The Intellectual Persecution of the Church

“Ha! You believe in God? That is so stupid,” the neighbor’s six-year-old boy said to my son Will. “He doesn’t exist; you know that, don’t you? Do you still believe in Santa Claus too? My dad told me about Santa. Your dad should tell you about God.” It broke my heart to hear this little sweet boy say these things. It broke my heart even more to know that his dad was teaching him the Santa/God comparison that is so popular among atheists today. But what gets to me most is the landscape of theological oppression that is increasingly becoming a part of the fabric of our world today. This has always been evident in the media. It has infiltrated the political arena. The educational system has been a suppressive environment for decades (nearly a century). And now we are starting to see it on the playground.

Don’t get me wrong, in a very real sense Christians can live with great security here in America (indeed, in the entire western world). While we gawk at rare times when Christians (normally obnoxious street preachers who are trying to make a video) are physically oppressed for their faith, these things don’t come too often. Let’s face it: I don’t worry much right now about the health of my kids being threatened for their stand for Christ. If a policeman shows up at my door, the last thing that I think is that he has come to interrogate me about my Christian confession. We feel for those in other countries whose lives are constantly in danger because they are Christ-o-phers or “Christ bearers” (a quick nod to my first name). In the last century, nearly fifty million Christians in other parts of the world lost their lives as martyrs. That is more than half the total number of Christian martyrs in the entirety of church history. So physical persecution is not something to take lightly and I am very grateful for the freedom that we have in this country.

However, this is not the end of the story. While western Christians may not be physically persecuted for our faith, there is a great deal of intellectual persecution going on everyday and it shows no sign of slowing down. Persecution, as any sociologist knows, is notoriously difficult to define. At its core, it involves oppression, denial of freedom, harassment, instigation of pain, belittling, and wholesale hatred. It has a very emotional foundation and has little regard for the dignity of man. In Christianity, it has always been associated with an attempted denial of belief. The sporadic persecutions of the early church had grassroots beginnings. Normally the government would stay out of it. Eventually, it turned “official” and violent, especially during the Diocletian era at the turn of the third century. But whether physical or not, the end goal is the same: the individual oppression of people’s faith in Christ.

Many people believe that the western world is on a fast train heading toward a time when there will again be physical persecution. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that when we are always looking for some time in the future, some Christ-hating law to be passed, or some political leader whose name can be creatively associated with 666 (0r 616 for us Wallacites!), we miss something very important: we are already under persecution – intellectual persecution. It is happening right now, under our noses, everyday. All one has to do is turn on Bill Maher, watch the news, or read one of the “New Atheists.” Their interaction does not come in the form of reasoned intellectual response to Christian beliefs or values, but belittling sound bites which seek to gain them quick favoritism. Have you ever seen a Christian attempt to pull off a news interview? If the Christian stands up for traditional marriage, against abortion, or holds to the exclusivity of Christianity or the reality of eternal punishment, there is no call for debate or serious interaction, but ad hominem attacks. As in all things, belittling evidences more insecurity on the side of the belittler than anything else, but observers don’t always know that. This translates into a more culturally-accepted persecution and suppression of ideas. How do we know about it so intimately? Because we have done the same thing to others.

You see, Satan’s goal is not necessarily the torturous death of a person. Everyone dies eventually. Death is not an authoritative power that Satan has been given, but is an ever-abiding reality of his own future. But what he wants to do is erode our beliefs. He does not care whether this comes through a denial of the faith at the end of a barrel in a lion’s den (if I could place those two together) or the lessening of faith due to embarrassing associations of God with Santa Claus on a playground. He simply wants people to believe less today than they did yesterday. He is the crow who comes and eats the seed so people might not hear and believe the word of God (Matt. 13:19). Remember the parable of the soils? The seed is the word of God. The four soils represent the human heart. Seed number 1, Satan ate. But what about the others? Seeds number 2 and 3 gained ground, but eventually fell away. Remember the seed that took root, grew with great excitement, but then died? Why did it die? Because it was “choked” out due to persecution and oppression (Matt. 13:21). Satan’s goal is simple: he wants our faith to be insecure. There is no need for him to turn to physical persecution here in America. He has dibs on intellectual persecution and it is choking out the faith of so many. Perpetual doubt, disallusionment, and dispair are the result.

