Today I was taking part in a Facebook debate (reasonably well-mannered, considering it’s Facebook) on faith and atheism and whether people are harassed or persecuted in any way because of their beliefs. I commented that in my experience in the UK it was easier to say you were atheist or agnostic than to ‘come out’ as a Christian. As I said a while back:
you open yourself to ridicule or scorn and are often held to account for everything from the Inquisition to latent homophobia.
However one person on the Facebook thread believes that the persecution is all on the other side. Atheists get it in the neck much worse than the faithful, apparently, and Christians who complain of criticism are being whiney (my word) and confusing argument with personal attacks.
I think there are some double standards here (my persecution is real but you’re just being whiney) and I have to say it doesn’t accord with my experience. I can’t speak for the US but in Western Europe Christianity is on the back foot and has been for several decades. In spite of the establishment of the Church of England and the protected status of faith schools (both of which I disagree with, by the way) in society at large atheism has become the default position. You are assumed not to have a faith unless otherwise stated.
Generally when you mention your faith to people they start to edge away as though you’re about to lay hands on them and start praying. Of course historically the church has a lot to answer for and I wouldn’t dream of defending it: even nowadays you can see some examples of pretty bad evangelism, usually carried out by some very thick-skinned people. But there is a level of scorn aimed at the religious which I don’t see directed at atheists (not that I’d want it to be) and led by the high priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins.
To sum up, the zeitgeist is not friendly to faith. I wouldn’t call it persecution, but I wouldn’t call it acceptance either.