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Christ was persecuted, but what about Christians?
Roman persecution of Christians was depicted in paintings such as "The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer" by Jean-Leon Gerome.
March 30th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

Christ was persecuted, but what about Christians?

CNN examines the tumultuous early years of Christianity in a special narrated by Liam Neeson. Watch “After Jesus: The First Christians,” Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) She walked into the Roman arena where the wild beasts awaited her. She trembled not from fear but from joy.

Her name was Vibia Perpetua. She was just 22, a young mother singing hymns as the crowd jeered and a lion, leopard and wild cow encircled her.

One of the beasts attacked, hurling her to the ground. She covered an exposed thigh with her bloody robe to preserve her modesty and groped in the dust for her hair pin so she could fix her disheveled hair.

And when a Roman executioner approached Perpetua with a sword, her last words before collapsing were aimed at her Christian companions: “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another and do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you.”

Millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. But the story of how the church rose to prominence after Jesus’ death is being turned upside down.

According to a belief passed down through the centuries, the church grew because of Roman persecution. The blood of Christian martyrs such as Perpetua became “the seed of the church,” said third-century church leader Tertullian. It’s the Hollywood version of Christianity reflected in epic biblical films such as “Ben-Hur” and “The Robe.” Vicious Romans relentlessly targeted early Christians, so the story goes, but the faith of people like Perpetua proved so inspiring that Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and eventually the largest religion in the world.

But that script is getting a rewrite. The first Christians were never systematically persecuted by the Romans, and most martyrdom stories with the exception of a handful such as Perpetua's were exaggerated and invented, several scholars and historians say. It wasn’t just how the early Christians died that inspired so many people in the ancient world; it was how they lived.

“You had much better odds of winning the lottery than you would have becoming a martyr,” says Joyce E. Salisbury, author of “The Blood of Martyrs: Unintended Consequences of Ancient Violence.”

“The odds were pretty slim. More people read about martyrs than ever saw one.”

Do Christians have a martyr complex today?

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.

Professor Candida Moss, author of "The Myth of Persecution," says most stories of Christian martyrs were fabricated.

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."

Others say Moss’ claim is dangerous.

People such as Perpetua did die because of their beliefs. The first Christians were tortured, reviled and held in contempt by Romans and their example helped the church grow, they say.

The Rev. Robert Morgan, author of  "On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes, " says it’s true that some of the accounts of martyrdom were “undoubtedly embellished” and that many of the persecution stories were “handed down in an atmosphere of confusion and pressure.”

Still, being a Christian in the first century was a risky move persecution was significant. Jesus and most of his apostles were executed, he says.

“To deny the history of the movement is a way of attacking the movement,” Morgan says.

Some opposition to contemporary Christians is indeed evil, Morgan says. Christians are being killed today in places such as Nigeria and North Africa.

“Christians do not have a victim’s mentality,” Morgan says. “They take their stands, they know what they believe and they do good in this world. They are the ones who have established orphanages, hospitals and charitable institutions. For some reason, there’s this animosity against them.”

Hatred of Christians is woven into much of the New Testament. Jesus constantly warned his followers to expect persecution. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his epistles from jail. And the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is dramatically recorded in the New Testament book the Acts of  the Apostles.

The Easter message itself is a story of martyrdom Jesus, unjustly executed by the Romans. The idea that Christians are at war with demonic forces in the world is reflected throughout the New Testament, says Bryan Litfin, a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

“If Jesus was just a soft moral teacher who taught us to love one another and petted little babies, the Romans wouldn’t have crucified him,”  Litfin says. “Jesus is a polarizing figure, then and today. The early Christians weren’t foisting a narrative out of the blue about being martyrs. ”

'Like the action heroes of the ancient world'

If the first Christians pictured themselves as waging war against the world, the martyrs were their version of the Navy SEALs. They were the elite Christians who inspired and united others of their faith.

There was a purpose behind spreading stories of persecution: Nothing brings a new group closer together than a common enemy, Moss says.

“The idea that you are persecuted forges a concrete identity,” Moss says. “It really solidifies your sense of group identity.”