“Believing that homosexuality is wrong is backward, Middle Ages type stuff. Don’t you know we have evolved beyond that?”

“You believe in God? Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy too?”

“I quit believing in God when I woke up to reality. You should too.”

“Imaginary friends (such as God) go here: trash.”

“The IQ of non-believers is higher than believers.”

“Your faith a blind leap into the dark. I don’t have ‘faith,’ only evidence.”

All of these are realistic examples of the intellectual persecution Christians can expect to receive. It is an ever-so-slight belittling which, ironically, does nothing but suppress free thought. But don’t underestimate its effects. Just because such things do not kill, burn, hang, or mutilate the human body does not mean they are harmless. You know, the old “sticks and stones…” thing? It does introduce a very real virus to the mind. People are fragile. No mind is that strong. Subjected to constant harassment, faith can be choked and suffocated. No, not from a divine standpoint. I know that God is both the author and completer of our faith (Heb. 12:2; Phil. 1:6). In this, we gain our strength and rise up with wings of eagles. Nevertheless, from a very practical standpoint, we are called upon to love God with all our minds. But under intellectual persecution, many will concede their minds. This creates an insecure cognitive dissonance (separation of what you really believe from how you behave). Therefore, with our hearts we serve the Lord, but with our minds (due to intellectual persecution) we find ourselves retreating into isolation and unbelief. This is never good for Christianity as it causes a false dichotomy to be set up, as if we can love God with our hearts and not our minds.

Am I persecuted intellectually? Well, I live in the Bible Belt of America. Eighty-five percent of the population here is Protestant Christian. I spend most of my day talking to people at the Credo House, teaching Christians, doing interviews, and exchanging ideas with like-minded leaders. Yes, I get emails fairly often from people who label me as intellectually backward. But the intellectual persecution does not always come in direct ways on the playground of life. Most of it is indirect ambient persecution which can fold the chairs of real security for the unprepared. If Satan can do that, then he has produced the same effect as the lion’s den.

How to respond:

1. Never respond in kind (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14). If we respond in kind, are we not instigating the very persecution that we condemn? We turn the other cheek, not in that we do not offer a defense, but that we never visit belittling with belittling, hate with hate, and oppression with oppression.

2. Realize that no matter how well-reasoned our intellectual responses are, they alone will never change the heart or militancy of those who hate God (1 Cor. 2:14; Ps. 2:1-2).

3. Keep in mind that there is strength in numbers. The ambient persecution that exists today will only increase as unbelievers are confirmed, not because of their arguments, but because of the wide acceptance their assertions may gain (whether legitimate or not) (Prov. 13:20).

4. Do not be surprised when your Christian faith is resisted with obstinance and, often, belligerence. Remember this is supposed to happen (John 15:20).

5. Don’t concede the mind even if “victory” is never going to be attained in this world. Remember the world is watching. Os Guinness once said that we only have the right to a position in the marketplace of ideas to the degree that we understand and can defend our faith. We are called to defend our faith (1 Pet. 3:15). We need to continue to contend for this position in the marketplace of the mind until Christ comes.

6. Know that God uses such things for his glory. Obviously, any type of persecution, physical or intellectual, is never the perfect will of God. But God does not have perfection to work with in our current world. He is perfecting it, but it has a long way to go. Intellectual persecution can go a long way towards helping Christians to internally consider the foundation of their faith and its merits. What an opportunity we have to grow.

My son Will, being only seven years old, did not feel the persecution that day. But I know he will someday experience and feel intellectual persecution if he truly decides to follow Christ. He will have some tough choices to make at this time. I pray that he surrenders neither his heart nor his mind. I pray that he will mount up on eagles’ wings, relying on grace and truth, never seeking the acceptance of a man – no matter what playground he is on – over the acceptance of God.

39 Responses to “The Intellectual Persecution of the Church”

  1. Michael,

    Knowing you, I am sure your statement here meant God is the author and completer of our faith, did you not?

