Posts Tagged ‘persecution’

Book Plunge: The Myth of Persecution

September 12, 2014

What do I think of Candida Moss’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend took a photo of this book in a bookstore and sent it to me asking if I’d review it. Naturally, I said I’d see if I could find it and fortunately, I found it at the local library and ordered it eager to find out just how exactly Candida Moss had found out something that no other historian had found out in all these years. What I found out rather was that like many other revisionists, Moss sees all the evidence in favor of her position as ironclad and everything contrary to it as reason to be skeptical.

Moss actually plays her hand throughout the book saying how she wants there to be more constructive dialogue and that can’t be had as long as one side is saying that they are persecuted. Now if all Moss had said had been that the persecution card is played way too easily by both sides, there would have been no complaint. Indeed, Christians have too often played the persecution card. If you’re told to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” when you work at a department store, that could be silly and irrational and anything else, but it is hardly worth calling persecution when other Christians are losing their lives elsewhere.

But if Christians can play the card too lightly, Moss’s problem is she only plays it in one situation. If people are being killed, then that’s persecution, but if the government is not actively killing Christians, then she says persecution wasn’t going on. Much of the persecution going on would have been social  It could occur in being ostracized from society, being treated as shameful and deviant, loss of property, not being given basic rights in society, etc. This would have resulted in killing in severe cases.

Now Moss to an extent does recognize that there was a reason the Roman Empire did not like Christians, but she doesn’t really paint the full picture of it. Religion and politics would have been inseparable in the days of the Roman Empire and to go against the religious cult of the day, which would not include Jesus, would mean going against the political system. In short, being a Christian would be seen as being a rebel against the Roman Empire, especially if what you were saying was that your god, Jesus, was King.

Moss also at times in the book says statements that she does not back with sources. For instance, on page 16, she says “Scholars of early Christianity agree that there is very little evidence for the persecution of Christians.”

Perhaps they do. What would have been helpful is to see this claim which could in fact be a central point to her book be backed by naming some of these scholars. The reader who is wanting to know who these scholars are however will be disappointed. Moss doesn’t list them. The unaware reader will be caught off guard by such a statement. The aware one wants to see a statement backed with evidence.

Moss also tries to show a history of martyrdom, yet quite interestingly, sometimes the facts don’t really go that way, but she’s willing to show martyrdom anyway! For instance, consider Daniel and his three young friends. Do they count as Christian martyrs? Moss tries to show that they would have fit into a culture of martyrdom yet on page 48 says

Apart from the fact that Daniel and the three young men don’t die, these are exactly like Christian martyrdom stories. A pious individual refuses to perform some action because it goes against religious law and is condemned to death. This idea is linked to the expectation that the person will be rewarded for piety and the opponents will be punished. Everything we need for martyrdom we can find in Daniel.

Why yes! We have a perfect story of martyrdom here! You just have to ignore the fact that Daniel and three young men DID NOT DIE. Yes. That’s a minor little detail but aside from them dying for their beliefs, everything else is like they did die for their beliefs.

When she gets around to the claim of Tacitus, she uses many of the kinds of arguments we would expect from Christ-mythers. For instance, she says that it is anachronistic for Tacitus to use the term “Christians” since at the time of the great fire, the followers of Jesus would not be known as Christians. This is something that could be disputed, but let’s accept that it’s true purely for the sake of argument.

At the time Tacitus is writing this, the people who would read his book would know exactly who he was talking about. What would be problematic about him using a name like Christian to refer to a group that was the same in the content of their beliefs in the past? Is there a problem with using a term that would be a modern understanding of a group if it in fact identifies that group?

Also, she says that the writing takes place fifty years after the events. To this, the reply is “And?” Most of the writings of Plutarch take place that much later. Much of the other events described in Tacitus’s writings also occurred 50+ years later. Does Moss want to equally extend doubt to other writings of ancient history because of a time gap that is really small by the standard of ancient history?

