In the West we face the prospect of another sort of persecution, not primarily a persecution coming from another theistic religion, but from a kind of religious irreligion. In its form, it is religious, but in its matter it is irreligious. The Catholic Catechism speaks of this religious irreligion in this way:
The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. (CCC 675-676)
Notice what the Catechism says about the Antichrist's deception. The Antichrist offers a false hope, a promise of present salvation which in fact can be actualized only after Christ returns in glory. This false hope denies the supernatural eschaton, though, paradoxically, in its ultimate climax it occasions Christ's return "in glory" through its futile attempt to achieve the state of paradise entirely by means of our own human efforts.
The words "in glory" were added to the Nicene Creed (they are not in the Apostles Creed) precisely to make explicit the nature of the difference between the return of the true Christ and the rise of false Christs, and ultimately the Antichrist. This addition to the Creed codifies what Jesus said, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it." (St. Matthew 24:23)
The Antichrist offers present salvation from all man's troubles. He offers to do this through the strength and ingenuity of the natural power of man, that is, through economics, politics, science, technology, and a new religion that celebrates man in all his freedom, creativity, power, and goodness. In a way the following video reminds me of this very way of thinking; it can be summarized in those two words: "secular messianism".
Notice the lyrics:
We're gonna spread happiness
We’re gonna spread freedom
Obama’s gonna change it
Obama’s gonna lead 'em
We're gonna change it
And rearrange it
We're gonna change the world.
Now's the moment, lift each voice to sing
Sing with all your heart!
For our children, for our families,
Nations all joined as one.
Sing for joy and sing abundant peace,
Courage, justice, hope!
Sing together, hold each precious hand,
Lifting each other up;
Sing for vision, sing for unity,
Lifting our hearts to Sing!
Yes we can
Lift each other up
In peace, in love, in hope
This is the secular gospel. When we lose sight of Christ as the object of our hope, then necessarily our eyes are lowered, and we place our highest hope in man, not in the abstract, but in the concrete, one man.
Some Christians think that the goal of uniting all people is intrinsically evil. I myself used to think that, as I explained here. But that goal in itself is good; peace and unity among all mankind is good. The moral difference between Babel and Pentecost is not found in their goal of uniting mankind, but in that in which and through which we are to be united, man or God. The unitive efforts of the Antichrist are evil not in the sense of being the *opposite* of Christ's unitive intention of drawing all people together (St. John 12:32), but in the sense of being a *deficient imitation* of that true unity that comes only through Christ, in being joined to Him, into His Body the Church.
I have written in more detail elsewhere about the imminent and inevitable conflict between the "City of man" and the "City of God". These are two different ways of thinking, because they are two fundamentally different orientations. They correspond to that which was attempted at Babel, and that which was initiated at Pentecost, respectively. They culminate in the direct conflict between the Antichrist and Jesus Christ.
"Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." (St. Matthew 24:28)
As smoke shows us where the fire is, so persecution shows us where the Church is. When looking for the Church, we can look for the vultures. We can look for per se persecution, i.e. persecution directed not just against individuals, but against an institution on account of the identity of that institution. Protestantism itself has no institution. There are many different Protestant institutions, but there is no visible Protestant Church. Christians (whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) are united by our allegiance to Christ. But Protestantism as such has unity only in one way, in shared opposition to that from which it came. Lewis says something similar in his book The Great Divorce about the unity of "grey town", which has no intrinsic unity, but only parasitic unity, for its unity is the unity of shared opposition to something else.
In the US there is some general bias against what is characterized as anti-intellectual fundamentalism and Bible-belt 'moral majority' types, as well as a kind of general disdain for the superficiality and sentimentalism of certain aspects of Evangelical culture. Certain public figures in these traditions are routinely ridiculed (e.g. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson). But there are no anti-Presbyterian rallies, or anti-Lutheran riots, or anti-Baptist protests, anti-Evangelical rampages etc. There is no vitriol and hatred directed against the "Emergent Church" as such.
By contrast, there is a palpable hatred for the Catholic Church that is nothing less than diabolic. Before becoming Catholic, I was mostly unaware of it. No one in the secular world really goes on the attack again Pentecostalism, or Presbyterianism, or Anglicanism, or even Orthodoxy, at least not as such. The bulls eye is on the Catholic Church. See Philip Jenkins's book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.
Secular messianism is religious in its zeal for the religion of man, but it is no less 'religious' in its opposition to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in which the "way of life" is upheld and defended, and abortion and artificial contraception and divorce are forbidden. The religion of man chafes at any restriction on man's three primary [disordered] desires: the lust of the flesh [sexual desire], the lust of the eyes, [greed], and the pride of life [being his own god]. (1 John 2:16; cf. CCC 377) This "triple concupiscence" is in direct opposition to the "evangelical counsels" included in Catholic religious vows: chastity, poverty and obedience. (CCC 915, 944, 2053)
What does the opposition between the secular messianism of the "City of Man" and the heaven-oriented devotion of the "City of God" look like? Here's a glimpse from a recent event in Argentina:
When this persecution comes here, how will we respond? Undoubtedly some Catholics will break ranks; the greatest resentment and hatred of the Church comes from such. But how will Protestants respond to this persecution? Persecution has a way of helping us see things more clearly, clarifying where the lines are, and where we stand in relation to those lines. I hope and pray that the Protestant response to the coming persecution is not one of remaining at a distance, but rather, standing together with Catholics in faith and prayer and honoring Christ.