    “I know that God is both the author and competitor of our faith (Heb. 12:2; Phil. 1:6)”

  2. Also another word here:

    I don’t think intellectual disagreement from without the body of Christ always means persecution for a believer. That’s a modern day misnomer, IMO. Atheism has always been the enemy of God. I think we have to realize there is a difference. What your son experienced isn’t so much an intellectual attack upon the church, but a spiritual battle that will be waged until Christ comes back and settles it once and for all. The greatest intellectual attacks upon the church nowadays, in my own observation anyway, actually come from doubt and disagreement within its own ranks.

  3. Why not respond in kind? Jesus and Paul both returned challenge with challenge, polemic with polemic, rhetoric with rhetoric. The softly spoken man will be drowned out. If what you say is important then it has to be heard.

  4. Jason, “in kind” would, in this context, mean in an oppressive belligerent way. Definitely we can respond intellectually.

  5. Michael,

    Since you have made the correction on ‘competitor’ versus ‘completer’ please feel feel to delete my first comment and this one too. Thanks.

    We don’t need to get into semantics and derail the thrust of this post. Thanks.

  6. Michael have you ever read any of the deconversion stories of born again believers? The persecution they go through from family and friends is probably more than what North American Evangelical Christians have experienced. Family and friends that will no longer have anything to do with them. Have you read the Mark Driscoll treatment of a christian in his church that has sinned. Being ridiculed for your beliefs is not as hurtful as loving friends and love ones. Despite this they find they can no longer believe in the bible god. Michael have you read Kenneth Daniels book “Why I Believed”? He begged god to show himself to him so that he could believe again.

  7. Yes Mary. I have whole shelf and have devoted much of the last ten years reading deconversion stories. Lot and lot about leaving the faith on this blog

  8. Persecution or opportunity? If someone said it was stupid to believe in God, I’d ask them how they are so sure there isn’t one. It’s their statement. Let them defend it. Nothing is better than letting people actually reflect on what they believe.

  9. Yes, Mike, it is an opportunity. But when obstinate belittling and oppression/suppression of ideas without thoughtful or meaningful discourse becomes the norm, it becomes persecution. Still an opportunity. I think of interviews on news stations where the Christian is asked about his stand on gay marriage, abortion, or a complementarian stance that they may hold. At this point the issue turns so emotional that no matter how reasoned the response it, belittling is sure to come. And, of course, belittling is simply an expression of insecurity and Christians can do it to non-Christians.

  10. “The BLOGGER doth protest too much, methinks.”

    Christians persecuting other Christians “intellectually” because they are different and don’t fit into our “acceptable norm” for upright Christian behavior is antithetical to the premise of your article.

    “While we gawk at rare times when Christians (normally obnoxious street preachers who are trying to make a video)”

    Street preaching is biblical and a godly form of obedience to God’s word. But it is often berated and belittled by the more “elite” and “sophisticated” of God’s people.

    My point? My experience being a Christian for 32 years is that THE MOST “INTELLECTUAL PERSECUTION” I have encountered over the years is usually from another Christian!!

  11. Jess, I agree. We definitely can eat our young. But what I am talking about here is the cultural disdain for Christianity that has grabbed much of the intellectual ambience. It is why we talk about “pre-evangelism” that needs to happen. I think that Dan Wallace’s “The Myth of Theologal Liberalism” (which will soon be a book!) captures much of what I am saying here.

    By the way, I have done some street preaching myself, but I am very careful where I do it.

  12. consulscipio236 March 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    You should be thankful for those arogant New Atheists, as they show just how irrational atheism is. For most, their belief is not founded in knowledge but something esoteric (the same reason a child knows his parents love him), and so their faith isn’t threatened by this belittling. Rather than turn people away from Christianity, they turn people away from atheism and give Christians an obnoxious enemy to rally around. When you look at the last 500 years, protestants in particular are he most organized when they have an “other” to rally against.

    As for your right wing stuff, the belittelers are right, and you are hurting the image of Christianity far more than the New Atheists ever could. You are the best thing those atheists could ask for, and are doing what they wish they could do. The simple fact is that you guys are completely wrong on your right wing stuff, and are hypocritical on top of that (“pro life” and yet pro death penalty and pro war? seriously??). You need to reassess your right wing political views before you start seeing people as “persecuting” you by preventing you from persecuting others.

