Holy Martyrs

Obama Administration

This is almost sorta kinda a book preview. I’ve been going through some books looking for bits to bolster my arguments for this and that, and I found a book called The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (HarperCollins, 2013). The author, Candida Moss, is a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Most of the book is about early Church history. Moss says there is little actual historical evidence to show that early Christians were persecuted all that much, many legends to the contrary, and when they were persecuted it was usually more about politics than religion. Although it’s well written, if you aren’t really into early Church history this wouldn’t be a book to spend money on.

However, in her last chapter she makes a brilliant argument about how the myth of martyrdom is corroding religion and politics today. She writes, “Members of any Christian group can claim to be persecuted as long as they feel opposed.”

Yes, exactly. Opposition is no different from persecution. Having to buy health insurance is no different from slavery, or the Holocaust, or whatever.

I’m not 100 percent persuaded that the romance of martyrdom is just the residue of early Christian history, but the opposition equals persecution meme explains a lot. Further, the sense of persecution relieves them of any responsibility to reason with the opposition. If you are being persecuted, your only duty is to defend yourself by any means. You don’t have to make nice.

If you pay close attention to right-wing rhetoric, you realize that the Right believes persecution authenticates their message and proves their cause is just. Moss continues,

“Similarly, in her review of David Limbaugh’s book Persecution, Ann Coulter writes, ‘There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death.’ Somehow, and quite perversely, hatred has become a witness not just to truth, but to Truth. No longer are reasoned argument, good judgment, or logic able to win the day, because failing to convince others of one’s opinions would be a better sign that one’s opinions were correct. Framed by the myth that we are persecuted dialogue is not only impossible, it is undesirable. We revel in the outrage and scandal that our words and opinions elicit. We don’t want to be understood by out opponent. We will fan the flames of hatred and bask in the knowledge that we are right and their criticism proves it.”

“There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death.” Kinda takes one’s breath away, huh? And one might ponder, in what sort of bizarro alternative universe would that be true?

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  1. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 8, 2014 @5:53 am

    “No longer are reasoned argument, good judgment, or logic able to win the day, because failing to convince others of one’s opinions would be a better sign that one’s opinions were correct.”

    “Reasoned argument…
    Good judgment…
    Delusional and frightening!!!!!!!!!!!!

    “We revel in the outrage and scandal that our words and opinions elicit. We don’t want to be understood by out opponent. We will fan the flames of hatred and bask in the knowledge that we are right and their criticism proves it.”
    That certainly explains pretty much everything, imo, about the modern “Christian” Reich-Wingers.

    And all of this, from some anorexic blond grifter, who, imo, doesn’t sincerely believe her won words, but is willing to put them on paper, so that she can earn some more bucks.

    Being a Jesus-grifter pays well.
    Being a “Judas Goat,” might pay better.
    Schlafly, Phyllis.
    Keyes, Alan.
    Rivera, Geraldo.
    Name a minority, and you will find a willing and wealthy “Judas Goat.”

    And if you don’t know what a “Judas Goat” is, here’s a sanitized version:

    I’ll spare you my definition – because there aren’t enough 4-less-or-more letter words in English, Russian, Ukrainian, and German, to describe what I think of “people” like Ann Coulter.

    “Repulsive,” doesn’t cover it.

  2. goatherd  •  Apr 8, 2014 @7:17 am

    Candida Ross’s book seems like one that distills and informs something many of us sense as part of our situation, but, lacked the capacity to analyze and present so well. So, I suspect that a lot of readers will experience an “aha! moment.”

Human nature is fascinating, when fascination is not overcome by frustration or the mental exhaustion of dealing with its negative consequences. Speaking as a layman only, it seems the mind is structured in order to gather and interpret information about the surrounding world efficiently. For example, we see faces in clouds and hear our name called by a whistling wind and we call it “paradoleia”. The same mental device enables us to find our car keys among the clutter that accompanies modern life. But, other shortcuts engender cognitive biases that can be destructive and even toxic when augmented by chance or design. The current situation in our social and political world is a grim witness to that. Candida Ross seems to have observed and described one very neatly. A shortcut has become a short circuit.

    The problem is that some “events” in the mind are like singularities, and they result in some degree of epistemic closure. Once the system collapses on itself, there is seldom found a way out for the individual. They become unreachable brutes, slavering over their keyboards and yelling profanities at electronic devices. When it happens to a sufficient number of the members of a society, there is hell to pay. I guess the big question for us is, “How close are we to the event horizon?”.

