Christian persecution

9 Aug

From time to time I hear somebody, either in person or on this blog, bring up the fact that the early Christians were persecuted by the Romans. This is true. Whether you believe in the religion or not, it is a historical fact that the Romans did horrible things to Christians. Since the formation of the church Christians have used the persecution they suffered under the Romans to say “Look! Look what we went through for our lord and savior! We were butchered whole sale and fed to lions for the amusement of Pagans!” I remember going to vacation bible school where some of the camp counselors would dress up like Roman soldiers and roam the halls of the church. Sometimes they’d bust into our little activity and tell the children that they were all going to die for being Christians. We had to respond by saying that Jesus is the son of god and we’d gladly give our lives for him. (Remember, we were elementary school kids) At this the camp couns….. er, “scary Roman soldier” would be shocked by our courage and we would “save” him. (But I digress)

Yes the Christians initially suffered horribly under the Romans, but I have a problem with modern day Christians trying to use this as an excuse or proof that their claims are somehow valid because they suffered. Here’s the thing. according to the story, Jesus started teaching sometime between 24 and 26 CE, when he was in his early 30’s. The Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, along with the entire Roman empire with him, in 312 CE. If we go with the earliest date, 24 CE, that’s a period of 288 years that Christians were open to persecution.  Yes 288 years seems like a lot, but when compared to the length of time other people were persecuted, it’s nothing special. What Christians seem to fail to grasp is that while they were being persecuted, so were a handful of other people. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, after the Christians came onto the scene. It was not just Christians. In fact, the Roman empire was persecuting and killing people centuries before Christianity was invented. They did not build the great arena’s specially for Christians. They were there long before. Even the cross, a symbol of a horrific and slow death, was in use long before the Romans ever nailed Jesus to one. Doing that to him was not giving him special treatment. They did it to thousands of slaves in the Spartacus rebellion almost two hundred years earlier.

The thing that really upsets me is how Christians who like to point out their persecution under the Romans just stop there. They leave out the bit about Emperor Constantine converting to Christianity, about Christians taking over the Roman empire from within. They leave out the part about how they became the Roman empire! Once that happened, the persecution of Christians by Romans stopped. The part that they really love to leave out is how they then turned around and started persecuting their old persecutors. (I guess “turn the other cheek” applies only when you’re the under dog, other wise you’re doing god’s will) Once in power, the Christians went about defacing art work, destroying temples, and forcing conversions under pain of death.

They continued the grand old tradition of killing Jews and burning their temples. After all, they were the Christ killers. (Or at least until the Catholics changed their minds about that almost 2000 years after the fact) At the height of the church’s power (also the darkest period in the “dark ages”…coincidence?) the church encouraged the wholesale slaughter and persecution of Pagans. Teutonic knights, warriors for Christ, hunted down Pagans through Germany and slaughtered entire villages.

Since that wasn’t enough, they invaded the middle east so they could persecute Muslims. Contrary to their modern equivalent, medieval Muslims were a lot more tolerant. Christians could live and practice their faith in Muslim territory as long as they paid a tax. (Much more business savvy than slaughtering them) As if all this bloodshed was not enough, Christians then turned in on each other for new people to persecute. The waged entire crusades against people who were “the wrong type of Christian”. (Google Waldensian crusade for example) This in fighting and persecution went right on up through the 1700’s. Remember why the pilgrims left England? It wasn’t that England was an atheist country, far from it, they were just the wrong type of Christians. What many Christians don’t know is that the bloodiest war in human history, up until that machine gun was invented, was the 30 year’s war, fought between Catholics and Protestants. It depopulated Europe. The death toll couldn’t be matched for another 300 years until we figured out how to mow people down with automatic fire.

But enough of the history lesson. The point is Christians have persecuted a lot more people since their faith took hold than when they were the minority in Rome. The worst part is when the people who bring up the persecution of Christians by Romans try to imply that Christians are still being persecuted. Really? Try being an atheist for ONE day. Don’t just pretend quietly. Be as open about it as you are about your Christianity. Say it out loud like you’re proud. (God will know you’re pretending for the sake of an experiment so you won’t go to hell) Just try it, see how other react and treat you differently. By the way, atheists have been persecuted by everyone since man created god, so we’ve got a couple of millennia on Christians.