  13. Ken Blatchford March 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    To Con236

    Whoaaa big fella. You guys and your Lefty Wing stuff are the Pro-Death folks with your abortions or tiny little human beings and muted voices for the innocent. You are the Pro War folks. A true war on the innocents. You claim you are for peace when you wouldn’t defend your own families if it cost you anything. I don’t see any of your folks willing to defend anything except your own point of view. I find your group a pious bunch of hypocrites lately. It always seems that way to me when I see someone try to define the terms of the argument with your redefining of the terms by what you wrote above.

  14. Interesting illustration of this post you provide.

  15. The anti-intellectualism within the broader sphere of popular evangelicalism doesn’t help much… I know that may not be true on this site, but it is a sad feature of our theological tradition…

  16. To me, the bottom line is, MOST people aren’t Christians. The question isn’t whether they should or shouldn’t resist Christ … the will and they do. It’s cultural. The question, rather, is, can we take it?

    If God is being compared to Santa Claus, can you make a rational distinction separating the two, to someone who believes in neither one?

    “I quit believing in God when I woke up to reality.” Can you show that God, the creator OF reality, is compatible WITH reality? Because he is.

    The arguments non-believers have, right or wrong, they have. And we should be able to speak to them on their terms, using what they DO accept, to explain that which we know to be true … in their reality, whether they can see it or not.

    It’s not a question of convincing them – you can’t. It’s a question of getting them to see that the idea of God/Jesus is less ridiculous than they once thought.

    The thing Christians need to realize is we cannot PROVE God exists to someone who doesn’t believe he does. All we can do is provide evidence. Non-biblical evidence (since they don’t accept the Bible). Intellect. You will never PROVE God exists, but you CAN show that it is reasonable (It’s not fairy tales, Santa, or the tooth fairy). that God actually *might* exist.

    Of course, they still won’t believe you, but it’s not your job to convince them. It’s your job to represent Christ, regardless of the outcome. We can at least show that believing in God is not…

  17. *snip*

    It’s our job to represent Christ, regardless of the outcome. We can at least show that believing in God is not madness.

  18. Love #14 – I was thinking the same thing.

    And we wonder why people resist.

    One quote I heard that I really like (it’s a spin-off of Ghandi’s “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.”) is “It would be a lot easier to believe you if so many Christians weren’t like you.”


  19. It seems true that the intellectual onslaught is being levied against Christianity. However, the “intolerant tolerant” are against any moral system that disabuses them of their own self interest. Our culture isn’t anti-Christian, it is a two-year old who doesn’t want to be told what to do, whether it’s a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Shaman telling them that they are acting immorally.

  20. For what its worth, too often evangelicals are on the receiving end of disagreement and questioning because they’ve failed to respond completely or coherently to legitimate questions. Notice Ken Blatchford’s response above, its loaded with right wing code words and ends up just polarizing the conversation instead of contributing to the conversation.

    Legitimate intellectual engagement (the kind many of us are trying to do at higher educational levels) often requires advanced thinking and dealing with abstract concepts that most laymen aren’t equipped to handle. That’s okay. We all aren’t called or equipped to handle it. However, it isn’t a legitimate response to say that when people question our faith that we should claim “persuecution” or undue criticism. That isn’t helpful.

    Instead, let’s honestly engage. I can tell you a lot of the guys who disagree with Christianity at an intellectual level and might be considered intellectual “persuectors” would tell you they’ve rarely met a believer who can stand on their own feet intellectually. They are troubled by the lack of substantial engagement on important questions about life and faith. This isn’t necessarily a good critique, but it is one I’ve heard more than a few times. So maybe we need to consider how we are answering and how we are equipped before crying wolf.

  21. consulscipio236 March 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Ken Blatchford:
    Once you expand “pro-life” to include those on death row and innocent people in countries you want to wage war on (ie Iraq), then we can talk.

    This does raise another point: evangelicals truly poisoned their image by marching in lockstep behind ‘certain’ right wing politicians and whole heatedly endorsing the war in Iraq. My own theology isn’t far from mainstream evangelicals but I won’t refer to myself that way because they poisoned themselves in my mind by their role in supporting that war.

