During my undergraduate career, I had the opportunity to take a class on a genre or subset of literature called Postcolonial literature. Every single story that we read focused on accounts of individuals and people groups who were grappling with the ensuing difficulties that arose from being colonized during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. I became aware of struggles that I never would have studied or come close to understanding without taking that class.
While some on the Right might denigrate such a course, the vast majority of the texts that we read (most of which were fiction) did not read like many on the Right might assume. While there certainly were some authors who railed against the numerous injustices associated with colonialism, most of the accounts were more subversive, less direct or overt. Primarily, these voices described their position as a people who had fallen between the cracks of a mother culture and an invading culture; they sought to highlight the crisis that arose from feeling suspended between their native heritages and the incoming of (typically) Western influences.
In studying this literature, certain words and phrases became commonplace for me, but one in particular has certainly stuck with me as I’ve continued to survey the world around me: “marginalization.” Marginalization refers to the way the less dominate cultural (or ethnic) perspectives and people groups who get pushed into the “margins” of political and social life; the dominant voices exclude them from the cultural conversation.
Compounding the Margins
Many Postcolonial writers had/have a knack for analyzing cultural trends and have/had an extraordinary insight into how such culture operates as a force in shaping one’s identity. While some (possibly many) on the Right ignore their narratives (and what’s become known as the alt-Right would openly mock them), the Left’s treatment of these perspectives has reached a nearly unbelievable level of irony and even hypocrisy.
Somewhere along the timeline of Postcolonial theory, there developed a concept that, because I cannot recall the technical term (or if there even was a technical term), I will simply call compounding levels of marginalization. Initially, those Postcolonial voices that received a fair hearing were predominantly male. So, while they spoke on behalf of the colonized, there was yet another level within that colonized culture that received less attention: women. Because women were marginalized and subjected to both the colonizing culture as well as the men in their own culture, they came to define the first level of a compounded marginalization.
While I am (and I think we all should be) interested to hear about the struggles facing different people groups, many on the Left took this concept of “compounding marginalization” and crossed a line, and the transgression has culminated in the insanity that is identity politics. There was a sort of mad rush to find the most marginalized groups of people and (herein lies the irony) prioritize their voices over and even against other voices in the culture. With more and more frequency, the Left has started to make the case that only individuals within these increasingly narrowing social subsets can speak accurately on certain issues.
The unintended consequence of this is that it hastens and intensities the fracturing of an already disparate society. Dialogue becomes practically impossible as people start to worry too much about what can or cannot be said, namely, what’s “politically correct.” While we certainly do want to avoid giving offense with the words that we say, much of what’s considered offensive today goes beyond the realm of what’s reasonable, especially considering that readers or listeners often forsake the courtesy of interpretive charity and assume the worst about a person who misspeaks.
The concept of compounding marginalization, when taken to the extreme, can actually result in compounding our societal problems, and not because such revelations reveal more of our issues (though sometimes this occurs) but because the ensuing culture of political correctness impedes the wider culture’s ability to deal with these issues together.
What About Religious Liberty?
In the case of religious liberty, the Left’s handling of marginalization matters transitions from simple irony to sheer hypocrisy. As an example, a friend brought to my attention a blog by Rachel Held Evans in which she implores Christians to cut out the practice of labelling recent cultural trends as persecution.
On the one hand, Held Evans brings up several good points in her post. Considering the waves of violent persecution taking place against Christians in the Middle East, labelling the cultural marginalization experienced in the West as out-and-out persecution reveals a lack of perspective.
On the other hand, her article also exemplifies the hypocrisy that radiates from the Left on the issue of discerning and devaluing the varying forms of cultural marginalization.* The Left has the tendency to champion its pet causes while denigrating the cries stemming from the felt anxieties of their cultural opponents. To be sure, the Right does this too, but the Left has taken on the specific role of advocating in favor of identity politics, which justifies, I think, the claim of hypocrisy in this particular area.
The Held Evans blog represents a wider sentiment that I see in the Left that typically disparages those subgroups of Western culture that defend traditional/conservative/religious moral views and values. From the Left’s perspective (whether that be the secular or the religious Left), many of these traditional perspectives have been the cultural forces that have restricted others’ freedoms and dignity. Most of the freedoms impinged upon, in today’s culture, relate specifically to matters of sex, namely sexual and gender identities.
Public opinion, at least among the elite, has turned against those who hold to traditional understandings of human sexuality. Any group that wishes to maintain or defend those views often receives extraordinary political and social pressure, and when conservatives cry foul, the Left typically responds with a calloused, “deal with it.” The implication in such a response, which can be found in Held Evans’s blog, is that your sense of being marginalized does not matter.
And herein lies the hypocrisy. The Left claims to be the curator of rights and freedoms, the ones who provide a voice to the voiceless. Yet, many who fight for religious liberty feel as though the Left’s methods are silencing the voices of those who dissent.
Many Christians have pulled the trigger a little too quickly in claiming persecution, but Christians’ sense that they are being marginalized certainly corresponds to reality. Marginalization, especially when it develops as rapidly as it has even in the last several months, often led to genuine persecution in the past. While the claim may be premature and the nature of American democracy would make it difficult, the concept that Christians could be literally persecuted in the United States should not be derided simply because the possibility seems farfetched.