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January 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Are Christians in the West being persecuted? To some, it seems ridiculous to say so, smacking of paranoia, and even an insult to those being genuinely persecuted in Africa and Asia. But persecution need not be equally serious everywhere. Persecution comes in relatively mild and relatively fierce forms. It also tends to come and go over time. Life under undeniable historic persecutions went on, sometimes to a surprising extent: a priest was ordained in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. Being persecuted is not the same as being killed.

If the term “persecution” is distracting us, think simply about what it means to suffer for the Faith, for the truth. Suffering for the Faith, or the prospect of suffering for it if one does certain things, shapes the lives of those living under persecution. They must choose whether and when to pay the price of suffering, or take the risk of suffering, in order to receive the sacraments or to speak the truth, or whether to hold back, to allow certain possibilities to be closed off, perhaps permanently.

One might find Christians in Muslim countries, for example, who live a reasonably comfortable life, but there are things they cannot do and cannot say. In Joseph Fadelle’s The Price to Pay: A Muslim Risks All to Follow Christ, he encountered Christians in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein who needed great courage even to talk to him about the Faith. Receiving converts, even quietly, is next to impossible for the historic Christian churches in many majority-Muslim countries. If word got out, local Muslims would burn the church down, and the secular authorities would decline to intervene or investigate. This, indeed, regularly happens in India, not because things are worse, but because things are a bit better: there, the Church still does receive converts.

This an important point to recognise. The level of religious violence, or other forms of active persecution, in a society is a function of two factors: the willingness of some to inflict it and the willingness of others to risk it. A society where there is no violence or conflict may be one in which no one would inflict it, or it may be one where no one would risk it. If Catholics are sufficiently well trained by their persecutors that they never step out of line, everything will be peaceful, although in practice, exactly what is allowed and what is not may need to be affirmed by making a public example of insufficiently deferential believers from time to time.

This week in Britain, a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party, Rebecca Long-Bailey, has been excoriated for voicing her support for restricting the availability of abortion. In the context of a leadership contest, of course, any chance remark from years ago may be mined for potentially embarrassing content, and the resulting outrage from opponents may be synthetic. Nevertheless, having been attacked not only by her left-wing opponents, but by the supposedly conservative Daily Telegraph, Long-Bailey, a Catholic, has got the message. Having suggested that unrestricted abortion up to 24 weeks is wrong — many liberal Western countries are more restrictive — she now claims she is ‘by no means suggesting we need to restrict our abortion laws further’. The point has been made. Pro-life candidates need not apply for public office.

Further down the political scale, another pro-life Catholic woman was in the news this week, a trainee midwife. A student at the University of Nottingham, Julia Rynkiewicz made the mistake of becoming president of Students for Life. This group has had to threaten legal action in order to be allowed a stall among other student societies in the annual ‘Freshers’ Fair’; as a result of taking part in the Fair, Rynkiewicz was denounced by a lecturer and her ‘fitness to practise’ investigated by the university, as if taking seriously the value of the unborn might be a handicap to a midwife. Like the attempt to prevent Students for Life from taking part in the Fair, the suggestion that Rynkiewicz’s views made her unfit for her chosen profession were a legal nonsense and thrown out. But the process is the punishment. She was suspended from her course during the ‘investigation’ and will take an extra year to graduate, with her funding cut off in the meantime.

You don’t have to be in the legal wrong to be punished. You just have to disagree with the liberal orthodoxy. Rynkiewicz is to be commended for displaying more backbone than Long-Bailey, but who wants to be the next person to test the system? Who wants to go on the record as ‘anti-trans’ or ‘homophobic’, by repeating, for example, the relevant sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? (Sections 2333 and 2357, for example.) What kind of an evangelisation of the culture can there be if the public profession of the Faith is impossible?

Catholics are cowed. We engage in self-censorship, we don’t rock the boat, we keep our heads below the parapet. It is when there is no need of a bloody persecution that we know that our enemies have won.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.