The stories of Christian persecution were so popular that they spawned a market during the first centuries after the crucifixion. The places where martyrs were born and died became early tourist stops. Towns competed with one another to draw rich pilgrims seeking martyr memorabilia, Moss says.

“People would go and buy the equivalent of a T-shirt,” Moss says. “You’d have all these little combs with saints on them that people would buy, and lamps with saints on them. People would also buy fruit from trees that grew in the vicinity of martyrs’ graves. Of course, the prices were completely jacked up.”

Church leaders began to embellish and invent stories of martyrdom to inspire the faithful but also to settle theological feuds, Moss says. If, say, a bishop wanted to denounce a rivals’ theology, he spun a story in which a martyr denounced the same doctrine with his last breath, Moss says.

“Martyrs were like the action heroes of the ancient world,” Moss says. “It was like getting your favorite athlete endorsing your favorite brand of soda.”

But how often did Romans force Christians to endure torture or die for their faith? Christianity took roughly 300 years to conquer Rome. The emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 and gave Christians religious freedom.  Christianity became the official religion of Rome by the end of the fourth century,  scholars say.

For the first 300 years of the church, Christians were often ridiculed and viewed with contempt. But Roman leaders spent about "less than 10 years" out of the first 300 actually persecuting Christians, Moss says. There are only six reliable cases of Christian martyrdom before A.D. 250 out of “hundreds of stories,” including Perpetua’s, she says.

Many scholars have greeted Moss’ contention that Roman persecution of Christians was exaggerated with a shrug. They say it was common knowledge in the academic world.

“There weren’t that many Christians who were persecuted,” says Gail O’Day, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity in North Carolina. “When you actually read the Roman historical records, the Christians just weren’t that important to them. Most Christians just got along with empire.”

When Roman persecution did occur, though, it was vicious. The Emperor Nero covered fully conscious Christians with wax and used them as human torches. Other Christians were skinned alive and covered with salt, while others were slowly roasted above a pit until they died.

Perpetua’s passion

One of the most famous martyrs was Perpetua.

She lived in Carthage in North Africa (modern-day Tunisia) and was arrested in March 203 with four others as they prepared for baptism. The Roman Emperor Septimius Severus had decreed that any new conversion to Christianity would result in death.

History remembers Perpetua because she kept a diary during her imprisonment. It’s called "The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity" (Felicity was a slave girl arrested with Perpetua). It’s the oldest-surviving document from a Christian woman. The emotion in the diary is almost unbearable. Perpetua describes the pain of leaving her infant son, who she was still nursing. She describes a prison visit from her weeping father, who kissed her hands while trying to get her to renounce her faith.

Perpetua's father visited her in prison, begging her to think of him and renounce her faith.

A narrator picks up the story in the diary after Perpetua was sent to her death. He says in the diary that Perpetua’s faith was so inspiring it caused the prison’s warden, a man called Pudens, to convert. The narrator also describes Perpetua's death.

While she was imprisoned, Perpetua says God gave her visions to reassure her. After one, she wrote:

“I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil. But I knew that mine was the victory.”

You can’t discount the power of such stories, even if persecution “wasn’t extremely common,” says Litfin, the Moody Bible Institute professor.

Persecution was central to the rise of the early church, he says.

“How many people in your church would have to be pulled out and executed and tormented for it not to have a tremendous effect for many years on your memory and self-perception,” Litfin says. “The early Christians are not foisting a narrative out of the blue about being matyrs.”

The early Christians' secret weapon

Other scholars say it wasn't simply persecution that helped the church grow. Instead, they say, Christians had a secret weapon.

The martyrs may have gotten all the press, but it was ordinary Christians who got it done by the way they treated friends and strangers.

Life in ancient Rome was brutal and nasty, says Rodney Stark, author of "The Triumph of Christianity." Stark’s well-regarded book gives one of the most detailed descriptions of the early church and ancient Rome.

Forget those antiseptic portraits of Roman cities you see in biblical moves such as “The Robe.” Roman cities were overcrowded, raw sewage ran in the streets, people locked their doors at night for fear of being robbed and plagues were rampant. Soap had not yet been invented, Stark says.

