The Myth of Persecution?

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Charlie's picture

Well of course there was no systematic, sustained, 300 year persecution of Christians. As the last link in the OP points out, that is common knowledge in the historical guild. However, I think Moss may have a point that Dreher and Larison have missed. Christians in general tend to have a highly romanticized idea of persecution, and this goes all the way back. 

During periods of persecution in the early church, "confessors" (those persecuted but not killed for their beliefs) and martyrs achieved such rock-star status (and supposedly plenary forgiveness for post-baptismal sin) that other Christians literally walked up to Roman officials asking to be arrested. By the way, this in itself suggests that the persecutions were fairly light; people under prolonged, intractable hostility do not act like that. 

After Christianity became legalized, even establishment, the fascination remained. Early Christian ascetism can be traced in part to the continued desire for purgative suffering.

Post-Reformation accounts of martyrdom "proved" that each side was right and often functioned to nurse hatred against the cruel oppressors on the other side. Sometimes martyr stories could paradoxically function to incite violence. 

Even in the contemporary era, some observers have noted a "persecution complex" among Christians. James Barr, remarking on conservative evangelicals, says that even when Christianity is far and away the dominant religious influence in a nation, the Christians still find reasons to cry persecution! It's as if Christians need to feel persecution in order to reassure ourselves that we are right. Much of fundamentalist rhetoric has underscored how much "the world" hates "us" (i.e., fundamentalists), when ironically the fundamentalists themselves were instigating the majority of the animosity. 

So, having not read the book, I think Moss may have some perceptive commentary on the use of martyr imagery and rhetoric in Christianity, even though her historical research is hardly new knowledge. 

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Wayne Wilson's picture

I spent some time teaching in the underground church in China.  Many of my students had been arrested, some jailed for extensive periods.  The concern about being caught was palpable.  Every prayer meeting began with "Lord, please protect the security of this meeting." 

Didn't notice too many volunteers for martyrdom. But I did see a lot of humble evangelists and pastors willing to endure it if it came to them.  But, yes, one student volunteered to be the "organizer" and do another stint in prison if we were caught.  He didn't seem eager for it, though.  Just my limited experience.

No, it's not bad like that here, but the popular culture, academia, and increasingly the US government, is rabidly anti-Christian.  I don't know how anyone can say otherwise. 

The contemporary scene:

http://www.romereports.com/palio/Report-shows-Christianity-is-the-most-persecuted-religion-in-the-world-english-3170.html

 

Moss' book seems to be another effort to correct what no one is saying. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Some analysis worth reading:

Rod Dreher: Were the Martyrs Real?

What gives the game away are the blurbs the publisher has collected. Every single one comes from either a liberal Christian or, in one case, from a prominent gay historian who is no longer a Christian, and whose departure from the church had a lot to do with his inability to reconcile Christianity with his sexuality. Mind you, none of this proves or disproves the claims in Moss’s book; rather, it signals the audience to which she wishes to appeal. Without taking a position on Moss’s claims, I do find it a puzzling quality of liberal Christians that they tend to get excited when something that had been a cherished belief or practice of the Church is shown to have been false.

Personally, I don't find that quality "puzzling" at all.

See also Persecutions and History

JobK's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Some analysis worth reading:

Rod Dreher: Were the Martyrs Real?

What gives the game away are the blurbs the publisher has collected. Every single one comes from either a liberal Christian or, in one case, from a prominent gay historian who is no longer a Christian, and whose departure from the church had a lot to do with his inability to reconcile Christianity with his sexuality. Mind you, none of this proves or disproves the claims in Moss’s book; rather, it signals the audience to which she wishes to appeal. Without taking a position on Moss’s claims, I do find it a puzzling quality of liberal Christians that they tend to get excited when something that had been a cherished belief or practice of the Church is shown to have been false.

Personally, I don't find that quality "puzzling" at all.

