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. mm

    "Just how persecuted are the gays?" "The stores of vast gay persecution in America have been greatly exaggerated."

    April 1, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • sam stone

      Yeah....like denying them equal rights

      April 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      Leviticus 18:22
      You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, look. Doc is unaware that our laws aren't based on his babble.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • the AnViL™

      all xians who cite leviticus as a scriptural reference to support their ideology should be persecuted with extreme prejudice.

      that's the basis for all the fine work the good xian people of westboro baptist do.

      that level of religious idiocy should be criminal.

      tolerance of that level of religious idiocy is worse than religious idiocy itself.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • mm

      Anvil's Translation: "Anyone who disagrees with me or my interpretation of scripture, politics and world view as a whole, shall be persecuted and placed in gas chambers." Another enlightened liberal showing tolerance for other view points. And I would hardly label those who don't have so-called "equal marriage rights" as being "persecuted." Christians in the Sudan being butchered by Muslim Sudanese as I write this are being "persecuted." Let's keep thngs in perspective here.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      And I would hardly label those who don't have so-called "equal marriage rights" as being "persecuted." Christians in the Sudan being butchered by Muslim Sudanese as I write this are being "persecuted."
      --------------------------------------------------Nonsense. All persecution is persecution. Whatever subjective degrees of severity you wish to impose on it is irrelevant.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  2. biggles

    whatcha gonna do sambo? post on a website?

    April 1, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • biggles

      big, tough little girl

      April 1, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • sam stone

      stilil got that diarrhea of the brain, biggles?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  3. DoctorKnow

    "The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change... All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt."– Stephen Jay Gould

    That is NOT what evolutionist would expect to see, but that is exactly what a creationist would expect.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • John

      Wouldn't a creationist expect to see no transitions at all?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      John, That is true up to a point. You would not expect to see any transitions from one species to another. Never has any observation ever shown a transition of a species. It is only an imaginative idea. You can have different races form from natural selection and still not violate any ideas of creation. That is called micro-evolution. There is no proof of macro-evolution (transition of a species to another).

      April 1, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • SurelyUjest

      Creationists expect faith and offer no proof or science to uphold their claim. In addition to this throughout history creastionists have made up lies that are scientifically false. Such as the earth is 6000 yrs old, and man walked with the dinosarus, the earth was created in 6 days (which is even now being changed through interpretation to "match" science) The fact is evolution happens, it happens everytime a new virus comes out and mutates. It is not reaching too far to fill in the small gaps in human development when scientists have many other mammal and reptillian evolution completely mapped out. It is a fact humans evolved from primates and along the evolutionary path some died out and others proliferated. It is natural selection and evolution plain and simple and the Bible thumpers cannot handle that they believe in a book that is wrong from a scientific view. This is not to say their isnt a higher power of some sort but not one that sits in heaven and judges "his" children for all eternity to see if they can make the cut and be rewarded or if "he" will have to cast them down for punishment. All this while actually KNOWING the answer to his own judgement in advance. Silly rabbits!

      April 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • The real Tom

      Apparently, DocKnowNothing has not evolved a pinkie finger that is capable of adding an "s" to the ends of words to make them plural. Either that, or the doofus doesn't speak English very well and doesn't recognize the fact that "atheist" = ONE.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      SurelyUjest, Wrong. There is no proof that a species can change outside of a laboratory. Man did not descend from apes. That is mathematically impossible at the genetic code level. It is absurd to think of the combinatorial chance that would need to take place to change intermediate processes from a quantized interpreted code all at once. It didn't happen, and it never will. It is a childish view.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      The real Tom, Really? A typo from yesterday. That is what you got? LOL

      April 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • The real Tom

      DocDumbbell: "That is NOT what evolutionist would expect to see"

      Honey, you're even more simple-minded than you appeared to be.

      By the way, where's your explanation for the defunct gene?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • The real Tom

      "Man did not descend from apes."

      Yeah, man did. You're a joke, Doc.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      The real Tom, Wrong. That is not what evolutionists would expect. The theory of evolution assumes an analog process that does not exist. Now, they look at the lack of transitional evidence and wildly speculate about it.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • The real Tom

      Wrong, Doc. Evolution occurred, is occurring and continues to occur. The Garden never existed and Adam and Eve are myths. Men did indeed descend from apes.

