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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. A Does of Reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Technoman

      Hey stupid it's spelled "dose" man you idiots shouldn't even be near a computer LMAO!!

      March 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • A Dose of Reality

      WOW techno idgit...the best rebuttal you got is finding a typo?!?!?! Now who's the idiot?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Savannah

      How on earth does someone who cannot even spell the word "Dose" believe he (or she) has any credibility?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • HemantKumar

      Thank you for a lovely compilation of absurdities brought to you by local pusher....of dogma.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • mark

      Copy paster poser

      March 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Hello

      Savanah .. as a christian do you really believe you were born a slave and property of you father who will sell you to your "his chosen " new master.. your husband?
      Do you really believe that because you do not have a dic you are therefore less than a man...in rights as a human being?

      Do you follow all the rules for women behavior as stated in the bible.. why not if not.... If you do not , do you know you will be going to h3ll for not obeying each and every one of those rules?
      Read the bible very carefully to see what you MUST do....
      Then Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill and see what all that Roman Mythic krap is really all about.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Syman

      A dose of reality maybe? You are an ignoramus! Way to waste your time on something no one will read.

      April 1, 2013 at 5:12 am |
  2. Colin

    Dear Christians:

    God here.

    To the extent any of you died for your faith, I am afraid you threw your life away. Because, you see, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the actions and thoughts of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did exist, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was compiled with certain writings included and others excluded, nor how it has been edited over the centuries, yet you cite it for the most extraordinary of supernatural claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who elected to withhold all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifthly, in the same vein, I would not make about 5% of the human population gay, then punish them for being that way. In fact, I wouldn’t care about how humans have $ex at all, given that I created all of the millions of millions of species on the planet, all of whom are furiously reproducing all the time. Human $ex would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Has it ever occurred to you that your obsession with making rules around human $ex is an entirely human affair?

    Sixth, I would have smitten all you Christian activists, and all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric even for a sick, sadistic bast.ard like me to contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you cringed in fear during the Dark Ages and thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God

    March 31, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Technoman

      TL:DRTBS

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • A Dose of Reality

      As always, Great Post Colin!

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • Tkp353

      If you would just open your heart to Him and have the same passion and belief in him as you just wrote out, you would be a different creation in Christ. You have to really open up to hear Him, and you aren't there yet. Just try it once and you will be amazed. No church, no pastor, no one but you and God alone. Listen with your heart. Good luck and God bless.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • MD

      God, If you don't exist, how are you talking to us? Weird

      March 31, 2013 at 8:25 am |
    • Hello

      Also read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill for the details on the christian myth. Who created it and why... Why is it rooted on the Jewish myth...
      Also Visit the web site. The Domain of man for info on the Jewish myth.
      and the web site for the Annotated Bible by Charles Pope.
      and... The Queen Jane's Version of the Bible by Doug Rankin.. for a good laugh... is available on Amazon.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • HemantKumar

      If I had lived during ancient times I would have prayed to Zeus, Athena etc...That ought to show the absurdity of praying to Jesus or Allah or any one else. A thousand years from now, they will be laughing at people of today.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Hello

      error..CORRECTED
      Charles Pope is the owner of the Domain of Man web site..
      The Annotated bible is by Steve Wells...

      March 31, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • JUst sayin

      Dear Colin,
      ONe day you'll come to me in your most dangerous moment. I hope when that day comes, I would just close my eyes and look at the positive things you have done in your life rather than remember how much you despise me and how hurt I am when you chose evil over me. But I say to you, God is God, and in the right time, you will claim your price.
      Love God

      March 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  3. The Anti Christ

    My Master continues to feed hate to the non-believers, and they laughingly believe it's their,own opinion My Master is strong in the atheist and agnostic world. These people are my Masters foot soldiers.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • SixDegrees

      You know what's really sad? That you actually believe such bilge.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • The Uncle Christ

      Don't listen to my old lady. She just on the rag.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • The Anti Christ

      SixDegrees,the hate is strong in you...I can feel it.Mmmmm

      March 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Hello

      If Walt Disney was a live 2000 yrs ago we would all be worshiping Mickey Mouse.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  4. ArthurP

    As a person he was never persecuted. You have to be real for that to happen.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Hello

      Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill to learn who created the christian myth and why.

