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. Dr poopenstien

    For me to poop on

    March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |

    • Yes, but is it Grey??

      March 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  2. @ visitor from Austin

    JC I am sure you have heard this a thousand times but Hitler WAS a Christian. Maybe he was a bad one, or "flawed" as some of you put it. But a Christian.
    Which means by Christian rules, he gets to go to Heaven.

    This is an obstinate scandal from an unbeliever who wants keep spitting on Jesus

    But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

    March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • deep blue

      Um, I'm not Christian, but I'm pretty sure that in mainstream Christian belief, Christians get to heaven through faith and repentance. So Hitler goes to hell (because he didn't repent), but so does Gandhi (because he did not find salvation through jesus Christ).

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • frank

      Happy walking dead day all you zombie worshiping freaks!

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jordan Kerr

      I challenge your claim. I don't think you can say Hitler was a Christian. The best you can do is say that he claimed to be a Christian. There is Scripture that speaks of people claiming to be a Christian, but are not. If you disagree with me, please reply with an absolute proof that Hitler was a Christian.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Edweird69

      The bible makes it clear, that we are all born into sin. Since Jesus was born from a human, he also part of sin.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Edweird69

      @Jordan – why did Hitler hate the Jews? Because they killed Jesus. The Vatican used to throw birthday parties for Adolph. His soldiers wore a cross to battle. Need more?

      March 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • Jordan Kerr

      Yes. I do. If he did all those things but was lying about what he truly thought of Jesus, he was not a Christian. Prove that Hitler had Jesus in his heart. That he believed in his heart that the resurrection of Christ promised new life. You can't. You can show what he claimed, but you can't prove absolutely that God viewed him as a follower of Christ.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • visitor

      Uh, other than I am not from Austin, I have never "spit on Jesus". You just persecuted me. Whaaaaahhhhh!

      Look folks, in many Christian doctrines, it is only faith in Jesus that gets one into heaven. In some others, you need repentance. Look it up the varying religious groups within Christianity yourselves. That doesn't mean Christ is a "servant of sin". It means he died for the sins. Get it? Even Hitler who professed Jesus.

      It doesn't matter what WE know what Hitler had in his heart. But if Hitler was a true believer in Jesus, even while being a homicidal maniac, he gets Heaven. (Repentance is treated variably in different Christian sects.)

      The point is, Hitler has a better chance of Heaven than a Jew, or a Hindu.

      March 31, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Jordan Kerr

      Ever heard of a Messianic Jew? A Jew who proclaims Christ? I think the "Hitler has a better chance claim" is refuted by this. All of the New Testament authors were Messianic Jews (except maybe Luke).

      March 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  3. Mike Math

    Hi, we're CNN. More people watch ' who's the boss ' re runs than our network. Our ratings are so low.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Troglodytes Entertaining All

      Only dinosaurs get their news from TV anymore... CNN's website is among the most viewed in the US.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Edweird69

      Your post, just garnered CNN some attention. Way to go.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  4. Kishmein Touchus

    Very interesting fairy tale like the rest of Christianity in particular and religion in general providing answers for the unanswerable question of life after death. Understandable and silly at the same time. If it works for the reader, fine; bless you and yours. What I will not tolerate are those who assume their own infallibility and presume to know the truth for others: we call them missionaries. These well meaning, perhaps, but inherently bigoted folks are not treated nicely when they come to my door be they Witnesses (gentle and nice usually), Adventists (the same), Mormons (pathetic young kids who have been totally brainwashed). A pox on all missionaries and fundamentalists of all types; the world would be a much better place without any of them. Looked outside to see what has risen today and did in fact find lovely daffodils, both yellow and fragrant white. May flowers bloom in all your gardens and keep the evil of religion away from you and yours (should I bother to list the atrocities committed throughout history and today in the so-called name of love and religion?). Pax.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • deep blue

      Go easy on them. They are only trying to save your soul

      March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  5. rskiredj

    WATCH THE ANSWER "www.deen-ul-islam.org/christ-crucified-2/"

    March 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  6. Ron Rivera

    CNN would never run a story like this about jews during passover. In fact, it is passover, and there's no story. They would never run a story like this about muslims during ramadan. CNN, like all liberals and liberal outlets...are cowards.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • John P. Tarver, MS/PE

      CNN is only following the tradition of peraecution Christians. If CNN did the same to Jews or Moslems there would be retribution.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • deep blue

      The article said Christianity spread through charitable Christians caring for those who could not care for themselves. That is a very Christian message.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Akira


      March 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Akira

      Tarver, darling, how are christians in America being persecuted to day? How are they not allowed their religious freedom to practice their religion?
      Hint: trying to codify religious beliefs into secular law and being struck down on that basis doesn't count.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Kishmein Touchus

      Edweird69's historical footnotes will offend many who like living in the cave of ignorance, but he is brilliant in his historical exposition. Modern day apologists for the Christian Holocaust would like to forget the facts, but these nasty little buggers have a way of coming to the surface. Holocaust, Inquisition, Witch Trials, Crusades...all related. Sometimes facts "suck".

