking as an attorney, and in my own belief) would be 'no - no persecution going on here' - but convincing the determinedly persecuted of this is complicated because I think (and here I speak as one raised as a fundie) that an important tenant of certain branches of Christianity is that the faithful *will* be persecuted and that such persecution is a Sign from God that they are doing His work. Because of this aspect of some groups, I think that a sort of Emperor's New Clothes scenario can develop, where, to use as an example the members of the church in Sara's town, I suspect that they not only do genuinely feel persecuted but they welcome the feeling - they would actively look for incidents which could be interpreted as persecution and would point them out - and pointing them out to their 'persecutors' is a secondary side effect because the real use of persecution cries would be as a rallying tool for their followers - persecution would signal that the church's behavior is on the right track. (Which I think is also part of why they cannot see their own actions as persecutory - because they, as Christians in the world, by definition, are the persecuted, not the powerful.)