    As long as we are doing the “word of the day” thing, (thanks cundgulag) I like this one. It relates to the state of our society and it will bring names and faces to mind:

    Chremomancy: foretelling the future based on the lunatic ravings of a person caught up in a frenzy.

  3. Growth Factor  •  Apr 8, 2014 @7:39 am

    Um… Who exactly hates Jesus? I can think of a few of his followers that are pretty awful, but even Muslims, the great enemy, consider Jesus to be a prophet. I am sure that a great number of the world’s population doesn’t care one way or the other about Jesus, just like your average Christian doesn’t care about Shiva. But hatred? Perhaps this is a corollary of the main point. Opposition=persecution and indifference=hatred.

  4. Vorjack  •  Apr 8, 2014 @8:59 am

    Do you mean maybe Candida Moss?

  5. maha  •  Apr 8, 2014 @9:54 am

    You’re right; it’s Moss, not Ross.

  6. Doug  •  Apr 8, 2014 @9:24 am

    ‘Persecution’ and ‘hatred’???? WTF?

    I’m probably not Christian by your probable definition of Christian. I don’t go to church, don’t believe in judgement or hell. (I’m a real fan of what Christ said.) I do believe in an afterlife. I’m not sure what it is but I’m skeptical that it resembles what most Christians espouse. Still I can’t be accused of ‘persecuting’ Christians because I don’t go out of my way to confront them when their beliefs don’t agree with mine. However….

    I have a problem when you try to turn your religious beliefs into law. If you think the pill causes an immoral abortion the answer is easy. Don’t take the pill. And that philosophy carries over to a hundred other issues. If you don’t like gays, don’t hang with them. (They won’t miss you.) Don’t hassle places where they hang out. If you don’t like nude dancing, don’t go to clubs that offer that entertainment. The argument that the Chipendales demean all men doesn’t sell with me. They are hotter than I was when I was hot, but who am I to deny middle-aged women a thrill that my looks can’t provide?

    If you can’t back up your superstition with facts, then don’t burden anyone who doesn’t go to your church with any facet of your doctrine. That includes your employees. The medical options available have (hopefully) been evaluated by the FDA. Your moral opinion as an employer is of no consequence – the choice of what medicine best serves the patient is a choice for the doctor and patient. You aren’t being persecuted when you are excluded from that decision.

    When anyone who complains of persecution can show me where the gov’t is intruding on what is said or done in church or in the home (provided the speech does not advocate violence) I’m with you. If the government is intruding on advocating voluntarily in a public place for your religion, if that speech is not deliberately provocative, I’m probably with you. (outside a Mosque or Synagogue is probably provocative.) As soon as that speech becomes coercive, …. oops.

    The complaint of persecution by the government needs to be backed up by specific instances. There’s a lot of inflammatory rhetoric which.. when you get to examples.. is the complaint that they won’t be allowed to exercise power over people who never joined their church and haven’t signed up for the doctrine the church wants to impose. I mentioned before, I’m a fan of the teachings of Christ. What you are advocating, if you complain that you have a right to judge and a right to persecute as part of your religion, is invalid. Bogus. False. Deceptive. Misleading. Intrusive. Groundless. And it should not be described as ‘Christian’, as it does not resemble the teaching of Christ.

  7. goatherd  •  Apr 8, 2014 @9:53 am

    Yes, If I recall correctly, Jesus, also known as Isa, is considered by some to be the first muslim.

    It seems curious to me that after living in rural NC for nearly two decades, there have been so few times that anyone ever mentioned Jesus, even in passing, while citing scripture. White, southern fundamentalists seem more focused on the Old Testament prophets, especially when they can be tweaked to be more relevant to current events or to support right wing talking points. It’s almost like the printers ran out of red ink, and sold their Bibles at a discount. To paraphrase Blackadder, “The Sermon on the Mount was something that happened for other people.”

    I think you can see this as one aspect of the “secularization” that people like Newt Gingrich rail against on the Sunday talks, but, wholeheartedly embrace and exploit as a means to power. The railing is just window dressing. The secularization of Christianity has served them well, and will for as long as they can convince enough of the electorate that they “speak for God.” But, in the end it degrades the religion they pretend to love.

    Gingrich as a Catholic had accepted the infallibility of the Pope. But, now that there is a pope that is regarded as more liberal, he’s not quite sure.

  8. uncledad  •  Apr 8, 2014 @11:58 am

    “Moss says there is little actual historical evidence to show that early Christians were persecuted all that much, many legends to the contrary”

    So nothing has changed, did the have FAUX news way back when?

  9. moonbat  •  Apr 8, 2014 @12:02 pm

    “There is no surer proof of Christ’s divinity than that he is still so hated some 2,000 years after his death.”

    This made me go to wikipedia for Coulter’s bio to verify that she indeed went to law school. She graduated from some top schools (BA from Cornell, JD from Univ of Michigan). It blows my mind that someone with such a good education (presumably including logic) can make such a stupid, illogical statement. But then, that’s what Ann does.

    To be charitable, Ann Coulter didn’t invent this statement, it’s a common belief among conservative Christian circles. This kind of jump into unreason (and there are many) is a large reason why I couldn’t stay among such people.

    “Members of any Christian group can claim to be persecuted as long as they feel opposed.”

    Substitute “right winger” for Christian and you’ve nailed the conservative victimhood thing. It’s the base justification for any kind of horrible behavior that follows.

  10. Doug  •  Apr 8, 2014 @12:16 pm

    Extending the Coulter reasoning and logic, if the hatred of Christ is proof of his divinity, then hatred of Adolph Hitler is proof that the Nazi cause was justified. Say what? It is the same logical structure. Coulter wanted to introduce as an assumption that liberals hate Christ, a postulation she can’t prove. So she sneaks it in as a clause in an irrational statement.

  11. Stephen Stralka  •  Apr 8, 2014 @12:22 pm

    Basically they skip all the stuff about blessed are the merciful, and blessed are the peacemakers, and blah blah blah, and go straight to Matthew 5:11.

    It’s all of a piece, really. These are the same people who read the Constitution, and the key takeaway for them is “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

  12. moonbat  •  Apr 8, 2014 @2:15 pm

    Basically they skip all the stuff about blessed are the merciful, and blessed are the peacemakers, and blah blah blah..

    Any sufficiently complex scripture – and the Bible and Quran make the grade – operates like a Rorshact test. What you see in it is a reflection of who you are.

    If your consciousness only extends to your family and tribe, you’ll mostly relate to the avenging God-is-on-OUR-side of the Old Testament.

    If your consciousness encompasses more of humanity and/or all of life, you’ll mostly relate to the stuff Jesus taught, probably most cogently in the Sermon on the Mount.

  13. uncledad  •  Apr 8, 2014 @2:55 pm

    “then hatred of Adolph Hitler is proof that the Nazi cause was justified”

    Most of the more radical conservatives I come across are seriously confused when it comes to Hitler, they like to think he was a progressive, what with that hate of the blacks, Jews and queers you know just like modern conservat….I mean libruls………..maybe they don’t hate Hitler after all which would prove the original point….now I’m confused again!

  14. maha  •  Apr 8, 2014 @4:41 pm

    Oh, yes, the Right wants to believe that Hitler was a left-wing socialist — it was the National Socialist Party, right? They refuse to see that fascism is right-wing craziness, not left-wing craziness.

  15. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Apr 8, 2014 @5:02 pm

    One of the problems, of course, is that “Christians will be persecuted” is biblical. Jesus warns that his followers will be facing big trouble for following him.

    One could ask whether he was referring to protesting against being ‘forced’ to buy health insurance wherein the insurance company will provide free birth control of a type that he probably wouldn’t give a damn about[1], or whether he was referring to standing up to the powerful in favor of the disadvantaged. But he did say his followers would be persecuted, and they should rejoice, for their reward in heaven was great.

    [1] Jewish law had a chance to speak about an actual fetus being a human being worthy of the protection of the law – it’s statement was that if you injure a pregnant woman and kill her, you get put to death, but if you just cause a miscarriage, it’s okay. They want to think Jesus would harsh on IUDs? Get real.

  16. Swami  •  Apr 8, 2014 @9:04 pm

    If your consciousness only extends to your family and tribe, you’ll mostly relate to the avenging God-is-on-OUR-side of the Old Testament.

    LOL! 🙂 Reminds me of watching Steve Reeves starring as Hercules where he’s leading a band of men through the wilderness and they come upon another group of men. The first thing they say to the opposing group is…Who is your God?

  17. Swami  •  Apr 8, 2014 @10:52 pm

    A high tech lynching is a form of persecution also.

  18. Swami  •  Apr 8, 2014 @11:29 pm

    The reason I know that Jesus is divine is because he told his immediate disciples to take up their cross and follow him. I kinda doubt that his disciples knew what he was talking about (a WTF moment?) seeing how the cross didn’t become a symbol of Christianity until well after his alleged disciples had long departed. And only God can see into the future…He knows the end from the beginning.