      March 31, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  7. Edweird69

    History is currently being distorted by the millions of Christians who lie to have us believe that the Holocaust was not a Christian deed. Through subterfuge and concealment, many of today’s Church leaders and faithful Christians have camouflaged the Christianity of Adolf Hitler and have attempted to mark him an atheist, a pagan cult worshipper, or a false Christian in order to place his misdeeds on those with out Jesus. However, from the earliest formation of the Nazi party and throughout the period of conquest and growth, Hitler expressed his Christian support to the German citizenry and soldiers. Those who would make Hitler an atheist should turn their eyes to history books before they address their pews and chat rooms.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Kishmein Touchus

      The truth hurts, but you are right on target. I also remember the good (sic) Christians in America who let so many Jews and others die in Nazi Germany when something could have been done to save lots of victims. Read the book While 6 Million Died before you tell me I am crazy. Just one of many reasons why I became a committed atheist.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Duke

      What a bunch of BS. You have no proof of that because none exists. Hitlers ideas weren't based on Christianity at all. They were is own sick ideas of creating the perfect arian race, which had nothing to do with being Christian.

      You wanna make up stories, go ahead. But don't complain when you are called out for the liar that you are.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Edweird69

      @Duke – a) Hitler was baptized as Roman Catholic during infancy in Austria.

      b) As Hitler approached boyhood he attended a monastery school. (On his way to school young Adolf daily observed a stone arch which was carved with the monastery’s coat of arms bearing a swastika.)

      c) Hitler was a communicant and an altar boy in the Catholic Church.

      d) As a young man he was confirmed as a “soldier of Christ.” His most ardent goal at the time was to become a priest. Hitler writes of his love for the church and clergy: “I had excellent opportunity to intoxicate myself with the solemn splendor of the brilliant church festivals. As was only natural, the abbot seemed to me, as the village priest had once seemed to my father, the highest and most desirable ideal.” -Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)

      e) Hitler was NEVER excommunicated nor condemned by his church. Matter of fact the Church felt he was JUST and “avenging for God” in attacking the Jews for they deemed the Semites the killers of Jesus.

      f) Hitler, Franco and Mussolini were given VETO power over whom the pope could appoint as a bishop in Germany, Spain and Italy. In turn they surtaxed the Catholics and gave the money to the Vatican. Hitler wrote a speech in which he talks about this alliance, this is an excerpt: “The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism [Nazism] is hostile to religion is a lie.” Adolf Hitler, 22 July 1933, writing to the Nazi Party

      March 31, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Kishmein Touchus

      Sorry, Duke (great name for a dog), that history shows how ignorant you are. I know you don't like what you see when you look at the mirror of history, but the truth can hurt. Were there many, many good Christians who tried to save Jews and others who were being persecuted by the Lutheran Nazis? You bet there were and many died including Catholics who tried to walk the walk; that does not obviate the huge majority of German so-called Christians who went along with Adolph. We have them right here in America under Arayan Christian churches. Too bad we cannot exterminate all of them. If there were a God, She would.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  8. Duke

    If this was a Muslim Holy Day there is no way CNN would run a story questioning the faith or religion of Islam. Its amazingly disappointing to me that in this nation today, being Christian is equated with controversy, polarizing figures, myth, and fraudulent stories.

    Shame on CNN. Your constant attacks on the faith of any one religion lowers your already remedial respect in America.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Edweird69

      It just wouldn't be relevant, as there are so few Muslims in this country. Christianity is our biggest enemy at the moment. Even though, that freaky, psychotic belief is making it's debut well known too.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • rskiredj

      Study Islam , Read the Quran than you can debate in the way you see fits
      But never jump to conclusions

      March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Edweird69

      @rskire..whatever... I'm NOT going to read some ridiculous book, and pollute my skull with more nonsense. The bible's been shoved down our throats since birth here... I'm not about to read another fairytale, so I can be some expert on its stupidity.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Kishmein Touchus

      I don't have to study Islam and the Koran to see what a fraud this is as well as Christianity. I just need to look at Sunnis killing Shiites and vice versa through out the Muslim world to see that any sane person would want no part of Islam. Hell the morons kill folks who do a South Park on their prophet. A plague on all of them and the world would be instantly better off and a lot less populated!