  22. I enjoyed reading the post, although I disagree that a child likening God to Santa Claus constitutes persecution. There is simply no comparison between the very real persecution of atheists in the Bible Belt and the free way Christians make policy and throw their weight around in public fora in small towns like the one I live in here in Tennessee. It is a very real threat that you can lose your job and be ostracized if you “come out” as an atheist in the Bible Belt. The fact that Bill Maher is safe in his ivory tower in NYC does not mean it is safe to profess atheism in the land where Rick Santorum wins primaries with promises of Biblical-based legislation. Didn’t you see the poll that puts atheists in the most hated, most distrusted category, even below child molesters? If a Christian thinks he or she is being persecuted, try being an atheist. Then you can REALLY see what persecution is.

  23. Ken Blatchford March 10, 2012 at 9:51 am


    Since you feel impelled to use my post as an example of your perceptions perhaps I should ask you what you see as what you termed “right-wing code words”?

    It’s been my experience that once the Left has defined the terms of the conversation then the debate is hijacked and the disagreeing person(s) is relegated to the prison of silence.

    Anyone who the Left disagrees with are quickly labeled polarizing or ignorant. It’s part of the playbook used by atheists and demagogues. I. M. E. Isolate, marginalize, and eliminate.

    Consider your statement: let’s honestly engage. I can tell you a lot of the guys who disagree with Christianity at an intellectual level and might be considered intellectual “persuectors” would tell you they’ve rarely met a believer who can stand on their own feet intellectually. They are troubled by the lack of substantial engagement on important questions about life and faith.”

    Next time you are with your “enlightened” friends at Starbucks tell them that the Gospel frees them of the ignorant prejudice of their mind and gives them the living breath of life from their Creator. That Jesus is the only way to salvation.

    You will soon discover that the prosecutors for unbelief rearing their smug heads and using I. M. E. to its intended effect.

    You wait, you watch, you’ll see.

  24. The topic is timely. Listen to what Newt Gingrich said about the ABC television show G.C.B. :

    “And just to show you the biases of the elite media, look at the new show that’s on that has the word Christian in it. And I want you to take that exact name, drop out Christian and put in Muslim and ask yourself is there any network that would have dared to run a show like that and you know the answer is not a one, because anti-Christian bigotry is just fine in the entertainment industry.”

    If you can’t eliminate the opposition you can see what the haters do. They make absurd caricatures of Christians, ridicule and satire what they oppose. This is on page two of the Left’s playbook on how to handle Christians.

  25. I work at a science centre where science is, almost literally, a god… I feel this persecution daily. Not that I don’t love the people there, and have great friendships with them, but I definitely feel afraid when I think of the cost of standing up for my faith when discussions come round (especially at Easter and Christmas time).
    I used to be more gung ho but over the past couple of years have experienced some hardships and sins in my personal life that set me back.
    If anyone can spare it, I need prayer for courage at my workplace to engage in these debates and conversation in a loving and mindful way.

  26. Saskia,
    Take heart my brother. I will pray that you are bold as a lion while you wield the sword of truth. Be encouraged. Give them reasons for your faith and confidence in the Lord with a gentle and firm conviction.

  27. Thank you :)

  28. Very annoyed at your site. I came here to view this article, and you pop up a massive advert, blacking out the rest of the page. The advert demands that I subscribe to your mailing list (which I don’t wnat to do), and there is no way to get rid of it.

    Instead of acquiring a new reader, you’ve irritated the hell out of someone who was interested enough to click through.

  29. Matteo Masiello March 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Fortunately, in this country, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how stupid and uninformed. No matter how proudly it demonstrates their ignorance of other’s beliefs, as well as ones own beliefs. I cannot agree that American Christians are persecuted at all, whether intellectually or literally. Sadly, we are simply too full of ourselves culturally, whether we profess our faith as Christian or not. I feel that we need to start acting the way God wants us to act (lovingly, patiently, joyously, kindly, faithfully, and with the proper amount of self-control) before we learn how to engage those whose opinions differ from us. We cannot accuse people of persecuting us when we are only persecuting ourselves.

  30. I was a believer for 15 years. A true, life changed, born again believer who led others to Christ, led ministries, worshiped God and studied the scriptures. I was able to rationalize faith and facts. My faith is now gone, and I am half relieved and half sad. I am not and never was angry at God, religion, church, etc., I just learned enough to tip over the credulity of faith.