      HINT: it is a Roman Flavian families joke book and political tool . It was created to save Rome not souls.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Thomas A. Hawk

      Are you talking about Jesus? Why do you think a man named Jesus never lived?

      Historians don't find direct evidence of his execution but they don't find direct evidence of the execution of many people around that time. What historians do find is compelling evidence of attempts to destroy the earliy church in the first few years after the death of Jesus. It would have been a simple matter to silence the early church leaders by saying something like

      "Do you remember Passover from 2 years ago? Was there a Jesus killed on the cross? Of course not. The leaders of 'the way' are making things up. Just ignore them."

      But that obvious solution didn't happen. It wouldn't happen if a man named Jesus was actually executed on the cross at that time.

      None of this proves that Jesus is God. There is no historical or scientific evidence of that.

      But there is rather strong (if you believe mainstream historians) that a man named Jesus lived and was executed as advertised.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  5. Rob

    This is what CNN kicks out on Easter? An article basically calling Christians liars? Even though history clearly speaks to Paul dying at the hands of Nero, all the apostles except John being murdered, and early church fathers such as Polycarp being killed by Rome? And all the Christians being put to death today by other religions – that's fabricated too I suppose? How offensive... Yep, sorry to say it, but this is my last visit to CNN's "Disbelief" blog.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way. One less christian polluting the blog is a good thing.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • Joe Giardina

      CNN Hits A 20-Year Primetime Ratings Low
      Posted: 05/22/2012

      CNN's ratings problems just keep getting worse.
      The network had its lowest-rated month in over a decade in April. That prompted stern warnings from the top that CNN has to improve its numbers.

      Yet Tuesday brought the dispiriting news that CNN had its lowest-rated week in primetime in a staggering 20 years last week. Just 395,000 people tuned in to watch Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan. The total day numbers were not much better: CNN had its third-worst week since 1997.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  6. muffinmeister13

    Oh, the poor christians....................then they took those teachings of "Love thy neighbor" and "tolerance" and used the Crusades to do exactly the opposite! The world would be a better place if religion (which is just a tool used by people who are afraid of death) did not exist, at least as it is now. What arrogance to think that "my" belief is the only way and everyone else should die or be like me!

    March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
  7. tomnikoly

    Just for the record "Ben Hur" never depicted Christian persecution. The fiction in this case took place before Christianity.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – the film is set in 26 AD. Although the main character is, in fact, Jewish.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Colin

      In which case, sixdegrees, he is correct. Jesus only began his ministry in about 20 AD. There was no such thting as Christians until decades later.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  8. Farooq The Great

    Typical CNN.. On Easter Sunday, they do an article challenging the persecution of Christians. CNN is a horrible network with a biased agenda. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Historical fact seems to trouble you. Why is that? Would you rather live your faith shrouded in lies, or illuminated by the truth?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Realist

      dont like those who are willing to challenge? critical thinking skills stolen by religious voodoo?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Farooq The Great

      @Sixdegrees

      Historical fact is that Christians were persecuted. Any historian would laugh at this and see the bias. I'm not saying some of the stories weren't embellished, but the core of it is true.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • tomnikoly

      I suppose you should rely on Fox News then. They're not biased.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Thomas A. Hawk

      Pretty much all famous news organizations are biased - they are biased in the direction of making money.

      Why are you so anti-business?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Joe Giardina

      CNN Hits A 20-Year Primetime Ratings Low
      Posted: 05/22/2012

      CNN's ratings problems just keep getting worse.
      The network had its lowest-rated month in over a decade in April. That prompted stern warnings from the top that CNN has to improve its numbers.

      Yet Tuesday brought the dispiriting news that CNN had its lowest-rated week in primetime in a staggering 20 years last week. Just 395,000 people tuned in to watch Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan. The total day numbers were not much better: CNN had its third-worst week since 1997.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  9. amrazim9

    Christ was persecuted? – Not true – Christ NEVER was persecuted – he was risen by GOD to the Heavens.....GOD just sent a double of Christ to confuse the people.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Like a stunt Christ?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Hello

      Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill on the resurrection idea and how it was used by the Flavian family as a plagiarized tale from the Jewish myth.
      Also.. why are there 4 different depictions in the 4 Gospels about the "Easter?" story.. Its all about sequencing... very funny story... the bible is really a joke book... Joe shows you many of he jokes....in his book.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  10. clarke

    Each and every one of us has a belief system. I do not find anything wrong with that. It would be nice if we could just respect each others feelings. IMHO

    March 31, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  11. Tkp353

    There is a void in each of our lives deep inside. It is that time where we ask is this all there is and is this all I am in my life. This void can only be filled with God. I know because I have been there. I tried to fill it with work, sports, drugs and even family. But nothing truly filled that question out until I heard The Lord speak In a still, small voice. It is so simple. Love The Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. How hard is that? Even the scientists, atheists and such know in their hearts there is a God, or they wouldn't be so passionate about refuting that which is who He is. I ask them to open their hearts and souls and put away their logical for a time, and they will know the truth. God bless to all on this Resurrection Sunday.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Yeah, I tried that "loving my neighbour" bit, because, wow, can she rock a sweater, if you know what I'm sayin'. Anyhoo, wife found about it. I said, hey, just following god's commandment.

      I'll be released from hospital in about 10 days.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Tkp353

      Nice joke, but this is serious. Good luck to you and God bless.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Thai Researchers Discover 100-Million-Year-Old Crocodile Fossile

      Tkp353

      The fairy a fossil yet ?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • chicadow

      I'm happy you were able to full your void, but please remember we all don't necessarily have voids to fill. I respect your beliefs, you respect mine.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  12. MD

    To those non-believers, what if there is a God and you are being judged by your faith down here on earth?

    March 31, 2013 at 8:09 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Oh, look – Pascal's Wager makes its predictable appearance.

      Right back at you – what if someone else's god, one of the several thousand currently worshipped on this planet, turns out to be the "true" god? Where does that least YOU? Shouldn't you be worshiping ALL of those other gods, just in case?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Tkp353

      Great point. I heard a wise man once say that he would rather live his life in peace knowing God on earth, only to find out there is no God, than to live a life of not believing, only to find out that He is and they are condemned forever. I don't know that I buy totally into that, but it made some sense to me.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • JWT

      Well I know I won't be judged by an imaginary god. I'd rather lie a good life anyway.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Tkp353

      To Six Degrees. There is only one God. He says all will hear His message and given the chance to receive the truth. So no, only by opening your heart can you know the one true God. And you know He is who He says He is once you do.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Hello

      gods and their dogma were created by dictators as political tools.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • MD

      Six, valid point. At least I can offer a belief in hopes that if my God is true, I'll know my final destination. You on the other hand will have absolutely no chance at paradise, that is of course unless the God you deny accepts you out of the true love he offers

      March 31, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      tkp
      Which one of the thousands of gods is the "one true" one....be careful of the answer as so many of the gods have been the "one true" one...You'll anger the other gods with whichever answer you give.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Tkp353

      To Richard Cranium. The one true God is the one that is knocking At your heart this very second to let you into in bosom. You won't find that in any church. It is between you and Him.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Knighthawk

      then thats my issue and not yours or anyone else's,if someone wants to believe in a man made god thats there choice but don't shove ur beliefs down others throat!

      March 31, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      tkp
      So why do you reject 99.99% of gods, but yours...yours is the one true one...

      How do you know?...Have you studied all of the other thousands of gods to come to your conclusion, or do you just allow your ignorance to guide you.

      Why have you forsaken Zeus...Odin...Ra...Quetzalcoatl? Why haven't you devoted your life to any of the others?

      Or is it ( and this is far more likely) you believe because you were taught to believe even though there isn't a shred of evidence to back up the belief?

      God is not knocking at my heart....I have studied the worlds religions, and at no time in all my searching have I seen the slightest indication that any of the myths and superst!tions have any crediblity....All religion is wishful thinking.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • rick

      MD: what if another god is true? you will be judged on your disbelief

      March 31, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  13. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. (h.c.) ©™

    @ Constantine:
    Have a nice swim.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  14. savannah

    As far as I can see the majority of these post are attacking the Church not Christianity, the big problem with unbelievers is that they cannot separate the two. There is little or correlation between the church today and the Church of the first century. The mainline churches of today's world are no longer living out the christian faith, they are in this for themselves. If you want to find out about Christianity ask a christian not someone who makes a living out of the church.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:09 am |
  15. Science

    Education works better than the bible maybe ? A Public Service .

    Curtains Down for the Black Hole Firewall Paradox: Making Gravity Safe for Einstein

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/albert_einstein/
    Science

    Origin of Life: Natural Cause no god(s) required.

    Hypothesis Traces First Protocells Back to Emergence of Cell Membrane Bioenergetics

    December 20, 2012 — A coherent pathway – which starts from no more than rocks, water and carbon dioxide and leads to the emergence of the strange bio-energetic properties of living cells – has been traced for the ...

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/news/fossils_ruins/origin_of_life/

    It would be NICE......... but

    Maybe they should not have created the wedge !!!
    The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Insti-tute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Insti-tute manifesto known as the Wedge Docu-ment,[1] which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda who

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy

    Peace

    Please watch

    The African Rift

    Dover Trial Transcripts............................................. FACTS.

    Below are the complete transcripts from the Dover Trial. Thanks to our friends at the National Center for Science Education for helping us fill in the missing transcripts.

    http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/intelligentdesigncase/dovertrialtranscripts.htm

    And the missing link !

    Looks like that funky talking snake ?........................is the fairy in the fossil bed ?

    Strange Spaghetti-Shaped Creature Is Missing Link: Discovery Pushes Fossil Record Back 200 Million Years

    Mar. 13, 2013 — Canada's 505 million year-old Burgess Shale fossil beds, located in Yoho National Park, have yielded yet another major scientific discovery – this time with the unearthing of a strange spaghetti-shaped creature.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130313142526.htm

    March 31, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • Science

      Oops the lastest piece .....................please share today at Easter mass thanks

      Scientists say they've found a "God particle"

      http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57574247/scientists-say-theyve-found-a-god-particle

      Peace

      March 31, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Oh brother

      Wow! The God Particle. Well, I guess we should all give up our belief in God now since someone named a suspected particle after God and then scientists found it.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • Shout-Out: TheBibleReloaded

      March 31, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  16. Joe Giardina

    Bishop declares 10 murdered Catholics martyrs
    On May 5, 2012 ·

    By TINA AKANNAM, Dutse
    The Bishop of Kano/Jigawa Diocese, Bishop John Namaza Niyiring has declared that the 10 Catholics who were killed in cold blood by a terrorist group during last Sunday Mass at St. Stephen chaplaincy, Bayero University Kano are martyrs.

    Bishop Niyiring who made this declaration yesterday during the requiem Mass celebrated for all the 10 deceased Catholics at Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral, described the death as painful, saying the catholic church honours those who died in their faith.

    Said he “ These beloved Catholics who we mourn today were killed inside the church while worshiping God, even though their death is painful. We must rejoice with them because they have died as Martyrs who will receive merciful judgment of God”.

    Bishop Niyiring then admonished Catholics not to be weakened by the activities of those persecuting the church of God, stressing that Christians should remain faithful and strong inspite of the present persecution.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • SixDegrees

      How many gays did they "necklace" before they achieved martyrdom?

      March 31, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  17. Neen

    Non-believers will bash on Christians & try to sound intelligent simply because they are insecure. They want proof about a belief lol, how intelligent does that make you? That's kind of like an oxymoron lol...

    This world was a better place when God was in people's lives. Once atheism started catching on, this world has been in a downward spiral.

    But you all are my brothers, so I will say this: I pray for you all, and I love you all. I follow a religion (and one of thee only religions) that teaches you to love your enemy. To you non-believers, read a bible before you start preaching. Because unfortunately, I don't debate with people that have no knowledge about the topic.

    So, if you have actually read a bible and have a better argument for me than "I want proof" (because there is none, it's a religious BELIEF) or that Christians judge people or hate people (because as a TRUE Christian you must not judge & you must love thy neighbor) then I'm all for it!

    So, with love & prayer, Happy Easter & I hope you blind sheep find the direction to our Shepherd

    March 31, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • Hello

      why is the christian myth rooted in the Jewish one... Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill to learn why and many other questions on the Roman created myth.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:09 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. (h.c.) ©™

      @ Neen:
      Your transparent attempt to induce guilt into thinking persons is useless. You cannot manipulate them that way.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Neen

      So I'm getting a vibe that you've read this book by Joseph Atwill, but you've never read the bible...

      March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      You start by saying that atheists want to sound intelligent, and then you turn right around and say something ridiculous.
      You said "This world was a better place when God was in people's lives. Once atheism started catching on, this world has been in a downward spiral. "

      What do you mean the world was a better place when god was in peoples lives? How is god not in peoples lives? Religion is everywhere, and the various and assorted gods are still in the world just as much as ever. And in what way was the world better? Because we have more ability to raise food and purify water better than ever..that is worse right? We have medicines and medical proceudres that have increased the life expectancy to nearly double that of the turn of the last century...but we are worse off now, right? We have the ability to respond quickly to natural disasters, and co-ordinate effforts due to the increase in tachnology, but that is a bad thing?

      I have read your bible and there are far too many contradictions and false stories to put any weight behind it. In order to have faith, you must see past all of the silliness in the bible and take a leap of faith...in other words, you must trun off your logic and reasoning portions of your mind and just believe... well some of us cannot do that, and see your religion the saem as all other religions...man made and false.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Given that I'm not a sheep, I do not require a shepherd and least of all the one you declare to be yours...your god is a vindictive monster who is blood thirsty. Maybe if you actually read your buybull instead of just listening to what is said from the pulpit you'd comprehend how vicious your god really is.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. (h.c.) ©™

      @ Neen:
      I have read your absurd Bible many times and studied it well. It's bull.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • rkdres

      Wow, talk about ignorance. You paint the picture much too simplistic my friend. Spirituality is one thing, blind faith in a fairy tale whose sole purpose is to control and oppress people is quite another. Do some research about your precious Christianity, the truth can no longer be kept secret. Christianity tolerant? Hardly. Tell that to all the pagans from the year 315 and later who were slaughtered along with all their temples and holy places. Tell that to to the 4500+ Saxons beheaded in 782 because they were unwilling to convert to Christianity. Tell that to all the victims of the crusades, etc.. Let me guess, you will shrug it off because it happened so long ago and cling to the myth the your religion is about peace and love. The time has come to open your heart and accept that organized religion is a distraction to true spirituality, which has no name, no form, no book. It is within all of us if you just stop to listen...

      March 31, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Neen

      Rkdres- as a true Christian you must love thy enemy. Therefor anyone who has killed in an act of not self-defense, they will be judged.

      Jesus died for our sins & loves us all, I still strongly believe that non of you have read a bible like you claim. A true Christian & the God we believe in, the King of Kings & Lord of Lords are loving.

      Sounds to me like some of you don't even know the difference between the New Testament & the Old Testament.

      I get satisfaction that it bothers you all so much that I am a believer. Because it doesn't bother me one bit that you guys choose not to believe, I can care less.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  18. Unbeliever

    If you are not in favor of GOD- he will destroy you! If he's not your friend, & your trying to be his friend & you think he's your friend- forget about it! You just have to accept the fact that if GOD is not in your favor & you keep going to him, he will destroy you! which many Christians do, they just keep going back for more, & keep suffering more & more in life. It's like a friend who thought he was your friend, & he leaves you- he makes you suffer- but I thought he was my friend- Accept the fact!