Moss also tells of how Polycarp was made to be like Jesus. In a sense, this is true. Polycarp would want to act like Jesus in how He died. This is common. Yet when she does this, she twists the story. On page 63, she says Polycarp is betrayed by someone close to him. Indeed, he was. We could think that this would fit in perfectly with the Judas image, but let’s look at what the account actually says:

CHAPTER 6

6:1 And when those who sought him continued in the pursuit, he departed unto another villa, and straightway they who sought him came up. And when they found him not, they apprehended two lads, of whom the one, when put to the torture, confessed.

6:2 For it was impossible for him to escape their notice, since they who betrayed him were of his own household. For the Eirenarchus, which is the same office as Cleronomus, Herodes by name, hasted to bring him into the arena, that he indeed might fulfil his proper lot, by becoming a partaker of Christ, and that they who betrayed him might undergo the same punishment as Judas.

Yes. The similarities are right there. We all remember in the Gospel accounts how Judas was captured by the Sanhedrin and then tortured until he fessed up to Jesus’s whereabouts and….wait. What’s that? Judas wasn’t tortured but gave the information on his own so that Jesus could be arrested? Hmmm. That does change things a little doesn’t it?

Like I said earlier, Moss too often accepts evidence easily that agrees with her and disregards that which doesn’t. If a text could have any editing or theological addition in it or anything that Moss just doesn’t understand, then we should consider it absolutely worthless as a historical account. If instead there is something that goes with her theory, we should accept it wholeheartedly without much in-depth looking.

For instance, Moss on page 144 writes about how the Christians presented themselves to C. Arrius Antoninus and desired to be executed in 185 A.D. This governor told them all to just go home. Moss sees this as Christians seeking martyrdom. Could it not just as well be a response to martyrdom going on and the Christians saying “Hey. If you want to deal with us, come here and get us!” It could be they would also be aware how problematic it would appear to the populace for the governor to go after a group of people like that. Consider it a challenge.

Moss also writes about a Christian monk named Shenoute in the fifth century who reportedly said “There is no crime for those who have Christ” in order to explain the destruction of a pagan temple. Did he says this? It would be nice to know, but in the endnote, all Moss has is a reference to an author who used that as the title of his book. It would have been better to have had a source of the original quotation itself. Perhaps Gaddis, who shes get it from, did get it from an original source. Should I not have that cited instead? What if I want to see the quote in its original context?

Now Moss is certainly right that too many people do look at treatment they consider persecution and say “I must be doing something right!” This is not the case. Biblically, if you are living a godly life in Christ Jesus, you expect to be persecuted, but because you are persecuted, it does not mean that you are doing something right.

The best way I can think of to conclude this is with the work of Dr. Michael Bird.

I’ve taught Christians from persecuted churches in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, China, and Egypt. Persecution is no myth. These Christians, average men and women like you and I, have either seen or experienced some of the most unspeakable and inhumane evils one could mention. There is no myth here, only a cold and brutal evil that is faced by innocents.

Moss is obviously a religious academic superstar in the making. She did a great job on the Bill O’Reilly show giving his “Republican Jesus” a good going over. The Yanks will love her pommy accent. However, I can’t help but think that a few weeks visiting churches in Juba, Karachi, Alexandria, or Lebanon might give her some life experience to better inform her own career for a life in academics and the media. It’s one thing to write about the myth of persecution from the safety of a professorial chair with minions chanting for more tweets to bash the religious right; but it might be a harder myth to perpetuate after listening to a mother in Juba telling you what a Muslim mob did to her eighteen month year old son.

Yes. It would be interesting to see if Moss and her fans would be willing to go to these countries and see this going on and write the same thing. (Keep in mind as I write this that ISIS is the major threat right now and I know of no place where a site like “Voice of the Martyrs” was interacted with in the book) For now, I must conclude that Moss has shown instead that if you ignore everything opposed to you and emphasize everything that works in your favor, it’s easy to make a historical case. The problem with it is just that it won’t be true.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Real Persecution

August 25, 2014

Are you really undergoing suffering for Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

 

Just this weekend, I was involved with a debate on Facebook with what I believe to be a cult or at least cultic sacred namer type. That’s one of those that insists on using specifically Hebrew names for God and Jesus and usually suggesting Yeshua is a not the correct name. There’s a major emphasis on that in groups like this along with a rejection of many orthodox beliefs seen as “pagan” and an insistence on keeping the Law.