“The stink of the cities in the summertime must have been astounding,” Stark says. “You would have smelled a city miles before you got to it.”

Christians stood out because they created a “miniature welfare state" to help the less fortunate, Stark says. They took in infant girls routinely left for dead by their parents. They risked their lives to tend the sick when plagues hit and others fled in terror. They gave positions of leadership to women when many women had no rights, and girls as young as 12 were often married off to middle-aged men, he says.

Ordinary Romans might have thought Christians were odd but liked having them for neighbors, Stark says.

“If people had really been against them, I don’t think they would have grown like they did,” Stark says.

Christianity became so popular that when Rome did unleash one of its sporadic waves of persecutions, the empire couldn’t stop the church’s momentum, Stark says.

“If you knocked off a bishop, there were 20 guys waiting to be bishop,” Stark says

Christian belonging, not blood, is what drew many people, another scholar says.

The Easter story of a risen savior wasn’t distinctive in Rome’s competitive religious marketplace. Dying for one’s beliefs wasn’t considered heroic; it was expected in the Roman world, says Selina O' Grady, author of "And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus."

The early church, though, was radically inclusive. First-century Rome was undergoing globalization. The peace of Rome had made travel easier. People left homes and tribal ties for Rome. The empire was filled with rootless and excluded people: immigrants, traders, slaves.

The Christian message offered guidelines for living in this strange new world, she says.

“Its universal message, its proclamation of equality, unconditional love, offered everyone in the Roman Empire a new family, a new community, and a way to live,” O’Grady says.

Roman rulers eventually found reasons to support the church, she says.

The Christian message of obeying earthly masters “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" reduced the potential for social unrest, O’Grady says.

“Christianity told the poor and lowly that their status was noble and that there would be recompense in the afterlife,” O’Grady says. “It was a wonderful recipe for creating good, obedient Roman subjects.”

A turning point for the early church was the conversion of Constantine. Scholars still debate Constantine’s motive. By that time the empire was rife with division, and Christians had become a major political bloc with members in the highest reaches of Roman society, says Stark, the sociologist.

“Constantine was interested so much in church affairs for the rest of his life, but I don’t think there’s a reason to not think he was a sincere Christian,” Stark says. “But he was also an egomaniac and an emperor.”

The growth of Christianity was too complex to be attributed to any one factor whether it be Constantine, persecution or Christianity's message of compassion and inclusion, Stark says.

“I don’t think there was a primary reason,” he says. “It was a collection of things. It was all part of a package.”

Wrapped in that package, though, were the persecution stories of people such as Perpetua.

Today, churches have been named after Perpetua; films and graphic novels have been made about her life. She is considered a saint.

Her words still inspire. People still read her diary. There’s probably a Christian somewhere in the world now facing danger who is taking courage from Perpetua’s ordeal.

One passage in Perpetua’s diary is particularly luminous.

Perpetua stopped keeping her diary just before she was sent into the arena. No one knows for sure what she felt when she faced her moment of death, but she did write what she expected to see afterward.

She wrote that God gave her a reassuring vision while in prison. In the vision, she saw a great bronze ladder ascending to heaven. At the foot of the ladder was a great serpent surrounded by swords and knives.

Perpetua said she ignored the serpent and climbed the ladder. When she arrived at the top, she saw a great garden and a white-haired man in shepherd’s clothing milking a sheep. He was flanked by thousands of others Christians dressed in white.

“And he raised his head and beheld me and said to me: Welcome child.”

The man gave Perpetua curds from the milk of the sheep, and she said it tasted sweet.

She then wrote:

“And I took it with joined hands and ate it up: and all that stood around said, Amen.”

Centuries later, millions of people who look to Perpetua are still saying amen.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Christianity • Easter • Faith • History • Jesus

soundoff (6,965 Responses)
  1. Luis Wu

    Where are those Romans with their lions now that we need them?

    March 31, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • tony

      Living in Trump Towers?