      Sorry about your stupidity and ignorance.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      I do not need to explain wild speculation about a defunct gene. Instead, you need to show a species transitioning from one to another.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • The real Tom

      So you can't answer the question? Thanks for playing, DocDoofus.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      The real Tom, Why the name calling? Did you run out of arguments? Maybe you can look for some more typos or grammatical errors.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, I don't need to look for 'em, dingus. They're so glaring they're practically jumping off the page in every post you write. I suspect that English is not your first language and that the only "doctorate" you have is one you got through the classified ads. I also notice that you can't answer the question you were asked and instead of admitting it, you pretend it's not worth answering.

      You're a fraud.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • The real Tom

      May 3, 2012 — A partial, duplicate copy of a gene appears to be responsible for the critical features of the human brain that distinguish us from our closest primate kin. The momentous gene duplication event occurred about two or three million years ago, at a critical transition in the evolution of the human lineage, according to a pair of studies published early online in the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication, on May 3rd.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      DoctorKnow, You're doing what is known on this board as a "Chad" i.e. posting decade-old quotes out of context to "make" your point. The fact that certain mechanisms are not fully understood does not mean that evolution is not true and it certainly does not mean that a god did it. Evolution is proven by common descent, distribution, DNA, and more. Skeletons generally do not become fossils so an example of a skeleton at each stage of evolution is not likely but we do have transitional fossils including a whale that still has hind legs.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Science

      Doctor notknow

      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.


      April 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      "That is mathematically impossible at the genetic code level. "

      Let's see your math then.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  4. deciphamusic

    This article would be okay....IF we ignore the several DIFFERENT types of Persecution....The Bible describes the life of a believer as one where some will hate you and some will like you...But none of that makes a difference in OUR responsibility toward God and that person.

    Christianity makes claims like JESUS is the ONLY way for salvation...you MUST go through him alone...but when a Christian actually stands up and says that and lives that...people reject them, defame them, slander them, mistreat them...and even turn on them...American Persecution is totally different than it is elsewhere because of the society we live in.

    It's just NOT fair to use one definition for all cultures of Christianity, when American Society makes it's persecution much more subtle.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • midwest rail

      You cannot possibly be claiming that Christians in America are persecuted.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • cw

      How does this "subtle" persecution affect you directly? Honestly, what do you care what atheists think of you? You live in a society where you are free to practice your beliefs as you see fit and yet you have the audacity to claim "subtle" persecution... as if that's anywhere near as bad as being thrown into a lion's den. Get over yourself.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      midwest rail, The only reason Christians are not persecuted is because we out number the atheist 78 to 1. Even with those ratios the atheist do a lot of interference.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • midwest rail

      Interference ? How, exactly, does that equal persecution ?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • The real Tom

      Well, if it isn't DocKnowNothing! Hey, Doc, did you ever answer that question about the defunct gene? You know, the one you handily ignored last night? No?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • The real Tom

      "because we out number the atheist 78 to 1. Even with those ratios the atheist do a lot of interference."

      What were you saying about a typo from YESTERDAY, Dookey?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • fintastic

      Hey doctor little brain...... where's the evidence for your god? that's SCIENTIFIC evidence, not fairytales and mythology.

      I'm waiting......

      April 4, 2013 at 8:44 am |
  5. JLM

    CNN is just doing what it has done before: discrediting Christianity on a major Christian Holy Day. Try to discredit another major religion on their holy day and they will definitely get in trouble.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • cw

      And it is discrediting Christianity, how? By pointing out that it may not have been as persecuted as we have been led to believe?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • PJF

      I'm curious if you even read the article. If anything, it puts Christianity in a positive light when the author talks about Christians being admired by their Roman neighbors for being charitable and virtuous.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  6. mac

    there is no such thing as a god in evolution

    April 1, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Dom

      No where in the Bible does it say God didn't use evolution to create mankind. The issue comes in Creation story taking seven days (actually six since God rested on the seventh day). But isn't "day" a manmade concept that accounts for the period of light and darkness – neither of which existed on the first day of the Creation story? Not going to get into the creation story here – but don't you think Evolution could be one of God's tools? Those who say there are holes in the Evolution theroy are correct but there is also plenty of evednece to back it up. Truth is we are evolving all the time – just look at the average height of a person today verses 500 years ago...