    This blog seems to be mostly current believers so let me offer a frame of reference. Why do you value missions? Seriously. The point of missions is to go tell people (in a very polite manner) that what they currently believe is WRONG. There may be different approaches if they are Atheists, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Voodoo, etc. but basically it is telling them they are wrong, and offering the message of salvation through Christ. Understand that from their perspective, their current belief is likely JUST AS STRONG and just as justified as yours.

    Now here is the true test. Are you willing to ask yourself if what you believe is REALLY TRUE? I am not asking whether it gives meaning to your life, whether it offers community, etc. The most important phrase is “Critical Thinking”. Most believers are afraid to really question faith and remain blissfully unaware of reality, but for those interested in Truth, there is an amazing universe out there.

    • Great to have you hear. We have a lot of former believers here. We also have former former believers! I would spend some time looking around. You will see that this is a place that highly values critical thinking. Especially take a look at some of the stuff on the resurrection. I wrote a book about what true faith is: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Assensus deals with the intellectual conviction that what you believe is true, not just emotional conviction (which anyone can have).

      Take a look at the apologetics section. I think you will find that we are very intellectually honest, wrestling with our faith, yet coming to different conclusions as you have.

      See this post: for my own thoughts.

      I would also as you to not become to closed minded in your unbelief. Just as we could be wrong, so could you. Keep coming around and I think you will find some very provocative stuff to challenge you.

    • You also might find value in the sister site to this one:

  31. I just read your “short defense” blog. Very well written. I honestly do believe that anyone with a real desire to know the truth will leave Christianity, but that most are not willing to risk that thought as if it is opening Pandora’s box, or giving Satan an foothold. You seem a bit more open minded than most and I applaud you. Below are some of my challenges:
    1) Most people end up with the same belief as their parents / society. The Muslim in Iran know that Allah is the true God. The Egyptians knew that Ra was the true God. The Greeks knew that Zeus was the true God. The Hindus know that the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the true God. Christians know that Yahweh (Father, Son, Spirit) is the true God. If one is REALLY true, wouldn’t it ignore country boundaries?
    2) Statistics show that in the USA, about 85% of people who make a decision for Christ do so by age 14. As a believer, this should motivate children’s ministries. As a non-believer, this is glaring. Indoctrinate young before they can think critically.
    3) Prayer doesn’t ever change physical events. Ever. Prayer can certainly change the attitude of the person praying, but nothing outside. I used to be able to rationalize this by saying God can’t be tested, or He moves in mysterious ways. This short clip explains my thoughts quite well.
    Let me know your thoughts.

  32. (I know that this a very old post, so perhaps no one will read this comment. )

    I love this tooth fairy or santa clause analogy that is put forth by many atheists today. Here is how I responded to one person (Ubi) that was chatting with online recently.
    I love the tooth fairy and Santa analogies. You see, when we are children we see these gifts that mysteriously show up on Christmas morning. We hear rumors that these gifts come from some far-off man who lives at the North Pole who likes little children. Sooner or later, of course, we realize that these rumors just aren’t true.
    But here it gets interesting. You see, Santa was false – but the GIFTS were real. The child was just attributing them to the wrong person. The gifts actually came from a (real) parent who loved the child very much. Likewise, we are all showered with many gifts in life (beauty, love, sex, friendship, creativity, joy). A childish view of these gifts is to attribute them to some mythical and distant creature (like “chance” or like a “watchmaker”). A much more rational view is to recognize that these gifts are from a Creator who loves us and wants a relationship with us.
    Just like the child who recognizes that Santa is a farce, our souls long to thank the REAL gift-giver for the wonderful things that we have to enjoy in life.
    How would you like it your daughter ceased believing in the tooth fairy and instead just believed that the dollar “randomly” shows up under her pillow?
    That, to me, is what atheism (or agnosticism) is. You see the gift with your eyes. But you don’t see the gift-giver with your eyes. So you throw your hands up and say “no evidence” – when the evidence was in front of you all along!

  33. Is it also “intellectual persecution” when an 8-year-old from a Christian family tells a neighbor kid that his whole family is going to be tortured for eternity because they don’t share his faith?


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