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(RNS) Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet learned in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. As an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.

37 Comments

  1. (1) Religion ≠ Ethics. Currently, conservative Christians are complaining of persecution because the government supports policies on abortion, birth control and sexual conduct. That’s not religion. That’s ethics. Religion = metaphysics + ceremony. And no one is interfering with religion strictly speaking, i.e. with the right of Americans to believe and openly profess their commitment to metaphysical propositions about the existence of supernatural beings or states of affairs, or the hope for post-mortem survival. No one is interfering with their participation in religious rituals.

    Early Christians did not claim to be persecuted because the Roman state did not affirm their views on moral matters, e.g. because it allowed not only abortion but infanticide, and prostitution, concubinage, blood sports and a range of other activities that Christians found morally offensive. They held they were persecuted because the state imposed penalties on them for specifically religious behaviors, e.g. for refusing to engage in pagan religious rituals.

    (2) While Christians in the US are certainly not by any stretch persecuted we are despised. The urban-coastal elite is contemptuous of us Christians, starting with Obama whose patronizing remarks about our “clinging to guns and religion” still sting.

    I agree that Santorum, O’Reilly and the usual suspects are capitalizing on the myth of persecution. However if you people, you religious studies scholars and other atheists, want serious dialog with us Christians, please recognize why many of us are angry. We resent the assumptions of educated urban-coastal elites that we are ignorant, right-wing trailer trash. One of my Facebook acquaintances, a New York radio journalist, asked me quite seriously whether I was a Creationist. Like most members of his social group, he assumed that all religious believers were ignoramuses, and did not make fine distinctions between Episcopalians and snake-handlers.

    So, Candida Moss and others, if you want to encourage dialogue and productive discussion please stop taking those easy pot-shots at Evangelicals and recognize why we Christians are angry. Try getting it across that most of us religious believers are not Evangelicals, and that, wow, some of us are educated, liberal, upper middle class professionals.

    • David Thompson

      You can’t have it both ways. You can’t cling to imaginary friends and then cry they are picking on us, but we are different. Imaginary is simply imaginary and all gods are imaginary. How do you expect to hold an adult conversation with that type of puerility. Just because Christianity or Islam represents a large minority does not make them immune to being ridiculed obtuse.

    • Much of Baber’s earlier writing aroused questions in me, but the very last sentence was “the straw the broke the camel’s back,” and that camel did not transport one of the Magi to the stable at Bethlehem. It was the conceit about being “educated, liberal, upper middle class professionals” that was the most conceited, illiterate, nasty comment of all. Baber puts down all those presumed to not belong to Baber’s club.

      Baber betrays ignorance, vile bile, and conceit in the second-last paragraph by pairing “you religious studies scholars and other atheists” as if there is something wrong or bad with either group. They simply disagree with Baber, and they have that right, Jesus would defend for them. Such negative bias is hardly “educated, liberal, (or) upper middle class professional”–as if members of that group are any better than anyone else. A total contradiction of even Baber’s Jesus!

      In short, Baber belittles everyone who is different than or disagrees with Baber, including the distorted description of Barack Obama as an “urban-coastal elite…contemptuous of (Baber’s type of) Christians.” Baber thus infers, of course,that Obama is a Muslim. Should we accept any description Baber claims for Baber?

      All that betrays Baber’s illiterate and unhealthy religious notion that anyone different than Baber has to be totally wrong. Others, including non-theists, have every right to their beliefs as Baber has. They have every right to respect as long as they do not display disrespect for those who differ, as Baber does.

      Obama was absolutely right in his description of those who cling to their guns and religion. Consider the refusal of our very Christian Congress and the overwhelming policy of the Republican Party to do anything at all about reducing the slaughter of “holy innocents” on our streets and in our classrooms with any sensible legislative action against the weapons of war that litter our neighborhoods. Consider the religious fervor with which Wayne LaPierre and his NRA lead that war against any kind of control over this one-sided, defenseless national terror of human slaughter.

      Baber may be “educated.” Baber certainly is not “liberal.” And Baber may belong to “upper middle class professionals,” snob groups who are demanding that Congress do nothing about our national terror and continue almost 40 times to try to undo the Affordable Care Act. Is that what Jesus would do? Deprive opportunity to the masses and ignore their consequent needs caused by that deprivation?