      April 1, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Science

      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.


      April 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • fintastic

      @Dom.... "No where in the Bible does it say God didn't use evolution to create mankind."

      Love that negative logic.

      April 4, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  7. mo

    Another garbage article promoted by CNN (the atheist christen hater station) .. what you people expect from CNN

    April 1, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • midwest rail


      April 1, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • citygirl

      What a shame. CNN deciding once again, to attempt to discredit Christianity during a holy celebration. Not surprizing, but completely disappointing.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • the AnViL™

      it is profoundly comical that the main things that discredit xianity – is the bible, xainity, and xians.

      those do a far better job than anything else.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Jesus freaker

      "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."

      Thanks for proving her point.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  8. Qman

    Christians, and any believer in christ will always be persecuted until the time of Jesus' coming.

    Jesus has said as such.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Qman

      (John 15:18-21 FYI

      April 1, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Brother Maynard

      Qman sez:
      "Christians, and any believer in christ will always be persecuted until the time of Jesus' coming.
      Jesus has said as such."

      So you worship a god that is powerless to stop others from persecuting you.
      So for an analogy this like you Dad saying to a little boy " I'm leaving now ... but while I'm gone this bully is going to beat the cr@p out of you until I come back" The little boy asks when Dad will return and Dad sez " When I feel like it " The boy grows up (being beaten every day ) has kids of his own ( whom get beaten ) and they have kids ( who get beaten ).
      Call ME crazy ... but at some point do you think "uh ... maybe great great great great granddady isn't coming back "
      ( suddenly the beating stop ). And maybe great great grandaddy was making the whole thing up

      April 1, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Jesus freaker

      The jig is up. Jesus never came back.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  9. BoldGeorge

    I had actually stopped reading this section here for a while and decided to start reading it again, and this is what I come across, CNN again trying to disclaim facts and standards on Christianity. Mrs. Moss writes here that...

    "most martyrdom stories –with the exception of a handful such as Perpetua's – were exaggerated and invented, several scholars and historians say."

    How about giving us the exaggerated and invented stories. She had no problem giving us the non-exaggerated stories...and who are these "several scholars making these claims. Also...

    "The problem with invoking persecution is it implies your opponents are evil – and no common ground can be found with evil, Moss says."

    How can you have common ground with say, the issue of abortion? If a Christian believes abortion equates with eliminating a life because of a "mistake", it is obvious to the Christian that unless people start owning up to their mistakes (and we all make them), there will not be any common ground.

    Having said all this, this article seems just another defense and justification to "live as you will" form of lifestyle and harbor no consequences, and to basically set aside true Christian standards that are based on the Bible.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Qman

      Well said, sir!

      April 1, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • BoldGeorge

      ....and by the way, in the Bible, Jesus did say that Christians will be hated and persecuted for His namesake (Matthew 5:11 and 10:22). Is Mrs. Moss disregarding this biblical fact? Is she calling Christ a liar?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • jjm.g

      thanks george, I too had left here since the clowns, well you know, but this world is becoming just as Jesus said it would "as the days of Noah" and this is serious but will come with the ridiculers.(2 Pet.3:3) but just keep asking, seeking and knocking and it Will be opened. keep the faith, j

      April 1, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • BoldGeorge

      To JJM:

      I appreciate your thoughts but I wouldn't call unbelievers "clowns". I would say that they do not believe for three main reasons. First, unbelievers refuse to believe God's word because they prefer to follow what their hearts desire. Most people do not wish to adhere to the Bible because it cuts right into the middle of what our true desires are, and most times our desires do not conform to God's standards (trust me, I know about this firsthand).

      Second, unbelievers are most times misguided. They follow error, believing those who misinterpret the Scriptures and who claim they have the true revelation of God. I say that anyone who says this is pretty much a cultist. The Bible is free for everyone to read and ask of God true knowledge if we so dearly seek Him in truth. We do not need any guru to tell anyone what the Bible says and that He alone can interpret it.