      March 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  9. us_1776

    Happy Hijacked Pagan Holiday.


    March 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  10. rskiredj

    WATCH THE ANSWER deen-ul-islam.org/christ-crucified-2/

    March 31, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  11. Alex

    The article failed to mention that once the early Christians come into power, they persecuted the pagans. In Alexandria they killed pagans and burned libraries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_persecution_of_paganism_under_Theodosius_I

    March 31, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  12. keb carerra

    I wonder if the millions who were eventually persecuted by the church are saying "Amen". The few martyrs in the first century with their bigger than life stories, embellished by believers over the centuries, quells in comparison to the tens of thousands eventually murdered by the same church in the name of the same god . Just a few hundred years ago you could be burned at the stake for not believing and confessing faith.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Duke

      Where do you get 'millions?" And none of those were actually killed for Christianity, they were killed by people using Christianity as a means to capture power.

      The inquisition resulted in thousands–the holy wars, thousands.

      Christians are still being persecuted today. Isn't there still an American minister imprisoned in a foreign land right now?

      March 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  13. woody

    Religious bases are in part based on the SPRING EQUINOX . No matter what religion you have to remember the people who wrote the stories of any holy book were doing it with a way of thinking that is over 1000 years old . Most of those people back then could not even read . Imagine life in the heat with no air conditioning, no cars, no radios, no t.v., no computer .

    March 31, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  14. John P. Tarver, MS/PE

    Christianity spread by faith, hope and love, not persecution. Although Paul going to Rome did infect the Roman aristocracy with Christianity.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Troglodytes Entertaining All

      Christianity is spread through delusion, fear and brainwashing... There's no other way to get a human being to believe the nonsense that's in the bible.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Agnes of Dog

      You seemed to have left out fear, Tarvball. The fear of going to hell. Christians could not have don't it without their pal Satan.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Simpson

      Tell that to the 20 million black slaves who were brought to america in the name christ

      March 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  15. Seyedibar

    How many Christians even know who Easter is?
    They're so afraid to study their own book for fear of realizing it's all hogwash.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • John P. Tarver, MS/PE

      Easter is one of John Wesley's (Dutch printer) English anagrams that is spelled Istar today.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Easter was El's second wife and the basis of the biblical Eve. Yet most Christians don't even know who El is, even if they worship him every sunday.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • John P. Tarver, MS/PE

      El is the father of Ba'al, son of whatever god you have.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      El and Easter were the parents of the sibling rivalries, Yahweh and Baal (Cayahn and Abaal). So, if Yahweh knocked up Mary, then I guess that sort of makes Istar/Easter like Jesus' grandma. What a screwed up family tree.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      John P. Tarver, PE/MS
      "Easter is one of John Wesley's (Dutch printer) English anagrams that is spelled Istar today."

      You don't seem to know what an anagram is. Look it up.

      "Jar Then Revs Pomp" would be an anagram of your name, for example.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      He meant "analogue".

      March 31, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  16. Phazon

    False Christians arn't persecuted True ones are though they even have been persecuted by the Vatican and other false Christians they are under ban in places like NK and Iran and some other places Jesus apostles where persecuted stephen was stoned John the baptist was decapitated Paul was liked in prison for a while you see only true Christians are persecuted how can the richest orinization on the planet claim to follow God and be the richest on the planet and actually persecute everyone else.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      There are no "true christians"

      March 31, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  17. GregtheThird

    One of the principle messages that comes out of Christianity is to find common ground with rather than discriminate against other people. A recent example: A neighbor's husband relapsed back into drug use after many years of abstinence and left both his wife and 12 year old son with no financial support. While she was seeking employment and in divorce proceedings in order to compel him to give child support, she got behind on her mortage and was threatened with homelessness. Her family told her "I told you so" and refused to help. The government said she did not meet criteria for financial aid. It was the church that stepped up to help out until she got her affairs in order. Acts like these win popular support very quickly, and it would not have been long before only the most hardened of the Roman elite stood against the Christians, so this article makes sense to me.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Phazon

