Given that it’s the most celebrated day in the Christian calendar, I knew a story intended to make Christians feel bad had to be lurking on the Web somewhere, and that my best bet of finding it would be on CNN.com.
You see this scholar has finally destroyed the myth of Christian persecution in the first three centuries after Christ. It seems that Christians have been repeating ad nauseum for their own self-aggrandizing purposes that those first 300 years were nothing but a horror story of faithful followers of Christ being hounded by ruthless pagans, with relentless round-ups, limb-ripping, and ultimately execution for the faith.
Except . . nobody was saying that. In fact, I have never read a history of Christianity, written by a Christian author, that did not emphasize that the early persecutions were periodic, some more intense than others.
But somebody’s gotta sell books. And in the age of the New Atheism and their band, the “Nones,” one way is to say that yet one more element of the Christian narrative is a fiction.
Why debunk this so-called myth now?
The debate over exactly how many Christians were persecuted and martyred may seem irrelevant centuries later. A scholarly consensus has indeed emerged that Roman persecution of Christians was sporadic, and that at least some Christian martyrdom stories are theological tall tales.
But a new book by Candida Moss, a New Testament professor at the University of Notre Dame, is bringing that message to the masses.
Moss says ancient stories of church persecution have created a contemporary cult of bogus Christian martyrs. She says too many American Christians are acting like they’re members of a persecuted minority, being thrown to the lions by people who simply disagree with them.
She cited former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney claimed last year that President Barack Obama was waging a “war against religion,” and Santorum said the gay community “had gone out on a jihad” against him. Other Christians invoke images of persecution when someone disagrees with them on controversial issues such as abortion or birth control, says Moss, whose “The Myth of Persecution” was recently released.
The problem with invoking persecution is it implies your opponents are evil – and no common ground can be found with evil, Moss says.
“When someone is persecuting you” she says, “there is no room for dialogue.”
Sorry? This would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that some people are everything they say they hate.
Let me see if I get this straight: You want more dialogue and Christians’ claiming persecution is an obstacle to such dialogue. So you’re going to call out your opponents as, well, either lying or deluded as a means of . . . opening up dialogue.
And we all know, it’s only Christians who claim to be persecuted. And given their overwhelming numbers in the media and pop culture, they do have the power to silence opposition to their point of view.
I think you can see this for what it is: one more way for the secular left to shut Christians up. (Nota bene: I have no idea whether Candida Moss is a Christian or not. And frankly, what does it matter. The effect is the same. John Shelby Spong considers himself a Christian. I consider myself an astronaut, but NASA still refuses to reimburse me for my dry cleaning bills.)
To be fair, the article does go on to cite the actual martyrdom of Perpetua and also how Christians won converts mainly by the quality of their lives, not their deaths. And no one who has read deeply the literature of the earliest centuries would miss how some writers of martyrologies neurotically indulged in the grotesque when either describing the torments of the martyrs or the glories of martyrdom. There’s undoubtedly superstitious baloney mixed into the earliest chapters of the Christian story.
Again — who didn’t know this? But to say that Christians must stop invoking persecution altogether because — what? — of the fair-minded and evenhanded way they are treated in debates of cultural and political importance in this country? is, again and again, just another way to tell Christians to shut up.
When you seek to silence or to marginalize, repeatedly, a group of people for their beliefs — by, for example, calling them deluded or ignorant — beliefs, by the way, that were an integral part of the founding and development of this nation and that remain of extreme importance in the lives of a significant portion of the American populace, what shall we call this? Sure, it’s not on the level of being fed to the lions. But neither is it dialogue.