The U.S. State Department's annual report on international religious freedom describes hundreds of incidents of religious bigotry and violence, especially in the Arab-Muslim world, Asia, and nations of the former Soviet bloc. Which is why it was no surprise when, at a press conference on September 13, 2011, Assistant Secretary Michael Posner and Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook identified Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan as the most recent "countries of particular concern"— places where sectarian assaults and systematic discrimination on the basis of faith have been widely reported.
Yet the runners-up—the ones deemed not to deserve "particular concern"—include such nations as Egypt (where scenes of mobs torching Christian churches belie the ostensible Muslim-Christian comity of Tahrir Square), Pakistan (where Sufi, Shia, Ahmadiyah, and Christian worshippers are being persecuted in alarming numbers), and Kazakhstan (where strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev is about to sign into law a bill limiting the activities of religious missionaries).
You know who is to blame for all this persecution, of course: The Christians are. Or so, at least, the mainline Christian organizations seem anxious to assure us. The victimized Christians in these countries have "asked for it:" by the very act of being open believers and missionaries, they are intensifying the global threat to freedom of religion. So the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See, and the World Evangelical Alliance have joined together to do something about it—by urging their fellow Christians to behave less provocatively.
The group's report, titled "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct," calls on Christians to reject "the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols, or texts." And, as the report makes clear, there is a whole lot of violation and destruction being done. What the report does not make so clear is that most of it is being done to Christians. The three organizations, which claim to represent over 90 percent of the world's Christians, met in Italy, France, and Thailand to come up with these guidelines, based on the worthy principle of respect for all faiths.
Surely it is at least a little significant, however, that no non-Christian organization joined them in calling for an end to religious provocations. The poor Christians could not get even one Muslim organizations to join them in decrying religious violence, even when these Christians agreed that, yes, they were guilty of provoking the violence.
To his credit, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States has been less muddled on this point. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti recently told representatives of the former Soviet bloc nations that their governments are responsible for the climate in which attacks on religious minorities take place. To combat intolerance and discrimination, he said, "it is essential to promote and consolidate religious liberty," which "cannot be restricted to the simple freedom of worship" but includes "the right to preach, educate, convert, contribute to the political discourse and participate fully in public activities."
Echoing the words of Benedict XVI, Mamberti decried "a radical secularism" in the countries of Europe that "relegates, a priori, all kinds of religious manifestations to the private sphere." The Europeans have embraced relativism and believe this makes them tolerant. But their "postmodern idea that religion is a marginal component of public life" has the effect of denigrating both faith and the faithful, which perversely emboldens the violent to act: Intolerance encouraged by pseudo-tolerance.
As a general critique of the world situation, this seems exactly right: The premodern bigots are nakedly brutalizing minority religions, while the postmodern powers are providing the fig leaf.
Even as Archbishop Mamberti was speaking, the Vatican was signing on to the self-blaming "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World" report. As Benedict XVI was telling the German parliament to reject the European elites' view of religion, the representatives of world Christianity were trying to ingratiate themselves with these elites.
The result is not only self-contradictory; it is self-defeating and has murderous results. Just ask the Christians in Egypt. Or Pakistan. Or Kazakhstan. If you can still find them.
Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and the author of The Second Spring: Words into Music, Music into Words. Lauren Weiner contributed material for this report.