      And Congress will no doubt refuse to give college students the same interest rate on their school loans that the filthy rich banks receive from our Federal Reserve, .075%. No, instead, the wealthy continue to get wealthier off the slavery of everyone else and the theft of equal opportunity from all other groups, religious or economic, as they continue to wither on the vine. Is that the way of mainline, upper class churches and Baber? Is that the way of Baber’s Jesus?

      • Wow, this is surely far more conjectural than even the most speculative metaphysics about imaginary sky-friends in which we Christians believe. What on earth gives you the idea that I believe Obama is a Muslim? What do you know about my politics? I am a credentialed upper middle class liberal urban coastal professional–I am just sick of the assumption that I am not because I happen to be a religious believer–sick of seeing religion become a class marker.

        As far as tolerance for other views, all metaphysics is a crapshoot: it’s speculative. You look at different theologies and, if you like, pick the one you like. Reasonable people are atheists; equally reasonable people are theists. What I note however is that there is a growing number of neo-village atheists who get cheap little clever points for cute sayings about imaginary friends and spaghetti monsters (descended from Russell’s orbiting tea pot).

        Why should I dismiss Obama’s remark about guns-and-religion? If that isn’t patronizing and contemptuous, what is? And yeah I voted for him and would do so again–holding my nose not only or primarily for his contempt for religion but for his wimpy, center-right politics.

        • It would be good if Behr spoke only for Baber, especially in things like references to “sky friends in which we Christians believe” and also writing derogatorily about non-theists. One can see in Baber’s tirades aimed at those who have studied, learned, thought, and believed differently than Baber the great wisdom of the very First Amendment to our Constitution requiring a strict separation between religion and churches, and politics and government. It is sad and extremely dangerous that it is being so ignored.

          Baber’s the one who resurrected one of the many exaggerations about Obama’s background by distorting his position about guns and religion. It might be “patronizing and contemptuous” to Baber, but it also displays Baber’s general participation in all the ugly, plainly racial, presumptuous lies about Obama. That’s very religious, also, unfortunately. Baber betrays an ugly politics filled with comments, especially, nasty ones, about anyone who thinks and believes differently than Baber.

          Only Baber credentials Baber with such notable honors as “upper middle class, liberal, and urban-coastal professional?” One need not display any of those categories if one is going to resort to ugly put-downs of those presumed not to cohabitate them. That’s like Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment.

          Baber is typical of all that has been historically evil about religion by bluntly claiming to be “sick of the assumption that (Baber is) not” all those self-inflating categories. Who’s assuming Baber is not? And who cares? That displays extremely unhealthy insecurity. and the floating of presumed lofty thoughts in lofty-sounding sentences is sadly sophomoric.

          Baber again displays the ugly side of religion in putting down non-theists as “neo-village” and degrading their ideas as “cheap little clever points for cute sayings about imaginary friends…” Baber is the highest and best, everyone else is a lowly slob.

          Perhaps, since Baber knows so much with such absolute infallibility, Baber ought to apply for a job in the Vatican. Word is out that there will be a number of vacancies before long, including some that get a red hat along with the job.

  2. I look forward to getting her book and reading it. I would also suggest getting two other books that tie together 300 AD political in-fighting between the advocates of martyrdom (church fathers), and the people against martyrdom (some Gnostics, and rationale Christians who did not want to see their family sacrificed for nothing but an elite-clergy cause). Politics abounded in 300+AD, just like in 2013. The books, Pagels’ “The Gnostic Gospels”, chapter IV, “The Passion of Christ and the Persecution of Christians”, and Pagels and King’s “The Gospel of Judas”.

    • I hope students of the history of religion and politics do not leave out good studies of the non-Christian Roman Emperor Constantine’s takeover of the early Jesus communities when he called the Council of Nicaea in 325. That led to the sharing of his crown with the bishops who eventually adapted their pointy crowns and went on to commit atrocities against their own and other believers just like all the civil and religious “royalty” before them. Numerous members of the hierarchies still do.

  3. I hope she sells a lot of books BUT there is plenty of hateful treatment of Christians in the U.S. (and else where). If you are not Christian or if you are privileged then maybe you have not encountered it. The rest of us have. Not valuable to reiterate the MANY ways it is practiced. But it is .. and it is OBVIOUS .. odd that they ones who cannot seem to perceive it are women (feminists), blacks, Jews, atheists, gays, hispanics .. minorities who are acutely aware when it is practiced on them. .. and yet they are some of the worst haters .. the most venomous..