      March 31, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • Luis Wu

      You have to excuse me. I'm actually a big idiot troll.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Stop posting with my name. It just shows that you're too stupid to make a real, intelligent reply.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  2. michaellocher

    Interesting article. Whatever the historical truth behind "martyr stories," I do appreciate that the authors involved accuse contemporary Christians of possessing a martyr complex. Where debate on the subject of religion versus secularism is concerned, it's always easy to find voices shrieking over the banishment of religion and Christianity from American life, and claims the nation is morally bankrupt because of the success progressives have had with marginalizing or outlawing religious practices.

    If that doesn't define "martyr complex," I don't know what does. I live in a country where even in the most liberal regions, I can't walk more than three blocks without passing a Christian church. A considerable majority of Americans describe themselves as Christian, and it's not even possible to be elected to national office here without making a big show of one's Sunday morning church routine. The notion that Christianity has been marginalized, and Christians persecuted here in contemporary America, is simply the height of self-victimization fantasy.

    Happy Easter

    March 31, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • tony

      Amen. And your donation to the ministry iis appreciated

      March 31, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • snowboarder

      the very definition of enti tled, when christians scream persecution for being relegated to the same status in society as all other religions.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Sethers

      What troubles me is that the modern analysis was interwoven with a historical contention that the persecution of Christians has been exaggerated or even perhaps contrived. These things have nothing to do with each other and it is quite literally rewriting history to downplay the extent of antipathy that Rome's emperors- for centuries- held towards Christians. On several occasions an Emperor tried to have them all killed- Nero simply being the most famous and perverse example. Yet because of this article thousands of people will now think, believe, and proclaim that Christians invented some backstory of persecution in order to just appear as victims. Ironically, much of what we know about the persecution comes not from Christian sources but rather Roman writers. It's just a poorly written article that pretends to be about history when really it is about modern politics. I worry when I see anyone- Christian or Atheist or anyone- rewriting history to fit their modern prejudices. It's truly dangerous.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Joel Oilsheen

      Correct michael but you shouldn't tell that to people or they won't give me their MONEY. I need MONEY to buy even more gel to put in my hair. MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!

      March 31, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Saraswati

      Many Chritians want to be martyrs in the same way a lot of muslims do because it fits with their story. Fortunately the Christian fundamentalists just sit on their butts and make up fake stories of their "martyrdom" (oh, no, can't force the local atheists to pray...we're martyrs!) rather than blowing things up. An ignorant whine martyr still beats a suicide bomber.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Zach

      At least Christian's get killed for believing in God and don't blow themselves and others up in the name of false Gods.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Luis Wu

      ALL gods are false gods.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Saraswati

      "What troubles me is that the modern analysis was interwoven with a historical contention that the persecution of Christians has been exaggerated or even perhaps contrived. These things have nothing to do with each other .."

      The two things have a lot to do with one another. The sense of martyrdom and its worth is a driving force behind Christianity just as it is in Islam. In the Christian case it has caused both the exaggeration of historical stories and the tendency for modern Christians living cushy lives as a majority to call every minor inconvenience to their domination "martyrdom".

      Of course they were persecuted, as has been every minority group in history. They would do much better to take this lesson and look into how they as a majority group have persecuted others than to create yet more imaginary stories of modern day persecution in the Christian dominated United States. Seriously, I've never seen such a bunch of self-centered whiners.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Sethers

      Saraswati...I rather think you are proving my point. I am trying to stay focused on what actually occurred in Rome 2000 years ago. You seem to want to be talking about an article about modern politics and contemporary American Christianity. I don't really care about that. As a historian I do not want people downplaying horrific events for modern points- be it the early persecution of the church, the Crusades, the holocaust- whatever it might be. This article in my view does this very thing and thus it is intellectually dishonest and dangerous. If modern Christians have a sense of martyrdom as you claim then please feel free to debate them in the here and now... I don't hear a lot of Christians saying "you can't say/do this because 2,000 years ago Rome was busy killing us." I agree that Christians in the USA are not persecuted in any meaningful manner. Please leave the known history of the church alone to make your points- is my point.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Saraswati

      Sethers, all you are saying is that you want the story to be about what you are interested in and you aren't interested in the larger picture of how these things are related. That's fine, but clearly other people are.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Sethers

