I haven’t read Sarah Palin’s new book, Good Tidings and Great Joy. But I’ve skimmed it. It’s hard to take. Yet another book from a Christer claiming to be oppressed because the clerk at Target says, “Happy holidays!” Oh, if Saint Sebastian were alive today, how could he endure? Arrows are one thing, but this is war. If nativity scenes aren’t allowed in state courthouses, the baby Jesus pees blood. It’s a God damned shame!
Palin’s book is a good companion to a book I actually did read, Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution. Moss is a Christian herself and she thinks all of this nonsense of Christian martyrdom is bad for the religion. A professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, she knows what she’s talking about. It turns out that all that business of Christians being fed to the lions is a myth. Well, it’s a myth in the sense that they weren’t fed to these beasts because they were Christians. Lots of people were so abused. When Christians were killed, it was generally because they broke the law. The early Christians were a radical group, many of them would today be called terrorists.
So I love Bruce Cockburn’s excellent song “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” but it’s a crock:
Consider our old friend Saint Sebastian. His story is so filled with clear folklore, that it is hard to take any of it seriously. He made the mute talk and the blind see. Merely hearing about his acts of healing caused people to be healed. But here’s the thing. He was a captain in the Praetorian Guard, serving under Emperor Diocletian. Now the Christians will have you believe that Diocletian got mad at Sebastian because he was converting people to Christianity. But that doesn’t appear to be what was going on at all. For example, he converted Chromatius who then set all of his prisoners free from jail and resigned. That’s the sort of thing that would get a soldier court-martialed today.
So Diocletian basically sentenced Sebastian to death (or perhaps just torture) by having him tied to a tree and having his men shoot arrows at Sebastian. Left for dead, he survived and was nursed back to health. So Sebastian presented himself to Diocletian to rub his nose in the fact that he was still alive. So the emperor had his men beat Sebastian to death and throw his body in the sewer. God did not heal him from this. Of course, we don’t know that any of this is even true. Sebastian was never even discussed until a century after this all supposedly happened. The point is that the story is supposed to show Christians being persecuted for their faith when, if anything, they were persecuted for being dicks and rabble rousers.
This mythology of the early Christians being persecuted did lead to actual martyrdom later on, because myths matter. If people are told that the best thing they can do is martyr themselves for the cause, there’s no surprise when people do just that. We see the same things today with Muslim martyrs. But when it comes to all of these religious people, any religious persecution was at best isolated and idiosyncratic.
And that brings us back to Sarah Palin. Because of this myth of Christian persecution, she and so many others like her, practice their faiths by pretending that they are some oppressed religious minority. They do this at the same time that they want to claim that America is a Christian Nation. They also love to point out that roughly 80% of the country self-identifies as Christian. I wrote about this last year, Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas. As I said then:
A moment’s thought on this issue will show that this is true. But notice how the deconstruction lays bare the absurdity of the request. It is not enough to include Christmas in a greeting, the greeting must single out Christmas because, you know, unlike those other religions, it’s true! Now, I’m as deluded as the next man, but I don’t require that others pander to my delusions.
So that’s what Sarah Palin’s new book is all about. Christmas is not everyone’s holiday. It is the holiday that belongs only to those chosen people who happen to believe in the right God. And the rest of us who are not Christians and who really don’t care are waging a war on Christianity through our indifference. So the myth of the persecution of Christians lives on, but now it has been so debased that cable “news” networks spend whole segments whining about the fact that non-Christians don’t celebrate the winter solstice the “right” way. Proving one’s love to God comes pretty cheap to the modern Christian.