I was able to handle everything this person said and pointed out they said nothing in reply to my responses, until they gave the line to one of their fellows who had popped in recently that they were just getting the same kind of treatment that Jesus got that eventually got them nailed to the cross.

At this, I was quite angry. Why? It’s not because a cult group was doing this. Real Christians make statements like this way too often. It’s because when this is done, it’s a real insult to people who are really being persecuted. 

As I pointed out, right now, there are Christians in the Middle East who are being killed for their belief in Jesus by ISIS right now. We should all agree that this is a real evil that should be stopped. Now whether you agree or disagree with Christianity, there can be no doubt that these are true faithful Christians who are willing to pay the price for what they believe.

Too often in our culture, we look at anything that happens to us and cry out “persecution!” Now I do not think everything that happens to us is right of course. There is an increasing tendency by certain groups out there to put as many limits on Christian expression in public places as possible. There is also the outcry from the homosexual community that we must change our beliefs or at least not state them publicly and must recognize a man-man or a woman-woman unit as a valid marriage. People who have refused have even been told to take classes so they can learn to change their minds. 

Some of these are getting close. We should all be on guard in this case and ready to stand up for what it is we believe in. Frankly, I’ll state everyone should be ready to do that. Whatever your worldview is, if you really think it’s true, you should stand up for it and you have all right to do so, especially here in America. If you think something should be illegal or legal, stand up for it and argue for it in the marketplace of ideas.

Yet Christians too often copy the world in one false notion. They play the victim. Many things that happen to us are not persecution. If someone disagrees with you in public and challenges your position, you are not being persecuted. Have it be that they pull a gun on you and tell you to stop talking about Jesus and I’ll agree you’re being persecuted.

When we use the term persecution too lightly, we remove from it the real meaning it should have. If you live in America and you’re reading this and you’re a Christian, it’s quite likely you went to church yesterday. You freely worshiped in a public place and had no fear of the government or Muslim terrorists coming in and killing you. You carried your own Bible and didn’t fear a police force stopping you and confiscating it from you. Some of you might have went out to eat afterwards in your Sunday best and everyone would have known you went to church and yet you feared no reprisals. 

When you get home, it could be you have several books on your bookshelf that are also Christian in nature. You could go to a bookstore and buy more if you wanted to or go on Amazon and freely order them. You would have no fear if you did the latter of the government come and checking your packages to make sure you weren’t getting anything illegal.

Do you pause in all of this to take a moment to realize how grateful you should be?

Many of us can have multiple Bibles on our shelves. I do. It’s good to study many translations. Do you know how many Christians in persecuted parts of the world would be thrilled to just have a piece of that Bible that you have? If they had but one passage of Scripture, they would be studying that passage endlessly. They long to do this, and meanwhile many of our Bibles gather dust on our bookshelves.

Most of you today are going to go through your day without fear of dying for your faith. You’re not risking your lives by reading the Bible or going to a church to worship. If this is you, you’re not really undergoing persecution yet. Oh there could be some beginning stages going on, but you haven’t been hit with the real deal as of this point.

In fact, let’s make a few other points clear.

First, to deal with any misconceptions, just because you’re being persecuted, it does not mean that your beliefs are true. Many belief systems were persecuted throughout history and are being persecuted. I say this because I do know non-Christians read this as well and I am in no way saying “Because Christians are persecuted, Christianity is true.” (Though I do find it interesting that Christianity is usually singled out.) What it can demonstrate is that you certainly believe that Christianity is true.

Second, let’s be careful about any boasts that we make. Some of you might be being asked “Would you be willing to die for Jesus?” I never answer this question with “Definitely! You bet!” Why is that? Because centuries ago there was a man who said he would never deny the Lord and would die for Him if he had to. This man was Peter, the same Peter who denied the Lord three times to save his own hide. Take that as a word of warning. Those who are the ones who boast about how they cannot fall or fail are usually setting themselves up for just that. I answer this question by saying “I hope that if it ever came to that, the Lord would give me the strength to do just that.”

