The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss
Posted on April 26, 2013
Two book-related posts in a row? But I can’t resist.
What a perfect thing to read after writing my series on The Safety of Being Christian in America. Although I was focusing on the fact that the present-day American church is not being persecuted, Moss argues in her book that there are very few times in ancient history during which Christians faced systematic government oppression or persecution. According to Greg Carey’s review in The Christian Century, she argues that a few of Christianity’s generally accepted stories of martyrdom are either misconstrued, mis-recorded, or simply altogether untrue.
Carey writes in his review:
Like the ancient poets, Moss at once instructs and entertains. Admirably weaving clear argumentation into vivid narration and demonstrating authoritative command of the primary sources, Moss advances her case by means of several important arguments. She also transgresses the boundary between historian and theologian and calls the church to repentance. She contends that the martyrdom narrative poses grave dangers, having contributed to everything from mild alienation to outright atrocity throughout the church’s history.
Along these same lines, his review concludes:
The martyrdom accounts my inculcate certain virtues, but they also bear a dangerous legacy. These stories set “us” Christians against the world, and they align the world with Satan. To the degree that the martyrdom myth shapes Christian imagination, it requires no great rhetorical leap to label theological, religious and political opponents in demonic terms. Martyrs were soldiers for Christ; they died not because they were pacifists but because they lacked real weapons. With weapons in their hands, martyr-inspired Christians turn into merciless killers.
At a minimum, the martyrdom myth encourages true believers to dismiss their opponents and their opponents’ humanity, creating obstacles to understand, compromise and common endeavor. Her historiography meets real life, as Moss’s exposure of the martyrdom myth opens a path to a new way of seeing the world and our neighbors.
Yes, this is exactly my concern when it comes to Christians viewing mild mistreatment as persecution. How easy it is to view someone who holds different doctrinal beliefs as an enemy–an adversary–if you believe that their dislike of your beliefs is the same as persecution!
I’ll be getting a copy of this book to read! I’ll post my thoughts here when I’ve read it.
In the meantime, you can read some of Candida Moss’s thoughts on this topic at The Daily Beast.