The foundation of Western civilization is relentlessly attacked in Europe
December 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Over the past several months, pressure on Christians has increased as the beliefs that form the foundation of Western civilization are relentlessly attacked as hateful and bigoted. Norway has just banned “transphobia”; a Finnish parliamentarian is under police investigation for defending traditional marriage; Dutch Christian schools are under attack by the government for teaching the biblical view of sexuality; a German pastor was fined 8,100 euros for statements against LGBTQ ideology. The list goes on. European Christians are increasingly trapped between the pincers of radical secularization and radical Islam.
I recently spoke with Madeleine Enzlberger of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe. Enzlberger, a native Austrian, has a background in conflict management and security politics and conducted field research in Iraq on the persecution of Christians and the promotion of International Religious Freedom Policy.
Are hate incidents against Christians on the rise in Europe?
Hate incidents are rising — not significantly in numerical terms, but the general culture is taking a shift. This means that we do have political and cultural changes that do not only affect Christians but individual freedoms in general. Areas like freedom of speech, conscience and religion are intrinsically linked to each other and restrictions on one can lead to limitations on one of the other freedoms.
Currently we can identify three main areas in which Christians are facing most pressure. The first category is violence, as in vandalism, which is considered a hate crime by the OSCE, against churches or Christian institutions. The majority of the cases we report fall under this category. Sadly, we also have actual physical assaults on Christians, like the recent tragic killing of Christians in the basilica of Nice, but they are very rare. The motive and bias of the perpetrators is very diverse. Among them we find anti-religious, radical feminist and LGBTQ+ groups, or radical Islamists.
The second field in which Christians face most adversities is radical secularization, which we can observe to take place on a political/legal level, but also a shift in general cultural attitudes towards Christians. Here we have cases of new hate speech or equality legislation, which potentially criminalize moral, faith-based arguments or the beliefs of Christians. In these cases, the basic human rights of committed Christians, like freedom of speech and conscience, are subdued under a new secular world view that claims moral authority.
Radical Islamists and radical Islamist groups are the third area of pressure for Christians. In these cases, Muslim converts, specially asylum seekers from the Middle East, are often targeted physically and mentally. Another new problem in this area is the growing phenomenon of hotspots in which radical Islamists or radical groups discriminate, marginalize or even attack Christians. France and the UK are among the countries who struggle most with this problem.
What are the most alarming trends?
The most alarming trend at the moment is the arbitrariness of the new equality and hate speech legislation being formulated, but also how existing ones are being executed — and how society reacts. The newly drafted equality legislation in Malta, for example, includes the term of “hurt feelings,” which means if someone feels “hurt” by a statement of another person he or she can file a charge for discrimination. Additionally, the legal principle of the burden of proof — innocent until proven guilty — is reversed. This means that the person who is being accused of having discriminated against someone else because their feelings got hurt has to prove that they are innocent. This could mean that even a Bible verse could be considered to “hurt” feelings. These expanded concepts of hate speech and equality often including fuzzy terms like “hurt feelings,” which are non-tangible for actual jurisdiction. In one case in Berlin a woman was accused of hate speech because she publicly displayed Bible verses about homosexuality in her restaurant. Luckily a court decided that she is free to do this because her freedom of religion needs to be guaranteed. In another case in Norway, which is just drafting a new hate speech law, it will technically be forbidden to state that a man cannot become a woman, a typical example for an expanded concept.
All of this leads to social dynamics which are not just putting a strain on Christians individually, but our democratic fabric in general. We advocate for the protection of human rights of Christians not out of selfish reasons but because we can observe a general danger for the whole of society. We can see that Christians and Christian institutions are not just being de-platformed for holding different views, they are also self-censoring, especially at universities, because they fear negative consequences on a legal or social level. This form of cancel culture has a major chilling effect on Christians and others. A survey in Germany showed that only 18% of people would feel safe to say in public what they would in private. Another study at a German university in Frankfurt revealed that students are highly intolerant of other views. A research recently done by ADF, a Christians legal organization, at U.K. universities shows that 25% of Christian students do not feel safe to voice their belief or opinions publicly and many Christian organizations are being kept from affiliating with university associations.
What does the Observatory classify as an “incident”?
An incident is a case in which Christians are facing discrimination, intolerance, marginalization, vandalism, physical attacks, negative stereotyping, threats or denial of access because of their beliefs or morals. We mostly have cases of vandalism against churches or Christian buildings, like pro-life offices. We also report on legal cases in which Christians and their human rights are infringed, like in the famous bakery shop case, in which a Christian bakery refused to make a cake with a support slogan for gay “marriage.” Lastly, we have cases in which people are facing societal or social pressure by being discriminated or marginalized. Those are also cases in which people are not allowed to freely voice their opinion without running the risk of harsh social reactions or even expulsion.
What is the greater threat to European Christianity, immigration from hostile areas or radical secularization?
The Observatory was founded in 2008, long before the high influx of immigrants in 2015, because the founders were convinced that it is necessary to create awareness of this new social phenomenon unfolding in Europe that no one was taking notice of. The main driver of cultural change in Europe, when we look at the majority of cases, is an increase of secular intolerance, which is starting to manifest in legal regulations and the creation of new social codes of conduct (or social justice), as stated before. The separation of the state and the church as such is not the problem because it is a vital common denominator in our democratic society. Problematic is that religion and belief are more and more relegated to the private sphere, not leaving enough space in the public debate and delegitimizing transcendent rationales. When it comes to immigration, there is pressure against Christians, but as outlined earlier there are certain hotspots in some European countries which do have a problem with radical Islamist or political Islamist movements. The problem should not be underestimated, but compared to the other trends we can observe this is not our biggest problem, as it is not a systematic undercurrent like intolerant secularization that is spreading continually.
How should Christians respond to this unfolding situation?
The best response in this situation is to stand firm and speak up about what is going at all levels of society. Christian values and beliefs should not be banned from the public. The best way to do this is not with an already-hardened heart and a fighter mentality but with a sound mind, a loving heart, good facts, and reliable numbers. I think Jesus gives the best advice in Matthew 10:16: Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. To some extent non-conformity and being the uncomfortable stumbling block is part of our Christian DNA and hopefully, that will never change.