I am writing this post in response to an article on Huffington Post where Candida Moss discusses the ‘myth’ of Christian persecution. Ms. Moss makes several valid points in this article but I think it wise to actually review the meaning and history of persecution before forming a reasonable opinion of her perspective. Most dictionaries define the term as any action which causes another to experience difficulty, inequality or suffering because of a difference in their beliefs.
Furthermore, religious persecution is a very real and ongoing problem that has existed for thousands of years. As an openly practicing pagan living in the extremely Christian southern United States, I have experienced different levels of persecution. For instance, we were denied a business license from the local city council, twice, when we first opened the Sanctuary of Light here. The council members confronted me directly about not being a Christian and suggested that since we pagans do not revere the Bible we would do better to establish our church well outside of city limits. We eventually received our license, but only by confronting the Mayor and threatening to litigate.
I have been publically spit on simply for walking down the street; my vehicle has been befouled with eggs and other filth; the windows of our Sanctuary were even wallpapered with Christian pamphlets proclaiming that hellfire and damnation await all who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Suffice it to say that I know what religious persecution is, in a very personal way.
Now, why did the local Christian population treat us this way? My thoughts go to a quote from Michael Gaddis, where he states that “The Christian experience of violence during the pagan persecutions shaped the ideologies and practices that drove further religious conflicts over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries… The formative experience of martyrdom and persecution determined the ways in which later Christians would both use and experience violence under the Christian empire. Discourses of martyrdom and persecution formed the symbolic language through which Christians represented, justified, or denounced the use of violence.”
Mr. Gaddis is correct, ancient pagans did indeed persecute the Christians. This is historical fact and cannot be denied; furthermore, we modern pagans are still paying for the behavior of our pagan ancestors toward early Christianity, as I have explained. Ms. Moss believes, and I quote, that “you can disagree with someone sharply on the basis of your religious beliefs without accusing them of persecution. When you say they’re persecuting you, you’re basically accusing them of acting with Satan.” This is indeed the justification given by Christian zealots who actively persecute others but one cannot follow this by saying that Christians themselves have not been persecuted. Clearly Ms. Moss does not understand the meaning of the term.
For hundreds of years under pagan Roman rule, if a Christian did not sacrifice to the Roman Gods he or she was guilty of breaking the law and would be put to death, usually publically in the great arena of Rome, torn apart by wild animals or some other gruesome demise. Their lands and property were confiscated, their lives forfeit. Ms. Moss may choose to ignore history but this is but one example of clear persecution, and for Roman Christians it did not officially end until the Edict of Milan was signed by Constantine in the fourth century. Of course, Christians actively persecuted each other as well in later centuries, such behavior coming to a head during the protestant reformation. Again, this is historical fact not subject to debate.
Even today, Christian missionaries are routinely harassed and in many cases are put to death if they travel to theocratic countries that are inherently unfriendly to the Christian faith. These missionaries are martyrs for their faith and this also cannot be denied. Humanity’s penchant for persecution is well established and one cannot escape the reality of human intolerance, whether one be Christian or Pagan, believer or atheist.
Treating someone with contempt or derision simply because you do not agree with their beliefs cannot be justified through the use of reason, for such behavior is not acceptable to the truly rational mind. One must respect the right of others to believe what they will even if those beliefs are clearly not correct. By all means, we must combat ignorance with information and reason, wherever we encounter it, but always with compassion and never with hatred and dismissal for such thinking leads us to become guilty of persecution ourselves.