The Christian Origins of Victimhood Culture
on Monday—is how far it reflects an essentially Christian moral imagination. The historian Tom Holland pointed this out on Twitter the other day: "The notion that suffering & persecution might be a source of status is testimony to how fundamentally Christian even the most liberal reaches of America remain."
It’s true: there are startling parallels between the excesses of victimhood culture (all power is evil, privilege is oppressive, victimhood is noble and qualifies a person to opine on anything without facing critique) and the shape of the Christian gospel (the weak are made strong, the foolish shame the wise, the king becomes a slave so that the slaves may become kings). Ancient pagan civilisations, and for that matter Chinese or Islamic civilisations even today, do not produce a mindset in which suffering and oppression are sources of status; only cultures that are specifically Christian in shape are capable of that kind of moral inversion. Nietzsche would have had a field day with it.
As is probably clear, I don’t think that means Christians should celebrate victimhood culture, even as we recognise it as an increasingly influential stream within society. In fact, I think the widespread attempt to peg Western Christians as victims (of liberal elites, militant atheism, strident secularism, overweening regulation, or whatever) reflects an insufficiently critical stance towards victimhood culture and the forces that drive it; Christians are not supposed to be snowflakes, and our Majority World brothers and sisters, many of whom are victims and are not known for continually complaining about it, would often be the first to say so. But I also think it is interesting to consider the genealogy of our current moment, and the ways in which the post-Christian (secular) child is trying to kill someone who, unknown to him, is actually his (Christian) father. There’s something rather Oedipal about the whole thing.