Third, let’s make sure to give thanks for what it is that we have. We should absolutely be praying for the persecuted church. My wife and I do every night. If you want to know what is really going on, an excellent place to go is to Voice of the Martyrs. This is a fine ministry that’s doing its part to help the persecuted church and is certainly worthy of your prayers and financial support. If my wife and I had the funds to give to another ministry today, this one I think would be at the top of the list.

Fourth is that I am not a pacifist. I in fact fully support military action against those who do seek to do evil. Part of doing our part includes rescuing those who are suffering. If someone was threatening you and your family, I would hope that you would take whatever action necessary to protect your family. These Christians in the Middle East are your family too. They’re your brothers and sisters in Christ and it is just fine to want to protect them. 

If we regularly keep saying that we are going through persecution when we are not, then we do raise ourselves up, but we do so by lowering the sacrifice of so many around the world, such as those suffering under ISIS who are really paying the ultimate price. We are not at this point and we should not take a term that really applies to them and give it to us.

Give thanks for what you have, but meanwhile, pray for and support the persecuted church. This is your family that’s dying after all. 

When God Does Not Justify Someone

November 8, 2013

Can God be used as an excuse to violate the law? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Awhile back, I wrote a post about a snake handler named Andrew Hamblin. Many of you might not know about him although the Huffington Post did write an article on him. Last night while Allie and I were watching CBS here in TN where Hamblin has his church, we were surprised to see this news story about state officials telling Hamblin he will need to appear in court and confiscating the snakes. They’re to be held at the Knoxville Zoo. (And since this is free zoo weekend, we might get to see them.)

Now already several people on Hamblin’s Facebook page are saying that they’re praying for him. That’s fine and understandable. A number of others are saying that they bet this wouldn’t have happened if Hamblin had been a Muslim. Obviously, it’s just Christianity that’s being targeted.

Well, not really.

My wife has an interest in foxes and she would not mind owning a fox someday. Even to do something like that requires proper licensing since a fox is an exotic animal by most standards. If you take a dog or a cat into your home, no big deal. Foxes are a different animal and you need a permit to own a fox and the law stipulates what kinds of foxes you may own.

How much more so for holding a poisonous snake, a snake that if it gets out of control could result in the death of someone, no matter how well-meaning and strong in their “faith” that person might be. There is a reason our state has these laws.

Want to know what they are? Well I found a good look at them here.

Just look under Class I and go down to reptiles. What do you see?

“(ii) Order Serpentes: Snakes – All poisonous species; and”

Yes. Poisonous snakes are included right here in the very first class. If you go down to the end, you’ll see the requirements for having class I animals under your care. They’re quite severe, and for good reason! If you put dangerous animals in the hands of people who don’t know how to handle them, you’re practically asking for pain, and that could be not just your own pain but the pain of others.

Hamblin is set to appear in court next week. I do not know what he will say, but I can say that whatever it is, God is not a valid excuse for breaking the law.

A similar situation is found with the story of the man in Arizona who had a Bible study that was raided by police and took to jail. People immediately cited this as persecution, but you can see even from the Christian Post many details not often told in that story. Those are available here.

Were Arizona, which by the way is a very red state politically, wanting to target Bible studies, we would be hearing many more such stories. It would not be just one person. Yet strangely enough, no doubt hundreds or thousands of Bible studies go on just fine in Arizona without people having any fear whatsoever. What must be asked is “Why is this one case different?” If you can find circumstances that make it different, then you see what is going on. It is not the similarity that matters (All such groups are studying the Bible) but the differences. (Is the one with the leader arrested violation of any laws?)

It would not do for that pastor to say “I’m doing this for God, therefore it’s okay” and it won’t do for Hamblin. Now I personally think that we have no biblical basis to take up snakes the way Hamblin and his church does. If these people want to show their faith and devotion to God, they can start by going over to where real persecution is going on such as in Muslim nations or in China or North Korea and other such places and serve as missionaries. They can also do so with no guarantee whatsoever that God is obligated to protect them. Missionaries can still die in the service after all.