    In hoc signo vinces

  19. paradoctor  •  Apr 8, 2014 @11:35 pm

    I may be dead wrong here, but I suspect that this kind of unthinking opposition is ripe for political jujitsu. Just agree with them, in a way that serves your purpose. For instance, Obama xeroxing ACA from the Heritage Foundation. Of course, this example shows the problem with political jujitsu; you have to (partially) agree with them.

    Goatherd above noted that the fundies don’t quote Jesus. So why don’t we? If you don’t have to be Jewish to quote the Tanakh, then you don’t have to be Christian to quote the New Testament.

    In a related topic: I propose a trade. The Democrats claim Abraham Lincoln as one of their own; and in return the Republicans can have Andrew Jackson. A win-win!

  20. Swami  •  Apr 9, 2014 @1:21 am

    Here’s a little something to ponder in understanding the Christian mind.

    About a year ago my wife, my daughter, her children and several friends from her church went to the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando Florida. My mother -in-law who usually joins in on these theme park excursions didn’t go along because of her advanced age. When my wife was recounting the day’s event to her mother on the phone that evening she said they had a wonderful time and it was just like being in the Holy Land. Everything was just like it was in Jesus’ time. Then she said to her mother…”And the guy who played Jesus looked just like him”.
    I overheard the conversation and thought to myself… doesn’t a statement like that kinda give you an indication that you are the recipient of some sort of marketing ploy or your concepts have been formed by somebody other than yourself.. How can anybody know what Jesus looked like? Yet Christians have no trouble spotting a Jesus look-a-like.

  21. goatherd  •  Apr 9, 2014 @6:56 am

    ”And the guy who played Jesus looked just like him”.
    I overheard the conversation and thought to myself… doesn’t a statement like that kinda give you an indication that you are the recipient of some sort of marketing ploy?” Good point, Swami.

    Yes, paradoctor, quoting Jesus, works fairly well.

    I like the Rorschach test analogy too moonbat.

    I went to an Episcopal school in the USVI as a sprout. We had theology as a required subject. I still find it interesting, so I’ve read, some Armstrong, Pagels, Campbell, etc. As others have expressed here, I have high regard for Jesus and his teaching. I just look at him as more of a Buddha figure. That is, someone who found his Buddha nature and was compelled to follow it. I don’t expect my fundamentalist friends to understand my “belief” system, because I don’t really understand it myself, and I try not to cling to “belief” in favor of trying to be open to what the world and its creatures have on display. It’s a good plan, but, let’s just say that the results in terms of personal evolution have not been spectacular. I can live with that, but, a few extra lifetimes would definitely be helpful.

    I am reminded of that part of “The Fog of War” where McNamara talks about “empathizing with the enemy.” I don’t view people with different beliefs as “the enemy.” But, it is important to listen as attentively as you can and try to determine what they are searching for, what they want and what they are getting out of their particular way of being. Then ask questions.

    Sincere questions can make fools of us all.

  22. uncledad  •  Apr 9, 2014 @9:04 am

    “How can anybody know what Jesus looked like”

    Good question, I would say most modern “christians” would say they damn sure know what he didn’t look like!

  23. paradoctor  •  Apr 9, 2014 @10:22 am

    There’s plenty of pictures of Jesus. Zero historical support for those pictures, but they exist. And there’s pictures to fit every demographic. Blonde Jesuses, brunette Jesusus, ginger Jesuses, Asian Jesuses, African Jesuses; so what’s the problem?

  24. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 9, 2014 @10:51 am

    OT – AG Holder had the perfect response to Louis “GONE MAD!” Gohmert:
    “Good lock with your asparagus.”



  25. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 9, 2014 @10:52 am

    Luck, not lock.

  26. Loredena  •  Apr 9, 2014 @12:41 pm

    ” How can anybody know what Jesus looked like?”
    Actually, I think we can have a pretty good idea, it’s just not how he is portrayed in our western media.

    I expect he looked rather like some of my uncles: Olive skin, round head, deep set eyes, high cheekbones, curly dark hair, brown or black eyes, large honker of a nose…. He would have been strong, as a carpenter, might or might not have been relatively tall for his time (which would still be short for ours). Probably wore his hair long, had a full beard.

  27. Swami  •  Apr 11, 2014 @12:04 am


    Here’s a little something to get you wondering…a shit bag shyster. Some people just don’t quit with the lunacy( no pun intended). All of the people who listen to this blowhard windbag need to grow an effin’ brain. They are beyond gullible.. they’re mentally ill or have a severely diseased mind.