    • I agree. However I don’t think the language of ‘persecution’ is helpful. This sort of inflated, rhetoric discredits legitimate complaints. So, while women are not ‘oppressed’–we face gross ongoing discrimination and are seriously disadvantaged, and inflated talk about ‘oppression’ discredits feminism in the public perception. And Christians are not ‘persecuted’–but we are despised and patronized, viewed as ignorant peasants and proles more to be pitied than censured. And talk about ‘persecution’ just undermines our case.

      I am sick of the yap by adolescent nerds attempting to boost their cool by making oppositional statements about theists’ ‘imaginary friends’ and flying spaghetti monsters. But I’m even sicker of the patronizing, anthropological stance of the likes of Obama expounding his pop-sociological mini-theories why we ‘cling to guns and religion.’

      • “I am sick of the yap by adolescent nerds attempting to boost their cool by making oppositional statements about theists’ ‘imaginary friends’ and flying spaghetti monsters. But I’m even sicker of the patronizing, anthropological stance of the likes of Obama expounding his pop-sociological mini-theories why we ‘cling to guns and religion.’”

        You poor, poor theists! You are not a hated minority (far, far from it), so stop with the histrionics already. And, you, Baber–we get it: you’re privileged *and* deluded. So what?

  4. What Moss says it basically true, Christian persecution amounted to a “handful of years” in the last 2 millenia. I think we need to think more broadly of the context of history vis-à-vis the last five centuries (more or less). Jewish persecution, where they murdered the faithful wholesale, also has been just a “handful of years”. The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses (to take just one example of many struggling young sects) has been a mere “handful of years”. It takes time for a struggling sect like the Christians to overcome internecine bickering, ostracism, persecution, demonizing, murder and execution, and then come out as survivors. It is a social dynamic — new ideas always at first meet with severe criticism and rejection by the establishment. In the last 2 millennia Christians spent many more years demonizing others then they were demonized.

  5. PRISCILLA PAPIYA DURAIRAJ

    If Candida Moss claims that the persecution in the early church was a myth, then very soon she may be illumined to claim that Jesus did not die on the cross. Jesus’ death, His resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and all that followed, gave courage to the apostles to proclaim Christ and His message of salvation and new life to the world around. Those who could not accept such teachings opposed and that was the reason why Christians were persecuted. Persecution began with the killing of Jesus, and thereafter continued in different forms and degrees.
    If Moss thinks that she has a novel topic to elaborate and trade with, which may sell like hot cakes, she can surely earn a better living. Perhaps her theology, her degree are not making it to the market. Go ahead Moss, and soon you will discover your product as moss indeed. HAPPY SELLING !

    • Dave The Sandman

      Shall we discuss then the many and manifold ways Christians have persecuted other Christians (Albigensian Crusades onwards, vis the St Bartholemew’s Day Massacre and other early genocidal cleansings, all the way to the mid 1700s when the final death rattles of the wars of religion ended at Culloden)? Or cases like the anti-semitic persecution of men like Alfred Dreyfuss by a Catholic sympathetic French military? Or the way Christians persecuted, since the Council of Nicea, those of other faiths altogether – like the Crusades for example? Or forced assimilation of the First Nations American peoples into Christianity? The Conquistadors? On and on and on?

      Faiths persecute each other, and those of other faiths, and those of none. All of them, from pagans to Christians to all others – even the Buddhists.

      get over it, or bury your head back in your Bible and close your ears and mind to facts.

  6. Any scholarly book which accurately sheds light on the facts concerning Christian writings and history in the first, second, and third centuries usually gets my attention, regardless of the author’s beliefs or affiliation. Good scholarship has universal appeal. I will give this a read. What concerns me is how the word “myth” is being thrown around so loosely in today’s theological dialogue. It is, I concede, a great way to sell books. However, stating your conclusion in the title before people have a chance to examine your argument is polarizing and counterproductive to scholarly debate. I know such titles are seen as necessary to facilitate serious books breaking into the “pop” culture reading list. However, the sensationalism and appeal to our inclination to knee-jerk reactions just contributes to the polarization, and perhaps shows a lack of creativity.

  7. There were two empire-wide systemic persecutions: under Decius and under Diocletian. Pliny’s was a local event, among many local events down the centuries until Christianity was given official toleration. Constantine probably realized that continued persecution of the Christians was politically self-defeating; by the 300s, the Christians had become a sizable minority in the empire. The Roman imperial state was quite tolerant when it came to religions (which, by definition, was supposed to be ancient and ethnically based; every people had its own gods; Christianity was by definition, once no longer recognized as a sect of Judaism, a “superstition” and therefore had no legal rights under the imperial state). Moss seems to make simplistic observations; scholars had long recognized that there were only really two systematically organized imperial persecutions of Christians. Christians did inflate the numbers of martyrs, but this was due to the erroneous assumptions that all the graves in the catacombs were those of martyred Christians.