See also Persecutions and History

 

I recall a Christian movie that came out a few years back that dealt with an evangelical teenager in high school who was socially marginalized (mocked, teased, what the modern climate would call "bullied") for living out his Christian beliefs: for abstaining from drugs, alcohol, fornication etc. The reviewer for the New York Times stated that it was a pretty decent movie, entertaining and suited its target audience and all, but vehemently recoiled at the suggestion that any Christian at any time in this country could suffer anything at all for their beliefs. The reason for this statement is that on the liberal multiculturalism scale, Christianity is associated with white privilege. Because Christianity not only enjoys majority status but is the preferred religion of the white upper classes (even if they are Catholic or denominational in name only) the idea that a white Christian could receive maltreatment in any way due to his or her religion was offensive. Only Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, wiccans etc. could receive such treatment, as well as homosexual "Christians" or black/Hispanic/Asian Christians - and even then only in the context of using their religions as part of the civil rights or other progressive/liberal movements. 

Of course, when Christians in the very near future start receiving actual problems due to government actions (hate crimes laws with respect to homosexuality and Islam for one thing, and it is already illegal according to international law to try to convert people - especially minors - from one religion to another) such as being dispossessed from businesses, homes, churches, etc. and losing custody of children, Christians will say that it is persecution, and the mainstream media and academics will say "No it isn't" (this is already happening in other countries by the way) and the basis for saying that there is no such thing is that Christianity is and has always been a religion associated with white privilege, so the only examples of persecution by Christians was one group of white Christians against another (i.e. wars between Protestants and Catholics). Even the actions against Christians by Marxist regimes in places like Cuba, Viet Nam, Russia, China etc. have been justified by stating that the Christians were opposing the socialist revolution and supporting the status quo, making it political violence as opposed to religious violence, and the same is being done with regards to the treatment of Christians by Muslim regimes in places like Turkey (the Armenian genocide, attributed to Armenia supporting the enemy in a war against Russia) and Africa (attributed to wars over oil, ethnic issues, or the result of colonialism or other western meddling). 

The best way to head off the inevitable attempts to link what will be actions taken against Christian institutions and individuals in the near future to what Christians have suffered throughout history is to deny the historical component. You can make the case that Christians have never suffered anything from the state - and are indeed not suffering anything from the state - but have only exaggerated and lied to gain power, and are now exaggerating and lying to hold onto white privilege.

Keep in mind: the people who advance this stuff believe that Christianity was based on a lie/myth/legend to begin with. They believe that Jesus Christ never rose from the dead and never existed beyond being some failed two-bit revolutionary, and that white people concocted the resurrection and a bunch of other stories surrounded him as an excuse to persecute Jews and oppress women. (That there was no need to do so in the first place because pagan Roman culture was even more anti-Semitic and misogynistic than legitimate Christianity - and even most forms of illegitimate heretical Christianity - ever was. But now that neo-paganism is considered a minority protected class religion, we are unable to discuss the barbarity of pagan cultures anymore, and instead have to pretend that they never included such things as human sacrifice, internecine warfare and ritual child prostitution, but were instead were New Age peace loving egalitarian hippie feminists before the Christian missionaries came and perverted their idyllic cultures.) 

This is just the first shot across the bow that is going to be used to claim that Christian churches and schools losing their tax exempt status (the first step) and then being acted against entirely using place of public accommodation laws that render the 1st amendment moot (the next phase) because they refuse to admit homosexual members or perform homosexual weddings isn't persecution. And when our military uses drone attacks to kill our missionaries overseas because they are teaching that Islam and Judaism etc. are false religions and homosexuality and abortion are sins on the basis that such people are fanatical religious extremists spreading fundamentalist beliefs that could cause violence, stuff like this will be used to claim that this has nothing to do with people like Perpetua, William Tyndale, Justin Martyr, Stephen, James, Peter, Paul etc. who either never existed or simply got what was coming to them for being troublemaking bigots if they did. 

The audience of this book is liberals, and the purpose of it is to reassure them that the coming government action against Christians won't be depriving Christians of any rights that are worth having to begin with.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Wayne Wilson's picture

The audience of this book is liberals, and the purpose of it is to reassure them that the coming government action against Christians won't be depriving Christians of any rights that are worth having to begin with.

I think there is something to this. 

MShep2's picture

Perhaps Amazon can pair this with a book on how the Holocaust never happened in a two for one deal. 

MS
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

Charlie's picture

We seem to know an awful lot about a book that hasn't been released yet. By the way, Dr. Moss is an authority in this area. She is already the author of a well-received introduction to martyr literature in early Christianity: http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Christian-Martyrdom-Theologies-Traditions/...

I will bring your concerns to Dr. Moss when I see her tomorrow. Actually I won't, since I'm applying for a position in her department. But I might try to glean a few details.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin