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(RNS) It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s better to err on the side of undercounting martyrs than to risk overcounting them. What’s at stake is credible religious freedom advocacy.


  1. Uchenna D. Anyanwu

    I am bordered by your comment that “… most 9/11 victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I think you will need to expatiate your thoughts on this. Do you mean that those who went to their daily and normal tasks on that Sept. 11 were in the wrong place and at the wrong time? What is your definition of being in a wrong place and wrong time? Mr. Birdsall, how can you determine when you are in the right place and in the right time when you are going about your normal daily business?

    Is it not this your questionable understanding of being in a wrong/right place at a wrong/right time that makes you question the figures given by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity?

    • I think that “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” is an apt description of many of the people killed on 9/11. It doesn’t matter how or why they were there, had they been somewhere else at that time, they would not have been killed. That’s all that phrase means.

      • John, do mean to say that if you were in a church building, for example. Let us assume you were in Northern Nigeria, and while in worship, Islamists from Boko Haram stormed your place of worship and threw in bombs there. And there you died among many others. Then (from your definition) could we conclude you were at the wrong place at the wrong time?

        What of the tens of thousands of men, women and children in the Philippines recently killed by natural disaster (Typoon Haiyan)? Were they at the wrong place at the wrong time? If you go with that definition, could you please tell us how we can avoid being in the wrong place and how to know the wrong and the right time? Thank you.

      • I think that “when times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as s well as the other.” ” I from the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; i, the Lord, do all things.” “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”

        Any thing less than this should be considered blasphemy.

  2. I’m gonna give a stab at this one. Assuming one would like to live a normal healthy life, and die of natural causes, then by definition:

    The wrong place would be anywhere you will face a violent, unintended, premature death.

    The wrong time would be to be in that place at precisely the time that cause of death will happen.

    That seems to be the backstory for the rather commonsensical observation that the victims of 9/11 were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is why we call them victims, after all.

  3. It seems to me that a commonsense definition of martyr references the death of an individual specifically because of that individual’s beliefs either as expressed or as acted out as in a religious/liturgical context. Sectarian conflict, thusly, produces martyrs.

    • In the Catholic Church, the definition of martyr means someone killed in odium fidei — “in hatred of the faith”. It restricts Christian martyrs to those killed specifically because they are Christians. I believe that this is a reasonable definition.

  4. Brian Pellot

    More or Less (BBC show on stats) did an episode on the 100,000/year figure recently. Worth listening to. That number apparently includes (among other apparent anomalies) Hutus and Tutsis (both Christian) who died in Rwanda.

  5. Maybe the sanest thing to do is to drop the religiously and culturally loaded word “martyr” from such situations. The term gives the connotation of someone who actively defies government or the local situation to further their faith.

    Victims would be a more appropriate and accurate term.

  6. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Those who flew the planes into the Twin Towers were members of groups who had a murderous hatred of Christians and Jews and were targeting “infidels.” (although some Moslems also died in the carnage). Thus those in the Towers were victims of this religious hatred–in other words: martyrs.

    • To some Muslims, so were those who flew the planes into the Twin Towers. They died while performing war (Jihad) against their enemies.
      Religion poisons everything.

  7. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, most of those Christians (90%) were killed by Christians, in civil wars having nothing to do with sectarian issues. So following their logic, the greatest threat to Christians is Christianity. The sooner it is stamped out the safer it will be for Christians to live in peace.