      No. No. What I am saying is that they are NOT related. Oh never mind. See history in whatever way is convenient for you. I think one must be a few IQ points shy of a full deck to post on CNNs religion articles. Seriously, is this rocket science? History is WHAT HAPPENED...contemporary scholarship can alter it- not contemporary axe grinding. One last time- given all that we KNOW from our Roman sources why would we- thousands of years later- try and downplay the persecution of early Christians? Why? The only possible reason is political. And that should be scary to all of us. Is any of this getting through? ARRGG. Happy Easter. sigh.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Saraswati

      Seriously, Sethers? You are essentially arguing that the past is in the past and has nothing to do with the present. It is the understanding of the past, accurate or not, that is guiding how Christians act and react today. That is very relevent as are the stories that existed in the past which continue to exist and influence today.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:49 am |
  3. JC

    Interesting that an article questioning the roots of Christianity and asking if "Christians have a martyr complex today?" would be the headline on Easter Sunday.

    March 31, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Saraswati

      Isn't that kind of the topic of the day? If you aren't interested, don't read it.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  4. Zach

    One other thing, being crucified isn't that bad? Hypothetically speaking, what if some people flog you with a cat of 9 tails whip until you have so much flesh ripped off that you are a living, breathing, walking zombie and then make you carry a massive cross about 5 miles and then nail you to that cross? I'm so sure that wouldn't be that bad, you would be home by next week.

    March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • tony

      Standard Roman execution for All, nothing to do with Christians per se. The occupation Israel authorities (old testament with 10 commandments believers) knew what would happen, yet they instigated it.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Zach

      Regardless, the idea that crucifixion wouldn't be that bad and was exaggerated is laughable.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Travis

      The article doesn't doubt that persecution existed, but points to the idea that it wasn't as widespread as believed by the general population.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  5. midwest rail

    When I volunteered at a drug and alcohol treatment center, the counselors there encouraged newcomers to identify an individual among the "veteran" A.A.'s who had the serenity and happiness they desired, and then to follow the path they had followed.

    After several months of following the comments here, I have identified one, and only one, Christian poster whom I would like to emulate. Sad.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • tony

      A lot of people living in the path of tornadoes live in serene happiness, until the funnel cloud hits. It's aka blissful ignorance.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  6. yo

    Get Ready Christians, the one world government will be putting many of you to death

    March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Luis Wu

      With any luck.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Zach

      Then I'll go to heaven and won't care that they killed me for no good reason.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Brampt

      I agree. Though that will be by Gods decree. The bible says that he will put in to the heart of the world leaders the desire to exterminate what the bible call as, False Religion. Why? Because of the blood shed False Religion has cause in the name of God. The bible also mentions that, after False Religion is exterminated, the world leaders will focus there attention to Gods true worshipers, but when that happens, God will protect his people and will exterminate the world political poweres and the wicked people. Then a new era will start for humanity under Gods Rulership.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Luis Wu

      The bible is nothing but ancient mythology and ignorant superst!tious nonsense, grow a brain.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • snowboarder

      @brampt, that is some crazy stuff.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Zach

      At least brompt believes in something.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • snowboarder

      @zach, thanks for tossing in the fallacy that "if you don't believe in my religion you don't believe in anything".

      March 31, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  7. Colin

    “and most martyrdom stories – with the exception of a handful such as Perpetua's – were exaggerated and invented.”

    So she really believes a young woman would tremble with joy at being fed to lions, that she was concerned about her modesty and hairpin as the beasts mauled her and that she made a beautiful little speech before being run through, after being mauled by lions.

    Wow, just…….wow.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • snowboarder

      as with the majority of stories associated with religion, it is mostly fiction.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • michaellocher

      Pin the writer down, I'm sure she'd agree that those details, too, are a folkloric exaggeration. She's undoubtedly comparing Perpetua's relatively straightforward story with the incredibly outlandish tales that many of her fellow martyrs command. It says a lot about the culture of ancient Christian folklore that a silly story like Perpetua's is one of the more believable.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • Jason

      Who said it was a lion? it might of been the bull.

