Keeping the Faith, Fourth-Century Style

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Stoned to death by a rowdy public, the disciple Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The New Testament says that the apostle Paul was imprisoned on several occasions by the Roman authorities, stoned by Pharisees, left to die and eventually taken as a prisoner to Rome. Peter and others were imprisoned, beaten and generally harassed. Because of persecution in Jerusalem, most Christians were forced to leave. James, another apostle, was said to have been put to death around that time. Of the 11 remaining apostles, only one died of natural causes. The other 10 were martyred by various means, including beheadings, and in the case of Peter, upside-down crucifixion following the execution of his wife.
Martyrdom is one of the most longstanding and beautiful traditions in the Christian faith. Jesus himself is the most significant of all early Christian martyrs, and so Christianity is a religion based on the principle of self-sacrifice. Early Christians made it clear that preaching what they thought was right in public could result in some very negative repercussions.
Based on this understanding, if people believe that they are following in the footsteps of the early Christians, could the public’s scorn and humiliation serve to validate their notion that they’re doing something right? The men referenced in the New University’s editorial, “The Ring Road to Hell is Paved with ‘Crazy Christians,'” [May 19, 2008], suffer from a “first-century” psychological complex that makes them perceive rejection as personal validation of their cause.
These fundamentalists seem to equate themselves with the icons of early Christianity, who were ill-received by Romans, Byzantines, Etruscans and other peoples. A rude and hostile reception by students toward our poster-toting friends enables these campus visitors to correlate themselves with biblical martyrs and us with biblical persecutors.
Harassing the “crazy Christians” drives them to continue and even expand their presence at UC Irvine, much in the way that feeding seagulls and pigeons leads to infestation. My view is that the sign-holders are not like early Christians, and the campus community is not like first-century Romans.
The first Christians were disliked not because they held signs informing other people that they were going to Hell, but because their message threatened a power structure infused with religion. If you defied popular religion, you were defying the elite powers of the time. This explains why persecution of Christians diminished greatly in the fourth century AD, when Rome adopted Christianity as its state religion, permanently changing the status quo. Christians were no longer viewed as dissenters.
We live in a society where church and state are separate (unlike Ancient Rome). You can offend any religion you want, and no governing power structure will be undermined. Students do not feel threatened by the personal religious beliefs of Christian enthusiasts, but rather by the wholesale condemnation of religious groups, ethnicities and sexual orientations made by these infamous Christian shock jocks.
Though we may enjoy humiliating the “crazy Christians,” we must understand that it reinforces their belief that they’re doing something right, adding to the epic nature of their perceived struggle. In their minds, it is the light of Christianity versus the filth and pandering of civilization. It could almost be turned into a movie starring the late Charlton Heston.
If humiliation validates their actions, then the obvious question is: Isn’t that the perfect tradeoff? They want to be defamed, and students enjoy defaming them, so why not let everyone be happy? When we draw them lewd and suggestive signs, tie their shoes in knots to make them trip, dance around them in circles and do everything short of dry-humping them (regardless of its comedic value) not only are we misrepresenting our campus, our maturity and our education level, but we’re not helping them, either.
Society has made great strides since Roman times, and these men must be shown that. Those who carry absurdly oversized posters with the intention of proselytizing their beliefs are not lone actors. Logic presumes that they represent a growing sub-culture of religious zealots who believe that they are stuck in the first century.
When students treat them like dirt, they send a message to the zealots of America, telling them that they deserve this treatment because they are sub-human. This inaccurately portrays the public as the tyrants of antiquity, sadly perpetuating a misconception in the minds of our zealous friends that they are being persecuted at the hands of big bad society, exactly like their Christian predecessors—and nothing gets them higher than that.
UCI has a tradition of hosting a range of opinions, as well as safeguarding freedom of religious and academic thought. If we wish to demonstrate the benefits of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and intellectual thought to these individuals, any dialogue we engage in should be mature, and if that is not feasible, then they should be left to themselves. By no means should UCI students give them the honor of feeling persecuted.

Omar Bustami is a fourth-year political science and civil engineering double-major. He can be reached at obustami@uci.edu.

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