By Loren Seibold
Americans tend to take the measure of religious hostility from their own relatively calm religious culture. While we see interest in religion (and to some extent, conflict about it) declining here, religion remains a major social force elsewhere. Still, a surprising number of fundamentalist, charismatic and restorationist movements claim to rely on increased religious persecution as the marker for Christ's soon return. Some, like Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses, all of whom have some form of personal persecution in their eschatology, have at times actively searched for and made note of signs of hostility against themselves, which they find useful to motivate their base.
According to a recent study by the Pew Center's Religion and Public Life Project, hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012. About a third of the 198 countries inluded in the project experienced significant religious hostilities in 2012. A quote:
Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring. There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time.… Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan and Burma (Myanmar) had the most restrictions on religion in 2012, when both government restrictions and social hostilities are taken into account.
As the last sentence indicates, the study draws a distinction between social hostilities and hostilities instigated by government restrictions on religious practice. This latter has stayed about level, with roughly 3 in 10 countries maintaining high or very high restrictions on religious practice.
Some contrasts from 2011:
• Abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith: up from 38% to 47% of the countries studied
• Violence, or the threat of violence used to compel people to adhere to religious norms: 39% of the countries, up from 33%
• Harassment of women over religious dress: up from 25% to 32%
• Mob violence related to religion: up from 18% in 2011 to 25% in 2012
• Religion-related terrorist violence: remaining level at 20% of countries in the study
• Sectarian violence: 18% of the countries in the survey, up from 15%
And which religions are having the most trouble? From the Pew Center study:
Members of the world’s two largest religious groups – Christians and Muslims, who together comprise more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively. Jews, who comprise less than 1% of the world’s population, experienced harassment in a total of 95 countries, while members of other world faiths were harassed in a total of 77 countries.
Looked at regionally, you won't be surprised that the Middle East and Northern Africa top the list of places with the most religious strife. (Among Muslims, intersectarian violence is still more common than hostility against the West.) The big surprise is the amount of religious hostility in secular Europe, which matches the Asia-Pacific region in number of countries where hostility occurred. One big reason there: harassment of women for religious dress, specifically Muslim women who wear face coverings.
Most American Christians have ignored hostility against other religions, or against Christians in other places. It might be wise for us to consider the possibility that what happens elsewhere and to others could happen here, and to us.