      If you actually read the hole passage and understood her vision of life after death, then this wouldnt have been a problem

      March 31, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • Zach

      I don't think you realize that she was going to die in that manner either way regardless of what she did or said. I would be happy I am going to heaven after I'm about to die a horrible death too.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  8. 123

    Do you even know what consciousness means? The concept of being aware cannot exist apart from an organism that has the capacity to perceive or reason. A manifestation of cognitive processes cannot exist outside of those processes.

    I can't believe people like you can actually vote.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Athy

      And you can't seem to master the reply function.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  9. Zach

    Christian's are persecuted everyday, to say they are not is ignorant and just dead wrong.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • tony

      Especially the ones that are served by "Dignity Health".

      March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • snowboarder

      christians also persecute every day. just look at the plight of hom o s exuals simply seeking equality today.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Luis Wu

      I think it's the other way around. Christians persecute others every day. They openly discriminate against gays, Muslims, even Jews. They're intolerant of anyone that isn't a Christian. They try to force their religious ideas on everyone else through legislation, like trying to force children to pray to the Christian god in school, force the teaching of creationism nonsense in the schools and denying a woman's right to choose.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Zach

      Disagreeing with something isn't persecution. However, any Christian actually persecuting others is way in the wrong.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • snowboarder

      @zach, don't pretend this stops with "disagreeing". we are talking about a system of persecution and marginalization.

      as with every other argument about christianity, if it really was only a belief it would be of no consequence, but unfortunately so many use their religious beliefs as an excuse to attempt to demand the rest of the population adhere to their beliefs by codifying them into civil law.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Zach

      Please get people to change to definition of http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/persecution so that your argument is valid.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • sqeptiq

      If you are referring to the US you are delusional. it is absurd to think that the 93% of Americans who claim to be christians are being persecuted by the other 7%.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Zach

      93% of America is in no way Christian, at least toss me a believable statistic.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • sqeptiq

      "claim to be"

      March 31, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  10. Sethers

    This is a bizzare article. You cut through the modern politics and hand waving and what you have is that for at LEAST 200 years and probably more (longer than we've been around as a country) Christians were "held in contempt" to the point that for about 10 of those years several emperors pursued active policies of extermination (that's what the "actually persecuting" statement refers to- think holocaust type policies) that included some of the worst type of tortures known to humanity. Yet the point of the article seems to be...it wasn't that bad? Could have been worse? Exaggerated? Perhaps the latter is true in some mystical sense but as a history scholar I can tell you that I can't think of a worse position that being an early Christian in the Roman Empire. Just...bizarre. Especially strange to post such an article on Easter of all days. Christians may be too quick today to be offended but this is genuinely offensive. Hey, you know what the Jews lived in Europe for centuries but were only 'actively persecuted' for like 10 years! What whiners! Yeesh.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • tony

      IT'S ALL MADE UP! The whole religion thing. Not just the persecution stories

      Priesthood is the REAL oldest profession.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • .

      Uh, no...the article is comparing early-christianity persecution, (which happened less than formerly thought, even the churches admit that) to today's namby-pamby christians who SAY they're being ppersecuted...TODAY's christians in the US don't have it that bad...

      March 31, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Sethers

      Tony- no I don't think so. That would actually be an interesting article that I would agree with. This article focuses more on your parenthetical- namely that the persecution of Christians is not as bad as popularly perceived within the first century. I can assure you that it was indeed horrific. I don't know how else to convey it. I have spent years studying this time period and it was a bloody and protracted struggle with a clear aggressor (Rome) and a clear victim (Christians- and also Jews for what it is worth). I am not sure what you mean by saying that even the 'church' (which church? There are a few) agrees that these accounts are exaggerated. Indeed I am not sure how they could be exaggerated since everyone- Christian and secular- agrees that no one knows how many people were tortured and killed. No one kept those kinds of records which is why stories such as Perpetua's became so important as symbols of the persecution as a whole- serving much the same role as Anne Frank does today for the holocaust...a symbol of a sad and painful time. But what IS clear is that the early Christians were often expelled from their homes, tortured, killed, reviled, etc. This is NOT a falsehood. And it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Mitt Romney, gay marriage, or any host of other modern American concerns/debates.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  11. 21k

    mmmn. easter eggs. thanks cadbury!