***As an end note I just want to make something clear. This is all just an observation. This post is not intended to be an excuse or evidence that Atheists are correct in not believing in a god. That would be doing the same thing I lament Christians for doing when they point out their suffering under the Romans. The problem with these types of arguments “who was persecuted more” “who killed more” etc is that they try and establish validity through a body count. I’m not sure how you can discuss the past without making it seem like you’re trying to keep score. Regardless, these things happened and they should be open to discussion.

7 Responses to “Christian persecution”

  1. James September 17, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Hi GP,

    You do raise a very good point that the visible church has been both the object and creator of violent persecution. I wonder how old you are? Your VBS story dates you somewhat. Could it have been during the same era as the Cultural Revolution of China? The Atheist Red Guards were pretty scary, and many denied their Christian faith to stay alive. And then those foolish believers…well they didn’t save their tormentors did they.

    Religious people kill and so do Atheists. Is there not a third way?

    • godlesspaladin September 17, 2010 at 9:54 am #

      Apples to oranges. While the communists did some horrible things, the majority of their crimes were committed for reasons not religious. They were assholes who happened to be atheist, as apposed to killing because your religion tells you to. Regardless, it’s silly to get into a body count argument. Were there some atheists who kill believers because they were believers? Of course. I don’t deny that, but I also condemn it.

      • Jason Valentine October 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

        On the contrary Communists killed and still persecute Christians. That being said, I am an agnostic and see no difference between worshipping a government or a god, They’re both man made,

  2. Erik July 31, 2011 at 1:10 am #

    Great site, man! It is “man,” right? Anyway, the statement in the “persecution” essay about there being “Christians” in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple. I believe you will find, should you dig a bit on the topic (Bart Ehrman, Raymond Brown, Randall Helms, Tim Callahan, John Meier, et al), that followers of Jesus were in the temples until about 85-95 AD. The anti-Semitism in the (future) canon took a few decades to fester, culminating in the Jew-baiting Gospel of John (95-110?). Of course, I didn’t know most of this until I left church, but it took only a few solid FACTS to disabuse me of the MYTHS that were on offer. I am going read everything on this site now, so I hope you are going to add more.

  3. Bruce October 5, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Isn’t it possible that the Romans didn’t persecute christians NOT because of their religion but because of a misunderstanding of what those christians believed? After all, the Roman empire conquered many people and didn’t persecute them and their religions…they just integrated those religions into their main society. Why not christianity? Perhaps the Romans were appalled by what the early church was saying and doing, which led to a total misrepresentation and misunderstanding of what christianity was all about. The early church, as to the modern one, kept saying they were partaking of the blood and body of Christ. To the Roman mind that meant cannibalism, which was TOTALLY revolting in the Roman eyes. Perhaps the Romans were persecuting the christians, not because of their whole religion, but because of their one misunderstood practice…of eating the body of Christ and drinking the blood? I think that is why the Romans did what they did.

    • Jason Valentine October 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      The partaking of blood and body..dates to the worship of Mithras, which was also included in the Roman pantheon. The early Christians were also..JEWISH….so Christianity was considered a Jewish sect,

  4. Raven October 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I take your point, and I agree with you in general terms; Christianity is in no way persecuted today, and historically, both Christianity and the Church ARE guilty of atrocities that are legion. However (sorry, I gotta say it), as a medieval historian, your depiction of the Middle Ages (NOT the ‘Dark Ages’), is quite simply wrong.

    There is plenty on which to rightfully convict Christianity and the Church without having to resort to the same tactics of exaggeration, inaccuracy, oversimplification and argument from invalid facts. These are the tactics we decry when employed by Creationists, historical revisionists, and theists of all stripes. Please don’t fall into the same trap.

    You have the correct position here, but if you want to argue it from history, please take the time to do it factually. As the voice of reason in these kinds of discussion, I really think it is incumbent on us to do so.

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