Image by 29cm via FlickrI find it ironic when many who identify as Christians use Biblical verses about persecution to explain reactions to their foolishness and see it as justification for such folly. These are the folks who are steeped in spiritual materialism, who think their religious notions are spiritual when they are firmly rooted in the flesh. If we appreciate spirit as being open, generous, unbound, without limits, of the present, unattached, etc, then we can appreciate the flesh as the ego, of clinging to an identity based in forms (such as thoughts, concepts, and emotions). Hence in the flesh one thinks of spiritual things in these terms, with spirits or souls which are seen as an ethereal version of their physical form, with all of the same desires, needs, wants and hang-ups. In other words, just because someone talks about God or spirit or Jesus or the Holy Ghost or any of that doesn't mean they get some kind of free pass for being caught up in the concerns of the flesh. This includes the error of dualism, in which spirit is some force that is of a completely different nature than matter. The spirit is rooted in God, the Source, the ground of being, the foundational awareness and consciousness, and it is not some alien thing "out there" but is present everywhere in everything, it is presence itself.
Being spiritual, then, is about letting go of identifying completely as "my history", or "my body", or "my possessions", or "my beliefs", or "my experiences". Those things still exist and have value, but they are just part of you, the real you. Clinging to these things, being afraid to let go of them, is an act of the flesh, of the ego. We don't need to destroy or hate the flesh or ego, but rather refuse to be defined and dominated by it. The Biblical passages about being hated for Christ's sake, for being children of God, etc, refer to those who are able to follow Christ's example in being freed from the domination of the flesh and those who are still trapped by it. Note that the principle group of people who fell into the latter group and who were identified as involved in such perspecutions were the most righteous, the most obedient to the letter of the law, the most upright and decent, the most "eagle scout" of the day, the Pharisees. (We must be careful here, as not all Pharisees were of the ilk focused on in the critiques of the Gospels.) Jesus, working from the spirit, healed on the Sabbath, ate with the outcasts, and chased the greedy who were taking advantage of the poor out of the temple. He got crucified for his efforts, because he was not playing the game of the flesh, including its idolatry of God and religion, and in doing so he threatened the hypocrisy of others.
How tragic and even disgusting, then, that the modern day equivalents of the worldly Pharisees, the wolves in sheeps' clothing, are not only as proud and blind as their predecessors but who then use the passages about persecution to justify their own anti-spiritual, worldly and hypocritical agendas, claiming that any criticism of their ways is just proof they are in fact in the right. Yet at the same time they are eager to excoriate those who do seek the kind of faith which moves beyond the certainty of specific and clearly defined feeling, concepts and beliefs toward a broader faith that is open to all with generosity and acceptance and without preconception or prerequisites: "Demonic, false teachers, blasphemers!" The fact that Jesus was similarly accused and attacked seems to be float right over the heads of those determined to purify their religion, which actually means cutting off what is dangerous to the flesh, to the ego, and leaving no room for uncertainty, and therefore for doubt, and therefore for faith. But it is no better to revile them or see them as enemies to be converted or defeated. That is just the same game of the flesh. Yes, it is ironic that those who are persecuting those who are of the spirit come from the Church itself, but it should not be surprising. They are doing far more to disrupt people moving into the spirit than any atheistic or secular group, who themselves are reacting against the worldly hypocrisy of many who identify as religious. But we must see them as fellow manifestations of spirit, as fellow children of God. Not because we should, but because we see the truth of it for ourselves. Jesus said it best: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."