    March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  12. sardukar

    ..well the whole christianity is made up and with over dramatic stories...and who cares anymore. Religion is disaperring

    March 31, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Joe Giardina

      So is CNN

      CNN Hits 20-Year Monthly Rating Low In May
      By DOMINIC PATTEN | Wednesday May 30, 2012

      The news just went from bad to worse at CNN. After the cable news network delivered its lowest-rated month in total viewers in over a decade in April, May became CNN’s worst month in primetime among total viewers in over 20 years. From April 30 to May 27, the cable news network attracted an average of 389,000 viewers in primetime. It was also CNN’s second-lowest-rated month in primetime among the 25-54 demographic (114,000) since October 1991.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  13. Kalyan

    If a lion, leopard, cow and a human were in the same arena, I am interested to know why the wild cats would not attack the cow as opposed to the human. I once spoke to an experienced forest ranger and he said that humans are not the natural prey for wild cats. They get less meat from the human than the cow. They may have been made into man-eaters by starvation but even then at least one of the cats would have gone for the cow.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • tony

      Holy Cow Batman!

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Doug

      Change "cow" to "great, big p!$$ed-off bull" and it will make more sense. I doubt the Romans put Ole Bessie in the arena.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Zach

      If a bear for example tastes human blood, they eat them first.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • sqeptiq

      They didn't mention that the cats killed the cow first. Christians covered that up because they support cow persecution. Meat eaters stick together and the meat suffers.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  14. snowboarder

    i can understand how our traditional religions work, having been created in times of ignorance of the natural world and perpetuated by a combination of coercion, indoctrination and groupthink.

    what i can not understand is how religions like mormonism, scientology and jehovahs witness can attract followers in a more moden age.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Luis Wu

      There's a sucker born every minute.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  15. 21k

    ah the easter miracle. so god, the maker of heaven and earth, and all things in it (so you might say the most powerful being in the universe) raises from the dead on easter. yet he could not find it in his heart to stop hitler's grisly mass murder spree. it took a democrat in the white house to do that. talk about miracles.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • tony

      A cheap condom can stop the "miracle of life". Just takes the simplest bit of science. . . .

      March 31, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • snowboarder

      heck, he didn't even have the forethought to correct the error of his creation. what a dunce.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Andy

      Actually the Russians get the most credit for stopping that nice try tho
      Happy Easter

      March 31, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Luis Wu

      He was actually pretty stupid. Having made the first man out of dirt, he sees that he's lonely, so he makes a woman out of Adam's rib (ouch!), too dumb to realize ahead of time that he would need to make a woman. (God slaps forehead with his hand, "Doh!", why didn't I think of that ahead of time!)

      March 31, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  16. tony

    If you want to realize Christians are not victims, just have a short stay in a Catholic Hospital. Their unofficial policy of priests vs, altar boys pales into insignificance when compared to their offcial policies of charging patients around $50.00 for an asprin. And going up from there.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • Zach

      Most Catholics are fake Christian's anyway and are responsible for some of the worst things known to man. The Catholic church even boasts they have the Ark of the Covenant! They also robbed Jerusalem and they still have all that money they acquired for hundreds of years when they sold the crucible for silver. They also still have every single thing they robbed from the crusades. The Vatican is probably richer than the rest of the world combined.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  17. MalcomR

    "... all core values of faith are the same"

    Yes. Full acceptance of things as fact with nothing more that the say-so of some book or person. I.e. Stupidity.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  18. Mr Dalloway

    Zeitgeist the movie

    March 31, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  19. betterdays

    CNN, you constantly amaze me at how low you are willing to stoop..

    March 31, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • undertheweather

      What is it about this article that indicates CNN has reached a new low? Give us a hint.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  20. sqeptiq

    I'm a little baffled by the fact that Perpetua had time to cover her thigh and fix her hair while she was being mauled by a lion, and that she needed to be finished off by an executioner while still capable of making a speech. Sounds a little over dramatized.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • tony

      A liitle? Never seen an infomercial on TV?

      March 31, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • 21k

      she was a kardashian.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:53 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.