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Christians have persecution complex, historian says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A historian claims that many stories about the persecution of early Christians were invented or exaggerated to further the religion. Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame maintains Christianity is so laden with such tales that it has given rise to a myth of persecution among modern believers. A Catholic, Moss expects her claims to be the source of irritation to the faithful - but that they're missing the point.

LOS ANGEELS, CA (Catholic Online) - Moss, from South Bend, Indiana, claims only a handful of martyrdom stories ever actually occurred and there was no widespread Roman persecution. The stories were largely invented to inspire loyalty among the masses.

Moss says that modern Christians to drop the victim complex inherited from them. "Christians were never the victims of sustained, targeted persecution. The idea of the persecuted church is almost entirely the invention of the 4th century and later," she adds.

The author says the "Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs" needs to be debunked as there is little historical evidence that it occurred. Many were killed, she argues, because they failed to follow Roman rules rather than the empire's fear of their religion.

"If persecution is to be defined as hostility toward a group because of its religious beliefs, then surely it is important that the Romans intended to target Christians," she writes. "Otherwise this is prosecution, not persecution."

She says this misunderstanding of when people are disagreeing and persecuting is clear among many modern Christians. She says that the rhetoric in debates on issues such as gay marriage and abortion often strays into the realms of Christians being persecuted when in fact it's a difference of opinion.

Citing modern examples, Moss discusses such issues as the perceived attack on Christmas. She also points to language used by politicians from Newt Gingrich to Mitt Romney.

Her views on the matter have unsurprisingly raised a few eyebrows and other academics and theologians have dismissed it is an attack. 

"To deny the history of the movement is a way of attacking the movement," Christian historian Rev. Robert Morgan told CNN.

"Christians do not have a victim's mentality. 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."

Moss says that she is being misunderstood. "I completely sympathize with [my critics'] concern that in writing a book like this maybe I will make people less interested in persecution that is happening around the world," she said.

"I do care. I think we should care about those who are oppressed. I don't think misusing the category here in America draws attention to persecution around the world. I think it cannibalizes those experiences. It steals their thunder."

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