  8. I am utterly saddened by the obvious ignorance of Moss. She views Christianity as nothing more than an annoyance. What she fails to realize is this, Christianity is not a religion, but a living part of the Head of it, JESUS CHRIST Our LORD and Saviour. We, who are truly HIS are all members of HIS Body. Christianity isn’t something that just gets one through the day. I would challenge Moss to Read Foxes Book of Martyrs, or investigate current persecution organizations. She isn’t worthy to remotely stand in any of the shoes of our brothers and sisters who have been brutally tortured, set on fire, and behead for Our LORD. HE, The Saviour told us that in this world we would be persecuted, and we have been. Basically, she is calling JESUS a liar. She, obviously needs JESUS, that way she may acquire a better and more compassionate perspective of who true Christians are. Please pray for her.

    • Dave The Sandman

      Ok Zelda….round 2

      “I would challenge…” Yes – completely missing the point there aren’t we because you have your fingers in your ears and are screaming LA LA LA LA!!! “Foxes Book of Martyrs” concerns Catholic on Protestant murders during the early stages of the Wars of Religion, and ones more specifically in my country of birth the UK. Ignorance personified there my dear. That was one sect of Christians slaughtering another, later to have the same tables turned on them when the Protestants started murdering Catholics en masse. From Paris on St Bartholemew’s Day to the battlefield of Culloden those Protestant vs Catholic slaughter fests continued on and on. BUT…. Christians killing other Christians. NOT Non Christians slaughtering Christians.

      ALL religions are or have at one time or another slaughtering some other faith or those of no faith. Even Buddhists (currently in Myanmar) get into the old religious genocide routine.

      So save the mwaaaaah mwaaaah routine and get yourself a proper history education and awareness of current geo-politics eh? Here is a tip – put the damn Bible down and pick up a news paper.

  9. This is what The Word of GOD said, who is JESUS this is what HE said would happen to HIS children, and it has been happening, and will get worse, and continue until HE returns:

    Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. “Yet not a hair of your head will perish. “By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luk 21:10-19 NASB

    • Dave The Sandman

      And as the good author and historian pointed out in the article, the early Christian church promulgated persecution mythology as a way of recruiting and cohering membership of its small band.

      Furthermore, respected historians and literary analysts have shown that the “gospels” and all other contents of the Bible have been added to, edited and mistranslated over the years, and particularly in the Middle Ages. For the same reasons.

      So quote away with your Bible verse….

  10. Just because a person writes a book, and has credentials doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. We know that Christians suffered persecution early in the Church because we get accounts from The Bible. Moss was asked the following question:

    Q: You argue that modern myths of Christian persecution are rooted in an ancient myth, and you focus on Pliny, a first- and second-century Roman who governed what is now Turkey. Why should we know about him?

    This is her response:

    A: He’s the first Roman official to actually talk about Christians. He writes to the Emperor Trajan and says,…..

    Actually this isn’t correct. Pliny was not the first Roman official to actually talk about Christian. We have an account from Scripture that mention persecution of The Apostle Paul:

    And he wrote a letter having this form: “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. “When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came up to them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. “And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. “When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you.” So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. Act 23:25-33 NASB

    Christians were being hunted down, Paul clearly was. Lest we forget Stephen, the first martyr in Acts 7?

    10 major persecutions of Christians during the Roman Empire. (Notice the dates) 1st and 2nd Centuries

    Nero (64 A.D.)
    Domitian (c.90-96)
    Trajan (98-117)
    Hadrian (117-138)
    Marcus Aurelius (161-181)
    Septimus Severus (202-211)
    Maximus the Thracian (235-251)
    Decius (249-251)
    Valerian (257-260)
    Diocletian / Galerius (303-311)

    • Dave The Sandman

      ding ding…round 1

      “Just because a person writes a book, and has credentials doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about.”

      See further Don The Dentist McLeroy and the Texas Board of Education: “Someone has to stand up to these experts!”

      Actually my dear the fact the writer is a historian and a trained one who has done extensive research, as opposed to your good self armed with faith, a Bible, and a Google connection to Wikipedia I’m afraid you are very very wrong. Her assertions are based in much more reliable sources than yours, so yours are a poor second to hers.