      Third, unbelievers are misinformed. One way to be misinformed about the things of God is by being led into believing and accepting opinions like this article. My final advice, Christ is the only way to salvation and anyone can approach Him by seeking, asking and following truth.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • TANK!!!!

      "How about giving us the exaggerated and invented stories. She had no problem giving us the non-exaggerated stories...and who are these "several scholars making these claims."

      You actually think you can make a criticism of her claims based on article some CNN blogger wrote about her work? WOW. Why don't you read her work, and then mail her your expert step-by-step debunking of her claims? I'm sure she would appreciate it.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • jjm.g

      george, if you look back here, I was not talking about just the unbelievers or doubters but the real disgusting clowns are the ones that I was referring to. the ones that get disgusting in their descriptions of Jesus and his Father. I look forward to discussing any subject in the Bible with someone that wants to know or thinks they know but sorry for any misconception on who I was talking about or maybe you have not encountered them yet but if you continue here you will. thanks, jg

      April 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  10. Mike from CT

    So the story you ran 2 months ago "Iran sentences U.S. pastor to 8 years in prison, " is no longer true?

    April 1, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • DB

      Y'know...the overwhelming majority of the political prisoners in Iran are Muslim, not Christian or Jewish.

      In any case, the point here is that you, living in Connecticut, are not a victim simply because two Christians you've never even met were thrown in prison on the other side of the world. Stop trying to pretend that you are, it's sad and pathetic.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Mike from CT

      I never said *I* was

      April 1, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • cw

      So... Reading comprehension is not a strong suit of yours, Mike?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • Mike from CT

      No, but CW that is a good question to ask yourself.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  11. DB

    Do Christians have a martyr complex today? Not all of them, probably not even most of them, but a lot of them sure as heck do...especially the ones who obsessively mix their faith with their politics, because then they can claim victimhood every time they lose at the ballot box.

    I have a name for this unique Christian phenomenon of wanting to believe you're persecuted: I call it "Matthew 5:10 Syndrome."

    April 1, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  12. Rick

    Sounds like someone who is denying Christian persecusion for their own persoanl reasons. Just like the Holocaust deniers of present.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • dumbasfock


      April 1, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  13. dwight

    The term "martyr" is derived from Justin Martyr, a Christian who was killed due to his faith. Foxes Book of Martyrs gives an account of many martyrs and while some maybe embellished many are not. Historically The Jews persecuted the Christians early on and in late 302, Diocletian and Galerius sent a messenger to the oracle of Apollo at Didyma with an inquiry about Christians when Diocletian accepted his court's demands for universal persecution.On 23 February 303, Diocletian ordered the destruction of Nicomedia's new church, condemned its scriptures to the flames, and had its treasures seized. In the months that followed, churches and scriptures were destroyed, Christians were deprived of official ranks, and priests were imprisoned. In 313 Emporer Constatine lifted the persecution of Christians.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Russ

      @ dwight: no, 'martyr' is the greek for 'witness', (Acts 1:8, etc.).
      Justin Martyr takes his name from the pre-existing Greek

      April 1, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      Justin Martyr, along with several other early Christian apologists, could only defend the charge that the anonymously-written gospels were fancied-up copies of earlier pagan stories by claiming that the devil was involved. 'Diabolical mimicry', they called it. They claimed that the devil had planted the "fake" stories in advance prior to the "real" gospel stories. How about that – plagiarism in reverse courtesy of your neighborhood devil. You would think they would have some better ideas, right?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • dumbasfock

      The gospels are hardly anonymous. They are named for the apostles that wrote them. You know, Matthew the tax collector wrote the Book of Matthew. Luke the physician wrote Luke. Etc. Etc. You really didnt put much thought into that fantasy that you just posted did you?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • the AnViL™

      dumbasfock ignorantly spittled: "The gospels are hardly anonymous."


      you couldn't be more wrong. the alias you've chosen is perfect.

      good work!

