Why Matthew Parris is wrong about Christianity & victim-status

On Easter Saturday, Matthew Parris wrote this particularly terrible article in The Times. It is almost certainly worthy of a reply, but there is so much wrong with it that I couldn’t even figure out where to begin! So, instead of addressing the various issues on display, I thought I would speak into just one (of the multitude) of the issues. That of victim status and whether Christianity is a particular prop on which it is held up.

Several points seems worth making from the outset. The most important of which is this: Jesus is not presented as victim, but victor. At no point in scripture is Jesus cast as the hapless victim of Roman rule or the Jewish religious leader’s aggression. He is consistently presented as the one who predicted his own death, who willingly submitted to death, who was crucified according to the scriptures, who planned the whole salvation-event with God the Father for the purposes of a great victory. Though the Bible presents the crucifixion as a travesty of justice, it is presented all the more as the glorification of Jesus and ultimate victory over sin and death that the Son of God was sent to effect. The New Testament letters consistently affirm he was no victim, but the one that planned the whole thing in eternity past with the Father!

Christianity, then, does not rest or affirm victim-status. The Bible certainly does affirm that believers will suffer. Jesus himself said, ‘in this life you will have tribulation.” This much is a brute statement of fact. What Parris seems to overlook is the clause that immediately follows: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus is not the victim, he is the victor. His followers are not to wallow in victimhood, but to take heart. They are not to claim special status because they are victims, but to look forward to that fact that – because Jesus himself is victorious – we will triumph with him. No victim-status power-games to be found here. The rest of the New Testament consistently affirms the same. There will be suffering in this life, sometimes specifically a result of our following Jesus, but it should be patiently endured knowing that one day we will be victorious.

The early church and the centuries immediately following the New Testament show such to have been true. Christians were, indeed, persecuted for their faith. Until Constantine, there was no sense in which Christians were seeking to use such persecution as a means of gaining power. It is, frankly, anachronistic to suggest that victim-status would even have been a means of doing so back then. It is very much a 21st Century power dynamic that lauds victimhood as a means to exert influence. Almost every era previous exploited weakness and did not laud it.

Ironically, Parris – a Western liberal to his core – refuses to accept the blindingly obvious. The victimhood that he so loathes is specifically a product of the Western liberal thought he espouses. If Socialism – as Parris bizarrely alludes in his article to Christian Socialism in particular – was really the driving force for these things, we would see a huge amount of identity politics power-plays in Socialist nations, wouldn’t we? But it is notable that in places such as China, North Korea, Russia and other such countries, trans rights have hardly taken off. In fact, some of these countries have now actively insisted they are not in favour of these things. If Socialism, Communism and/or Marxism are the driving force behind these things, why do we not see them rampant in those countries? Instead, where do we see them? Western Europe and North America primarily. What do the countries in those area have in common? It certainly isn’t Communism, Socialism or Marxism, is it? No, it is Western Liberalism.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why this is so either. Liberalism’s core tenet is the individual above all. Marxism, Socialism and Communism – by differing degrees and in a variety of ways – clearly emphasise a communitarian approach to life. It is liberalism that says the wider group must take special account of the individual; these other philosophies insist the individual must, to some degree, align with the group. Now what is victim-status if it is not individuals insisting that they must have special treatment? What is victimhood if it is not saying treat me with kid-gloves because I am different? What are the ever diminishing circles of minority rights arguing for other than we are different and need special protections from the wider group?

How do communitarian approaches to trans rights, for example, differ from liberal approaches? In communitarian approaches, you may identify as a different gender, but if the group does not recognise you as such then you must align yourself to the group. They may make allowances for you to be different, but there is no sense in which the wider community will entirely adjust itself to suit your individualism. In individualistic liberal approaches, you may identify as a different gender, and the group must necessarily alter its perception and regulate itself to account for you. If the wider community is adversely affected by your individualism, given that the individual is ultimate, that is of no consequence and new rights must be established for individual protection. Which is why the victimhood narrative (leaving aside whether it is valid or not here), has teeth in Western Liberal countries but does not hold much water in current and former Marxist and Communist countries. In the latter, your victimhood is no ground to adversely affect the whole community whereas in the former that is specifically the very grounds on which to do so.

