Does persecution strengthen or weaken the thing being persecuted?

I attended a fairly conservative Christian college and one of the history professors made a point of challenging what he regarded as a “romantic myth:” He pointed out that, contrary to the belief that persecution makes Christianity stronger, it often is in fact historically successful in driving Christians out of a region.

A similar argument (that is, what the professor was arguing against) is often made in terms of abortion: “The absurd Texas abortion law is going to strengthen Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice cause.” Same for LGBT: “The murder of Matthew Shephard strengthened the LGBT cause.” “The death of George Floyd has strengthened Black Lives Matter and the police-accountability movement.” etc. etc.

But is it all about scale? Does persecution “work” if widespread, but backfire if limited? For instance, the killing of one gay man alone, Matthew Shephard, may have galvanized and boosted LGBT nationwide, but if there were really a massive killing spree of thousands of gays, the likely effect may instead be the opposite: mass flight of LGBT people from America. Same for abortion clinics; the bombing of one may strengthen pro-choicers, but if a hundred clinics were bombed wouldn’t much of the whole industry essentially shut down?

(“Work” only in the sense of achieving its practical aim; whether persecution is right or wrong is completely morally irrelevant in this debate context)

To me it seems obvious that extreme persecution weakens. My cite: The Jewish community in Poland has still not recovered more than 70 years after the end of WWII.

If interested in this topic I recommend the book Antifragility by Taleb. The short answer is some things display hormesis (a pharmacology term) whereby a moderate amount of stress or persecution is helpful. Too much stress is always bad for the individual. Sometimes stress is helpful for the collective but not the individual. Bacteria that survive the antibiotic are more resistant and evolution also favours adaption over the medium term.

But that “massive killing spree” did happen, with the governmental lack of involvement in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It certainly made us stronger out of necessity. By the time Matthew Shephard was murdered, we were already galvanized.

Sure, but there’s something of a difference between the Holocaust and “extreme persecution”.

I’d say that it seems to me that it’s probably terrible for the individuals and specific communities being persecuted, but in the long term for the larger group, the eventual internalization of norms and behaviors that are conducive to survival and thriving makes them stronger to a degree- if nothing else, they learn how to endure. But in large part the strength comes in a more firm identity as a people.

Jews, African Americans and early Christians were all persecuted terribly, but all developed a pretty strong cultural identity and ability to endure as a result. Same with LGBT people in large part.

But I think looking at the abortion laws around the country this way isn’t going to work that way- the pro-choice people aren’t part of a people, or of a religion. They just really have ONE idea in common. So I don’t think they’ll come out stronger necessarily; but they’ll keep fighting I’m sure.

Counter-cite: The Jews still exist as an identifiable people after literally thousands of years of persecution.

Depends a lot of the strength of the persecution.
Jews were lightly persecuted in Europe for 2 000 years and fared well. In 3 years, 90% of them were wiped out of Poland…
Christians were persecuted by Romans and finally came on top. Japanese shoguns all but exterminated the Christians in Japan.
Torquemada did also a pretty good job in Spain, relentlessly chasing the Moors by conversion and eviction.

the problem is the same with terrorism: will they cover in fear and accept your conditions or will they retaliate with the firepower of a cruiser and the mood of a badger?

Are those arguments made? If so they are silly. I haven’t seen them though. The arguments I have seen are:
“The Absurd Texas abortion law puts a spotlight on the current push by anti-abortion activists, and thereby galvanizes opposition.”
Likewise your other examples. Treating them as isolated incidents of “persecution” is … weird.

Yes. If hundreds of clinics were bombed each year, that would, at least temporarily several reduce available services. But this law doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in a world with many attempts at banning abortion through legislation, reducing it by intimidation at clinics and swamping the information landscape with anti-abortion “clinics”. And unless this fervor for bombing clinics didn’t also include straight up murdering pro-choice voters, it wouldn’t change the public opinion on abortion.

Similar more nuanced details are necessary to even begin making sense of your other examples.

Seems to be a bit of survivor bias here (aka winners writing history). We remember all the cases where the persecuted group won out in the end (Christianity being the classic example, but also various independence movements and struggles for justice like that against apartheid). But those aren’t typical IMO

We don’t remember (at least from the point of view of the persecuted) all the cases where they didn’t win out. E.g. the albigensian crusade, Mesoamerican cultures after the Spanish conquest, medieval Jewish populations in most of Europe etc. In all those cases the persecution worked, there isn’t anyone to remember the culture being persecuted (even if the population survived in some cases the culture didn’t or had to move elsewhere to survive)

I actually used that as the exact counter example. For most of western Europe (eg Britain) the persecution was not light and very “successful”, the Jewish population was effectively zero until the modern period.

I would add that in guerilla wars there is a fairly well recognized causal relationship between persecution and strengthened insurgent campaigns. Populations who are neutral or fairly lukewarm in supporting the insurgency become radical supporters quickly when a bunch of soldiers roll up and burn their village.

They were expelled from Spain after Reconquista, from France in the XIV century but were more accepted in Eastern Europe. That went backward in the XIX century, with pogroms in the East driving Jews to America and western Europe. In 1939, there was 6 million Jews in Europe (URSS excluded), with half in Poland to a total of 374 million inhabitants (1,6%). After 1945, that dropped to 1,2 million, with almost 90% of decline in Poland. That was a serious persecution, far more than in the predeceasing millennia, hence my use of “lightly”.
You’re right on the survivor bias, Christian persecutions of the pagans had been more successful than the reverse.

Exactly. This is what happens when people with no choice fight for their lives and their loved ones.