      Act off generosity are not enough to prove a religion is true do you know what persecution even means they are persecuted to stip being generous they are being persecuted cause Satan said no man would be faithful under persecution.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • ccw

      my brother is a minister, has been for 30 years and we were close even though I am not a christian. I lost my job during the recession/depression, had to live off my savings, lost my apartment, lost my car, savings gone. I am 60 years old and own nothing. I asked my christian brother for help until I got on my feet. he refused. I have never asked anyone for anything. I now live in a friends back room, only income is $200 food stamps. I clean my friends home and cook her meals for a place to live. Christians, I have no use for them.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  18. steve

    How come miracles never happen today?? I mean cool ones like in the bible, now we just get the "miracle" of curing some disease. What a joke you christians are, I cant understand how you cant see how dumb you are.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • morgan

      Miracles do occure, but we must look for them, by removing our blinders of doubt, selfishness, and ignorance.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • charlie

      May God bless you for you don't know what you are talking about. Happy easter!

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Duke

      Miracles still happen. There are numerous stories of people chronically ill, doomed to death who suddenly find themselves free of whatever affliction had tried to take them. Doctors can't explain it and they call it a miracle.

      What's said is that you only base your belief on what you choose to see.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • JJ

      Miracles do occur, but we must first drink large amounts of indoctrination laced kool-aide, delude outselves and stamp out all traces of reason and never ask pesky questions.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • oseid

      Steve you are really a big fool to call Christians stupid.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • ccw

      Those of you that commented, you are missing the point...Miracles of biblical proportions do not occur today, and they never did..... The bible is a book written by men many years after the fact and edited by men. Study history, biblical and non biblical. Early man did not have our words to describe what he saw, so he called them miracles from the gods...gods plural. The stories in the bible date by tens of thousands of years...ancient man had flood stories, stories of gods rising from the dead, stories of great floods.....the beliefs of christianity were not new

      March 31, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  19. biggles

    Churches and Christianity. Heathen cannot grasp the difference. Democrats, George Wallace. All racists. They will never get it.

    March 31, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Kinda like you never "get" how to reply?

      March 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Troglodytes Entertaining All

      You're the one who believes in talking snakes.. Grow up.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Akira

      I do not think you understand that the majority of Democrats, just like the majority of America, are Christians, and further, I do not think you have any clue what a true racist really is.
      The KKK is a Christian org, you know...

      March 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • John P. Tarver, MS/PE

      Akira- The KKK burns crosses to Ba'al, just like in Genesis. The KKK required a member be a registered Democrat until 1949.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Troglodytes Entertaining All

      "The KKK required a member be a registered Democrat until 1949."

      That's because, until recent decades, Democrats were the conservative party... Geez, you probably think Lincoln was a conservative.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  20. inshaf

    ISLAM has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, according to new figures.
    In its newly-released 2008 yearbook of statistics, the Vatican claims Muslims now make up 19.2 per cent of the world's population with Catholics at 17.4 per cent.(2012-MUSLIM 22.7%, CATHOLIC 16.85%)
    In the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, wrote: "For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken

    March 31, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • deep blue

      so you counted all branches of Islam together, but split up all the Christian denominations?
      Great math there.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      You have to account for the lack of religious freedom in muslim countries. Many of the people counted as Muslims don't have a choice, so the numbers include atheists and nonbelievers.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Akira

      It would be wise to remember that Roman Catholicism isn't the only denomination of Christianity; and that using 2008 figures is misleading, as RC has grown expotentially since then in Africa and South America.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Islam is horribly dysfunctional, bigoted, and antisocial, but at least it's based partly in fact. Your can't really same the same of Christianity.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • charlie

      So what's wrong with that?... In the end it's not the RELIGION that will save you. It's your faith.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Melissa

      lol. You do realize that Protestants are christian too, right? Using only catholicism as the measure is just stu pi d. The only thing worth noting is that atheism is on the rise.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • swohio

      When you count ALL Christians...Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants...you will find that Christianity is still the dominant religion in the world. However, having said that, salvation isn't a numbers game. Just because a particular church has more members than another doesn't mean that all members of that church are saved. Jesus said the road and gate which leads to death is wide, and there will be many who go that way. But the road and gate which leads to life is narrow, and there will be few who go that way. He also said that not all who say "Lord, Lord" will be saved, but only those who obey the Father and do his will.

      March 31, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.