      If you had studied Roman history you would know that Roman historians wrote from a patronage and political perspective, and thus their recordings are not wholly factual. Suetonius for example was notorious for including scandalous and scurrilous gossip in his biographies of the 12 Caesars. Ditto Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

      Citing odd examples of persecution does not mean wholesale state co-ordinated persecution was the norm. How do you know the “saints” were persecuted for what it is claimed they were? Was it their faith, or was it that in reality some other offense against the state, morphed into an act of martyrdom by early Christian writers? As we know, such writers did have a habit of making stuff up, or plagiarizing other mythologies & philosophies and claiming it as their own.

      Please realise that the Bible is not a history book. Or a science book. Its a book of faith – allegorical morality tales possibly strung around real world events. Where the Bible has been compared to actual evidence it has universally failed. Modern analysis of its evolution from the early writings, through the first compilation of works under the Council of Nicea, through the middle ages additions, to the deliberate and purposeful mistranslation in the time of King James to solidify his rule as a divine king, shows addition and faulty translation and carried errors. It is a book of faith not fact.

      And you can quote and capitalise from now till Satan wears a woolly jumper, and that will not change one whit. Facts are facts, faith something entirely different.

  11. William David Troughton

    Not knowing how early church history was presented to Candida, and thus what she is reacting to, makes it hard know what she is trying to redress. She may well be well-justified in her concerns. However, in her concern to have authentication of events through written records it is well to remember there have been a lot of problems with under-valuing oral history in the past. For instance, the story of Polycarp is undoubtedly one which has inspired many people over the centuries; I wonder how she treats it in her book, but it would not be good to regard it as purely myth – whatever definition you use for that word.

  12. In the summer of 64, Rome suffered a terrible fire that burned for six days and seven nights consuming almost three quarters of the city. The people accused the Emperor Nero for the devastation claiming he set the fire for his own amusement. In order to deflect these accusations and placate the people, Nero laid blame for the fire on the Christians. The emperor ordered the arrest of a few members of the sect who, under torture, accused others until the entire Christian populace was implicated and became fair game for retribution. As many of the religious sect that could be found were rounded up and put to death in the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome. The ghastly way in which the victims were put to death aroused sympathy among many Romans, although most felt their execution justified.

    That sounds like persecution to me…I think Ms. Moss needs to consider returning her Ph.D as she appears to be a poor student of history.

  13. How does this woman teach at Notre dame the most well known Catholic college in the world and how does the powers that be allow her to teach such rubbish! She sounds like an atheist to me!

  14. Saturday, April 19, 2014
    Candida Moss as uncovered by Trooper Keeton.
    The woman is being true to her Protestant education. That being Oxford and Yale. She is employed by Notre Dame, but with anti-discrimination laws that means little. Not all, but some Protestants wrestle with apostolic accession, for this is a key pillar of the Catholic Church. So when we read her writings claiming the Christians were not persecuted, then how can we believe that all the Popes before the fourth century were martyred. It has been said to know history is to cease being a Protestant. So Ms. Moss choses to rewrite history.
    Having said that, please do not be upset if you are my, as we say, separated brethren. If you believe all that about indulgences, then you are probably true to your heart and will go to heaven and be united the Jesus. Whether Protestant or Catholic, let us ponder that this woman may have an axe to grind. Maybe she is quilted over the all-male priesthood or the over-scrutinized Obama Care. May I steer you to the fullness of the truth on the early church with The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin. Now Jimmy’s book is like reading the Bible so you may not want to read cover to cover, just indulge in the Chapters that grab you. Now a fun read is The Miracles of the Coliseum. Fun because some of it may be hyperboles. It is written in this book a line that I coveted , The Blood of the Martyrs are the Seeds of Christianity.

    Posted by The Blog 12:46 PM

    for more go to trooperkeeton.com

  15. All this fuss over ancient trivia! Ancient peoples fought about everything, at the drop of the proverbial hat. What difference does it make? That was then. This is now. However, there is a similarity, a continuity, as much evil has been done in this world because of religious beliefs as for any other reason. And that is extremely unbecoming of religion!

  1. […] Candida Moss debunks the 'myth' of Christian persecution And Pliny has other concerns: Christians were not purchasing the meat associated with the Roman temples. And he thinks of Christians not as a religious group, but prone to superstition, which the Romans considered a kind of madness that could spread … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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