Which is why Parris’s reference to Christian Socialism was something of a bolt from the blue. Not only do Socialist communitarian emphases push away from victim-status power dynamics, but the Christian doctrine of suffering patiently – pointedly NOT using victimhood in the pursuit of power or for any personal gain – pushes even further away from it. If ever there was a doctrine that would reject the pursuit of individualistic power on the basis of victim-status, Christian Socialism is surely it! Literally, two doctrines that actively work against individualism and minority power-dynamics.

Let us just consider some of the Christian Socialist thinkers and politicians of the past. It was not they who came up with the idea of handouts and pocket money for the poor, but liberals. Christian Socialists argued strongly for the inherent dignity of work and pushed towards ideas of job guarantees. It was they who pushed against the idea of deserving and undeserving poor, that was a liberal invention. They, instead, sought good healthcare, education and access to public services for all. These things do not require special victim-status to access them because everybody gets them regardless of status. Which is to say, victim-status gains you no advantages. It is, however, the liberal system of individualism and enshrining minority rights that leads to such classifications.

The Bible does, of course, have much to say about injustice. Though, in the case of the individual believer, we are encouraged to suffer loss without seeking victim-status because our eyes are fixed on a greater prize. Indeed, the victory that will be fully and finally ours in Christ is the very reason we do not need to see power through victimhood nor to stand on our rights as a victimised minority or any such thing. But we are to care for injustice. But injustice – systemic or personal – is not about minority rights and victim-status. Injustice is objective. It is a matter of the wider group saying ‘this is wrong’ and then seeking to do something about it. The call on the Christian is to seek justice for others but to quietly and patiently endure and suffer loss for the sake of Christ and – just as he did – because there is a greater prize for those who victoriously overcome. And indeed, 1 John 5:4 tells us: ‘everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.’ No victim status here!

What can we say to these things? First, there is no room in Christianity for victim-status power dynamics. Jesus did not play the victim in order to gain power nor is he presented as such. Neither are his followers to play the victim in the pursuit of power. Indeed, the call on believers is to suffer loss, persecution and suffering patiently, quietly and without any desire to gain power. The grounds for doing so is that we are not victims, but those who will inherit an altogether greater prize than civic rights and a temporal voice. Instead, the Apostle Paul clearly reminds us that ‘we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.’ We are no victims, we are those who are seated in the heavenlies with Christ on high. We are those who believe we will reign with him for all eternity. We are those who, through Christ’s victory, are not victims but victorious. We happily lay down our claim to rights, give up any concern with temporal power dynamics, because our focus is on Jesus, the inheritance that is ours in him and a far greater prize.

Second, Matthew Parris needs to look closer to home for those who would play the victim. It is hardly surprising that a Western Liberal Atheist might lay the blame for victim-status power dynamics at the door of Christianity and Socialism. Unsurprising, but nevertheless demonstrably nonsense. For the privileging of rights, minority concerns and hyper-individualism that undergird these power-plays is not running rampant in Socialist and former-Communist countries who would even dare to assert Marx as any sort of influence. Whatever else you may want to say about them, and whatever other criticisms one may lay at their door, hyper-individualism and victim-based power dynamics is surely not one of them. That, without question, is a peculiarly Western Liberal invention.

Indeed, it was Parris’ old boss – Mrs Thatcher – who insisted there was no such thing as society, there were only individuals and families. In the years since Mrs T, but predicated on the same principle, the Conservative Party has shod itself of even the grounding community of concern for the family. What has come in its place is a hyper-individualism that insists – even in the face of all objective biological evidence and the overwhelming majority of onlookers who simply look on and see with their own eyes – if you say you are another gender, if you believe it with all your heart, then you are. It is a hyper-individualism that insists if I am a victim, if I am different and special, you must all adjust yourselves and change reality for my sake. If a Marxist cultural analysis had anything to say to such things it is that the community is not served by such hyper-individualism and the one claiming to be a victim must cede to the values of the group. Which tells us that it is neither Christianity nor Marx that has led us to this point, but the hyper-individualism of Western liberalism, of which Parris himself was a part of the very establishment who enshrined it as normative and the cultural path which we would tread some 40 or more years ago.

It seems more like a case here of physician, heal thyself.