      April 1, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      Wow – dumbas – you really didn't put much education into learning about what is known about the authorship of the gospels – did you?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • Russ

      @ Agnes:
      Read Richard Bauckham's "Jesus & the Eyewitnesses" – a rather exhaustive scholarly review of the Gospel accounts. Your position is untenable in light of the available evidences.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • dwight

      Intereating, I didn't know that "martyr" meant "witness", but it make sense. Justin gained the surname of Martyr after persecution and death by being beheaded. He exemplified the concept of dying for his cause and martyrnism adapted this meaning due to these type of actions.
      Now today all you have to do is look to the Middle East for the persecution of Christians by Muslims and even here in America. Christians as a whole don't deride or mock other religions or people, but Hollywood, etc. loves to mock Christianity. Strangely they won't do the same to Islam.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  14. Joseph Guilbert

    Next they'll say the Spanish inquisition did not happen. All from a scholar (???) writing from an armchair 1800 years later. Maybe if a real scholar like Lord Norwich had researched it. You have to wonder about the motive. Just for information, there are more christians being persecuted, enslaved and being killed today than then. You need not look far. Read VOICE OF THE MARTYRS....China, India, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, the middle east in general. I suggest ms Moss get out of her armchair, close he notebook and look around. It may go a long way toward credibility.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • dumbasfock

      I wonder what proof the author has that they didnt happen. And I further wonder what makes the uncited sources the author used more relvant than the widely reported and easily referenced facts to the contrary.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  15. avd

    It's apparent that whenever CNN needs an audience, they turn to religious articles and incite the masses.

    CNN you're turning into quite the disgusting "news" outlet.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Science

      How about this ?.................... NOT from CNN

      Scientists say they've found a "God particle"


      April 1, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • dumbasfock

      Calling it the God partical doenst make it religious. You are aware of that right?

      April 1, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • stacie

      no kidding! If you want to put up a story for Easter, why don't you report on the origins of the celebration of Easter and what people do around the world to celebrate it today? Passive agressive articles aimed at making Christians look stupid is not journalism, its devisive.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  16. Veritas

    Is the point of this story to kind of imply that Christians really aren't persecuted? Groups from Human Rights Watch, to the UN keep long list..I don't think this story would make any sense to the millions of persecuted Christians in China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and on and on and on...

    What's the point of suggesting this? Is it like the Holocaust deniers? I just don't get why you'd want to suggest this.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • steve

      They are saying that persecution isnt what brought people to join up is all. That the acts of Christians were the reason. Makes more sense to me.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • humanbean

      Of course you're going to be persecuted when you're not the favored religion of the state. It's the reason why religion needs to be done away with. It creates opportunities for murder and genocide no matter what side of the coin you happen to fall upon. It's definitely not the plan of an omnipotent being, if there really is one in the first place.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • NotFoolinMe

      It's all part of the left's CURRENT persecution of Christianity. Christians terrify them because they are a voting bloc capable of doing real damage to the "progress" they've been making the past few years.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • humanbean

      Yeah, notfoolinme, the progress against ignorance. I prefer to make independent intelligent decisions, so I don't align myself with either side. But I will say that it's amazing to watch people like you attempt to demonize liberalism and make the term into some evil spawn of satan. I guess that if you can't beat them, you might as well demonize them, right? I mean, who needs liberalism. All those terrible things that Jesus talked about, like helping your neighbor and making sure the poor are taken care of, etc., etc.. And all that stuff that made the US what it is today, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The liberal progress that we've made in technology and science. Yeah, it's all evil. We don't need that stuff, now do we? People like you make me laugh and worry me all at the same time.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • davestake

      Listen to just about any NPR "entertainment show or a hollywood sitcom. The biggest moneymaker currently on Braodway is making millions ridiculing the Christian faith. In the middle east, churches are burned almost every day and promoting Christianity will get you a death sentence. I actually believe Christianity is more maligned and far more Christians are killed for their faith than ever before. All while CNN wants to highlight a story saying few Christians were persecuted, Google celebrates Chavez birthday while ignoring Easter and the minister of Obama's Church publicly smears conservative Christians on Easter Sunday. There's nothing to see here, move along...

