In the modern era, adopting a persecution complex has become an increasingly popular way to justify one’s resistance to a changing world. By claiming that the “traditional values” of the United States are under attack, political actors rally a “defensive” effort to stop the spread of changes that they see as threatening their beliefs and ways of life. However, in reality, these efforts prove to be more offensive than defensive, and these persecution complexes are simply the result of compensatory delusions rather than actual persecution.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “persecution” as “unfair or cruel treatment over a long period of time because of race, religion, or political beliefs.” So, when we claim that our beliefs are under attack, we should keep that definition in mind and think critically about whether or not the changes that we’re seeing in our world fit into that framework.
You may find that the people who share your religion, sexuality, race, political party, or gender are experiencing serious and real persecution. On the other hand, you may find that this persecution is entirely a delusion concocted by your own defensive mind and that your claims of “attacks on your beliefs” are actually false-flag warcries meant to spur the extinguishment of belief systems or changes that you don’t agree with.
The difference here is rooted in whether a societal movement actually encumbers your ability to be who you want and believe what you want, or it’s simply not in agreement with your own belief system. Persecution is real and has been happening since humans appeared on this Earth. But, like so many other things these days, the true meaning of this word has been skewed and used to support people’s political ends to the point where it’s deluding many people’s perceptions of the real world. Let’s take a look at some specific contexts and examine where the persecution complex comes into play.
The Persecution Complex in Religion
Perhaps the most common usage of the term “persecution complex” is in the religious context in relation to Christians. Jesus was persecuted for his religious beliefs and was murdered on a crucifix because of them. That’s real persecution. However, in the modern age, there have been certain Christian groups that have purported the idea that the Christian community is facing widespread persecution despite the fact that Christianity has been the dominant global religion for centuries. In fact, today, Christianity is still the most adhered-to religion in the world.
Of course, there are still real examples of Christian persecution around the globe. Christians in North Korea may be imprisoned or put to death for their faith. Possessing a crucifix or a Bible in Saudi Arabia can be grounds for execution. The Boko Haram Islamist group in Nigeria has bombed Christian churches and killed numerous Christian people. These are undeniable and unfortunate examples of real Christian persecution and are all the more reason we should not use the term “persecution” lightly.
Here in the United States, it’s important to remember that we are a secular country and a country of religious tolerance, despite it saying “In God We Trust” on our dollar bill or whatever religion was held by our founding fathers.
The removal of Christian iconography from government buildings or public schools is not so much an attack on Christianity as it is an overdue acknowledgment that all religions are equal.
There is no “War on Christmas” as so many Christians like to claim, but an effort to accommodate the Muslim student who feels marginalized because his school puts on an entire parade for Christmas but doesn’t make the slightest acknowledgment of Ramadan.
Everyone should be free to practice their religion however they choose. Just because your particular religion is no longer being elevated above all others by the government or by popular media does not mean you’re being persecuted.
The Persecution Complex in Race and Gender
In these changing times in which such a powerful effort is coming forth in favor of racial equality and gender equality, a persecution complex has arisen among many of the white males in the United States.
On an episode of the radio show This American Life, journalist Zoe Chace interviewed members of the Proud Boys movement and found that they generally held the opinion that, “White male Christians are the most marginalized group in the United States.” This is a perfect example of the persecution complex in action.
How can men be marginalized when women earned 84% of what men earned in 2020, according to Pew Research Center? How can white men be marginalized when black men earned 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white man in 2020, according to PayScale?
Again, the difference here is whether someone is infringing on your rights to be who you are and believe what you want to believe. No one is restricting your rights because you’re a man, as men restricted women’s right to vote in the United States. No one is restricting your rights because you’re white, as white men restricted countless rights of black people with the Jim Crow Laws.
By now, you should be noticing the theme that a push for equal rights does not restrict the rights of the formerly dominant group. Allowing someone to fight for their own human rights does not lessen your own humanity, but strengthens it. Sure, the white male population in the United States may be losing power and dominance, but that is a very, very different thing than being persecuted or marginalized.
The Persecution Complex in Politics
It has become a popular tactic in the modern political sphere to spread a persecution complex as a way of rallying people to defend their political beliefs in a way that has become nothing short of militaristic, even in the United States. Politicians have continually incited their bases through fearmongering and by claiming that the opposing political faction is threatening their political beliefs. The words “under attack” are grossly overused in modern political discourse and have contributed to the idea that the expression of one’s political opinions necessitates the suppression of another’s.
In the United States, we believe in a democratic process in which everyone has the right to express their political beliefs through their vote. And respecting and accepting an opposing political view is what separates a functioning democracy from a warzone. To express opposition to your political views is not the same as to persecute you for them.
In fact, there are no grounds for claiming political persecution in the United States. Every electoral process counts every vote on both sides of the aisle. Just because someone disagrees with your political views (or even dislikes you for them) does not mean that they are actively suppressing your views.
The fact that members of the political right in the United States would claim that they are being marginalized or persecuted during the term of President Donald Trump, a Republican, defies all logic and is clearly the product of mass manipulation by politicians to get people up in arms and out to the voting booths.
A Note About the Author
I am a straight, white man who was raised in a Christian household. I decline to associate myself with a political party because I believe that politicians should be elected on the basis of their specific platform rather than whether they wear an elephant or a donkey on their lapel.
Regardless of who you are or how you identify yourself, it’s important to remember that empowering other people (especially people who are different from you or who have been historically marginalized) does not detract from your own human rights, but rather strengthens your own humanity and creates a world where we can all benefit from broadening our perspectives. Using a persecution complex to justify your fear of change does nothing more than betray a lack of strength and a lack of love for humanity as a whole.