The proper way to show your faith is not to take up serpents. An unbelieving world is not convinced of Christianity by that. Instead, they are sadly convinced of the opposite. They are convinced that Christians are crazy and will believe anything just because they see it in the Bible. It would also be interesting to see if this church kept any poison on the grounds for the people to regularly drink since the same verse says those who took up serpents would also drink poison. We could also point out that Isaiah 43:2 says that when you walk through fire you will not be burned. If they want to be this literal with messages, then set up bonfires and let them start walking and see what happens.

The danger is here that if we say “We are doing this for God, therefore it’s okay” then we make God a justification to forthrightly violate the laws of the land, and where will it end? If I think I have to give the gospel to someone immediately, can I drive down the road at 100 MPH and go around school buses that are stopped all because I’m doing this for God? If I think someone is living a sinful life and if they keep going down that road they will hurt others, am I allowed to kill them because I am doing this for God?

I’ve used a mild example and a serious example both to show the point. Neither one of those work. The law has requirements set on poisonous animals and there’s no place for an ethic that says “Whatever you do, if you do it for God, it is good.” We can be sure Hamblin would not think that the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 was good, though the Jews doing it certainly thought they were doing it for God. Paul himself thought he was serving God when he was persecuting the church.

Now am I saying there is no place for civil disobedience of any sort? No. But there are conditions that must be met!

For instance, there is no explicit command to take up serpents in Scripture. (I do dispute Mark 16:9-20 being authentic and either way, it no more commands us to do this than it commands us to go out and drink poison.) Now there are explicit commands to preach the gospel, such as the Great Commission. Thus, part of being a faithful Christian is the preaching of the gospel. If the authorities try to silence the preaching of the gospel, then in this case we must be faithful because if we will either violate the law of the land or the commands of God, we must choose to honor the commands of God.

Christians today also hold that homosexual behavior is immoral. Therefore, by our own moral standards, we should not be forced to celebrate what we think is immoral. This is why a photographer who does not think she should photograph a lesbian ceremony should not be prosecuted. This is a conscience clause. A Christian photographer should not be forced to do what she considers inherently immoral.

Note with that last one that it could be the Christian is entirely wrong in their opinion for the sake of argument, but the question is should the law be forced to make someone do what they have moral and religious grounds against doing and in a way that is not harmful to others. There are plenty of other photographers that can do the job after all and this kind of activity makes it easy for the homosexual community to simply out those who disagree with them by looking up Christian photographers, know they will refuse, and then take them to court. (A friend and I have wondered what it would mean to go to a homosexual bakery and ask to have a cake with Romans 1:21-27 on it. Could we go to a Muslim deli and force them also to serve pork?)

The greatest tragedy of all is that when people like Hamblin do what they do, they get a spotlight that the media is all too happy to give them. Such a spotlight becomes an embarrassment to the Christian church. Like it or not, it will fit a stereotype that will fall right in line with the new atheist paradigm of Christians.

Insofar as possible, Christians should seek to live under the law of the land. Had Hamblin wanted to own snakes like this properly, there was a right way to do it and he chose not to do it that way. In doing so, he put himself and others at risk. Also, I contend that he violated a commandment of God by putting God to the test. In the end, God will not be mocked. He will not accept being used as an excuse to justify our wrongdoing.

The best thing for Hamblin to do in my opinion now would be to admit that he did violate the law and pay the price. If we make this out to be persecution, we draw attention to those violating the law and unfortunately, draw it away from real persecution that is going on. It is a horrible action to take such an event and call it persecution when we realize Christians are being put to death in other countries simply for owning a Bible. (And by the way, those Christians care a lot more about having a solid Christian foundation and education than most Christians over here do. Mike Licona, for instance, spoke in Indonesia which has the largest percentage of Muslims in the world and could speak for six hours on the resurrection to a crowd eager for it.) If Hamblin wants to have the snake church, then he must try to find a way to do so legally, though I suspect he won’t. If he cannot, then he must find another capacity with which to serve.

Until then, the media will unfortunately be having a heyday with this and statements from a “pastor” will be seen to have great authority, despite Hamblin not really being equipped as a pastor. When the church highlights people like Hamblin, we will get a certain result. Were someone like Licona instead highlighted more often, the church will get a quite different result. The question is which result do we want?

I know where I stand, and it is the stand I am convinced God has honored and will honor.

In Christ,
Nick Peters