      April 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  17. John P. Tarver, MS/PE

    Even today, nothing spreads Christianity like persecution. The author seems to be divergent from reality; like many academians.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      Yes – to most it's a kind of hidden persecution – proselytizing the poorest and most uneducated. That's how to keep the mythology alive.

      April 1, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  18. Ann

    You know, I'm no historian so I have no concrete way to debate the authenticity of this diary.

    Still – doesn't Vibia Perpetua sound a lot like a made-up name? "Vibia" sounds a lot like Spanish or Latin for "I will live" and "Perpetua" sounds like "forever." Who's going to name their kid "I will live forever?" It sounds more like she was invented as a story character.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    Easter is indeed the greatest festival of Christianity.


    At first, everybody, even the followers of Jesus, thought that Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom, that he would expel the damned Romans. Before Jesus was arrested through the Romans, and the servants of the Scribes, Pharisees, Elders and High Priests of Israel, he was extremly recognized by the people of Israel (the common herd) because he had cured so many sick people, he had even raised people from the dead, and he had interpreted the Old Testament, the Old Jewish Holy Scripture, in a perfect way. When Jesus was arrested the people including the followers of Him could not understand that he did not fight back, and simply accepted the capture like a guilty criminal. St. Peter was ready to fight for his master, and to die in a Christian battle for Jesus, but he was not ready to die defenceless, and thus escaped. St. Peter was no coward as many people assume, he only could not accept Jesus' will not to fight.

    After the crucifixion everything seemed to be lost. The dreams of earthly rule of St. Peter and the other disciples were destroyed.

    Then came the resurrection of Jesus Christ which nobody had expected; nobody could grasp that at that time. After the resurrection it became clear why Jesus had accepted the death:

    God, the Father, delivered God, the Son, Jesus, for our sins, and raised him from the dead for our justification.

    This is God's Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus had commended his case to the Lord, and He saved him from the death through the resurrection, and Jesus became ruler of the universe, and made possible our salvation.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • The problem with Kirk, Ray and their pet banana


      _ _ _

      April 1, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • Qman

      Well written, sir!

      April 1, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Unegen

      You mean Oester, the spring fertility holiday cribbed from the pagans to try to make Christianity seem legit? That Easter? Mmm-hmm. Sure.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • humanbean

      So let me get this straight. God created everything. So that means that he created humans that were imperfect and sinful as well. He kills everyone on the planet once in a great flood in order to start all over again. Only problem is that instead of creating humans all over, he lets some of the "sinful" diseased humans live (Noah's family), and then he's surprised when that leads to pretty much what he had before the flood. So then this omnipotent being decides to take human form in order to come down and sacrifice himself for all of the sins that he couldn't get rid of before by trying to eradicate the filthy human beings responsible. Is it just me, or can anyone else see the craziness in all of this? And I don't want to hear about free will either. Love me or go to hell is not freewill.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Rohdev

      You need to do some research about the origins of "religion". The Old Testament was written by MAN of people who were very supersticious and believed they heard voices from some being above the clouds but was actually their mind playing tricks. It's full of atrocities and horrors of people being killed for no reason. The New Testament is written by MAN who made up stories. Jesus was just a human like everyone else. He was good at preaching and lived off the fat of the land. He performed no miracles, (all they are is myths) and his body was stolen; there was no rising from the dead. God does not exist. It's all man made stories to keep people believing there is a "Super Being" but in reality we are all here biologically for a short time and will die and become dust. Nothing else. And that's a fact.

      April 1, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • jjm.g

      rainman, you are so far from the truth of the resurrection. easter is a pagan holiday that was attached to Jesus and just polluted his life and death. he only asked that we remember the memorial of his death and do his father's will. celebrating pagan holidays like easter and christmas and all the other that belong to satan and his followers just take away from the holiness of his life and death. if you want to learn what the Bible really teaches go to jw.org and those people will teach you free of charge. just what I have heard. jg

      April 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  20. biggles

    Widdle markie, if hypatia existed, and you know this because of historical records, you got big problems, son.

    April 1, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Science

      Sounds like you do.

      April 1, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • .

      Is somebody put out because someone brought up a martyr of the non-Christian kind? Aw. Too bad. Drop it. You look silly.

      April 1, 2013 at 9:26 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.