  28. Kaleberg  •  Apr 12, 2014 @12:20 am

    Some years back there was a book, The Man Eating Myth, that argued that there was no evidence of cannibalism, only evidence that others were accused of cannibalism. It was an intriguing hypothesis with a fair bit of good scholarship behind it. I, and others, had doubts. Cannibalism wasn’t always a vile accusation. The Maori admitted to it as their way when victorious in combat as did other groups. People in New Guinea admitted being cannibals, and there was kuru with its limited pathways of transmission and obvious presence. By the time paleontologists started checking human bones for signs of being butchered for meat, rather than butchered in the heat of battle, the book was effectively refuted. Clearly, not all accused of cannibalism were guilty, but there were cannibals.

    This book seems similar There’s an interesting and controversial hypothesis, I’m sure there are good arguments and probably some decent scholarship, though I’m giving the benefit of my ignorance here. On the other hand, there are copious accounts of the executions of Christians in the arenas. The Romans were literate, and there were an awful lot of accounts describing various “games” in which crimes and horrific punishments were enumerated. Many of these are copies of copies, but many are surviving artifacts. Rome had a pretty open culture with regards to religion, but not every religion was a religio licita. Judaism was legal as was the Mithras cult. Christianity was not. The punishment was often death.

    (Christianity was particularly popular among slaves since it allowed them to marry. It even allowed for secret marriages, something which would have been a contradiction in terms to contemporary Romans who regarded a marriage, by definition, to be a public affirmation. This probably explains all the resistance to same-sex marriage.)

  29. maha  •  Apr 12, 2014 @7:30 am

    Kaleberg — Don’t judge things you haven’t read. The author made copious use of those copious Roman records to make her arguments. She is not saying nobody was ever executed in the arena; she’s saying that Christians were not targeted for being Christians. All kinds of people commonly were executed for what we think of as minor infractions back then, and the Roman historical records show that when Christians were executed it wasn’t because they were Christians, but because they had run afoul of the law in some other way. Christianity was not illegal except for a period of no more than a dozen years, and in that time enforcement of the law was haphazard. The stories of Christians being rounded up wholesale to be fed to lions is strictly a Christian invention. It’s also the case that early Christendom went through a martyrdom craze in which people deliberately tried to get themselves martyred. The authorities did not always oblige them.

    Here’s a short review of the book that explains it.

  30. Doug  •  Apr 12, 2014 @10:13 pm

    Let me add my 2 cents where it won’t be read anyway. As a mailman, I case lots of magazines for delivery. One Christian mag, which leans to supporting missionary work always – I mean every month – leads with a front cover story about persecution around the world. I haven’t and can’t read content, but IMO, success stories should have the lead, but obviously in that market, it’s persecution that sells.

    I’ve always been cynical about missionary work that emphasizes bibles. Christ fed and healed people – the theme of service repeats and repeats through the Gospels – spreading the word is mentioned fairly incidentally and the recommendation to an apostle who encounters a town that will not accept the teaching, is to shake the dust off your feet on the way out. So I’m suspicious of organizations which purport to be ‘Christian’ but have no service mission and claim a mandate to teach where they aren’t welcome. The word ‘scam’ comes to mind. Somebody makes a lot of bucks printing bibles, I guess.

  31. maha  •  Apr 13, 2014 @7:19 am

    Regarding missionary work — there are places in the world where Christian missionaries really, really, really are not wanted. This is particularly true where missionaries were once an auxiliary of European colonial power. For example, big parts of what is now Sri Lanka were occupied by Europeans (Portuguese, then Dutch, then British) for more than five centuries before gaining independence after World War II. People’s collective memories of enforced Christianity during those years are not exactly warm and fuzzy. A lot of the Sinhalese really hate Christian missionaries and blame them for all kinds of social ills, not always fairly. Yet missionaries are still showing up there, usually evangelicals or Jehovah’s Witnesses or some such, and they seem to have no clue what went on during the colonial period and why the Sinhalese are suspicious of them. A few years ago a Sinhalese Catholic priest actually begged them to stay home, fearing a backlash that would affect the established Christian churches with native-born ministers.

    And after five centuries of mission work, right now only about 7 percent of the population of Sri Lanka is Christian, and that’s mostly Catholic. Catholics seem to do a better job of not pissing people off.

    Missionaries keep showing up in Asia thinking that if the simple brown natives could only hear about Jesus, they would drop their idolatry and convert. But by now they’ve all heard about Jesus. They’ve been hearing about Jesus for centuries. In many of these countries, the percentage of the population that is Christian hasn’t changed in decades, in spite of continued missions.

    If Christians in the West really wanted to move the needle, so speak, the way to do it wouldn’t be to keep sending more clueless missionaries, but to support the churches that are there and who have mostly figured out how to live harmoniously with everyone else.