    March 31, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • JUst sayin

      The problem is not Him but you... because you didn't have enough faith and you chose to stop believing.

      March 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  19. Heebeejeebee

    Wow. the arrogance of some people is truly astounding. If you don't believe – and I'm not sure whether or not I do – leave the others alone. Who are you to say what is ultimate Truth? Where is YOUR empirical evidence? You do not and cannot know for certain until you leave this world. To blame all the world's problems on religion and spirituality is naive at best and willful ignorance at worst. The worlds problems arise essentially from pride and greed. Let people of faith be. I realize there are those who want to combine governance and faith, now THAT should be challenged but not faith itself. To do so is pure arrogance.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Aw, poor baby – are you feeling persecuted?

      Nice to see you reach into the christian toolkit and and yank one of their favorites – censorship – out of it.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Atheist Intolerance?

      Oh yes six degrees indeed – censorship truly is the forte of Christianity. It wasn't perfected at ALL by the secular (dare I say atheist?) regimes of Nazi German, Fascist Italy, or Stalinist USSR. Oh yes...MoOoOoOOoO

      March 31, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Unbeliever

      Arrogant! I want a GOD to love me! This supreme being who is suppose to protect me & love me & not to make me struggle in this life! YES, THIS IS THE LIFE he created for me, & this is the life he is responsible for! FACT: GOD HAS LEFT HIS PEOPLE! He maybe in favor with a few-but beware if things are not going rite in your life- he is not in your favor accept it! Don't be like the other Christians who keep going back to him- only to make them suffer more! God is in chaos with the world-Accept it! If you want to worship a TERRORIST! Go right ahead!

      March 31, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Tom-Tom

      SixDegrees, you are a bully like many other atheists in this forum. Some of you seem to thrive on being mean to others. Thank God there are People of faith to counter your cruelness in this world.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:16 am |
  20. Costantine

    It is amazing how we can say good or bad things regarding Jesus and Christianity, and I will never judge anyone whatever their beliefs are or aren't, but please before trashing Christianity do your homework first, that is study the Bible and I can pretty much guarantee after you do that you will be filled with love and kindness.
    Look how mad we get when someone cuts off on the highway, now imagine someone is forcing you carry a cross on your back and nail you on it, I bet you can't wait to forgive them for what they have done to you!!!
    I know for a fact, God did do just that, and continues to do that.
    By the way today I am being baptized, and I hope all of you find the answers you're looking for, just be careful who is answering them because the devil's biggest lie is that he does not exist.

    March 31, 2013 at 8:01 am |
    • JWT

      Well at least one thing is right – the devil does not exist – mind you all the gods do not exist either.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Study the bible? The bible where god orders murder, r-ape, genocide, child abuse, and slavery. No thanks – studied it – made me puke.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:09 am |
    • Hello

      good time to get yourself a copy of Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill so you can see just what the myth is really all about.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Hello

      The bible is really a Roman Flavian joke book rooted in the Jewish myth.. Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill for why the myth was created from the jewish one and how...

      March 31, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Bye

      And Joseph Atwill is the only one who believes his own fiction.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Unbeliever

      There was no bigger believer than me! I was baptized many years ago! You are a beginner & I am a Ender! Your rite you shouldn't judge other people. I am not trying to be bad about it but it is what it is! I would never pass this religion on to anyone, my kids or anyone! I have been through HELL & BACK! lIKE MANY CHRISTIANS i KEEP GOING BACK TO THE CHURCH FOR MORE only to find out things were getting worse in my life! I WOKE up late! I'm just trying to give you the warning, I wish somebody would have given it to me! It would have been the best GIFT! I ever had! It is what it is! Thanks! GOOD LUCK!

      March 31, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • Bye

      Funny unbeliever, but my story is the exact opposite of yours. Atheism is pointless and many atheists are plain mean and uncaring. Just look through these threads. People are people whether in the church or not, but the best people I've known in life have been the devoted Christians in church. Regardless, it's not about the people, it's about a relationship with God. Without God, life as I see it is pointless and not worth living.

      March 31, 2013 at 8:31 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.