- - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

By John L. Allen Jr.
Image, $25, 299 pages

“This book is devoted to documenting the vast scale of anti-Christian violence and persecution around the world, and to debunking the chronic mythology that too often impedes a clear understanding of this global war on Christians.”

The above quote summarizes the purpose, evidence and analysis of John A. Allen Jr., the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Register, regarding the worldwide phenomenon of anti-Christian persecution.

Demographers of religion have given clear evidence that being a Christian has always been dangerous. It has been determined that since the beginning of the church, 70 million have been martyred for their faith, either for doctrinal reasons or because of the moral stance the Gospel demands.

A Pew Study on Religion and Public Life showed that between 2006 and 2010, Christians were being harassed in three-quarters of the world’s nations. It is estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 Christians are martyred every year. Mr. Allen puts flesh on these statistics with qualitative data, which includes the names of contemporary martyrs, and underlying causes for their persecution gleaned from well documented sources.

According to Mr. Allen, it is a myth to believe that it’s “only persecution if the motives are religious, rather than seeing Christians as martyrs every time they put their safety at risk on the basis of their faith.”

He shows how “forces other than religious hatred — greed, ethnic rivalry, criminal intent, and ethnic ambition may be the key motives for crimes perpetuated against Christians.” However, he counsels that we need to understand not only why someone committed the act, but also why the target was in a position where it could happen. This greatly expands the readers’ understanding of Christian persecution.

Mr. Allen’s research provides examples of this nuanced understanding by identifying two different types of martyrdom, which helps explain his thesis. The first category is “martyrs of charity,” so named by Pope John Paul II. He uses the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe (1941), who offered his life in place of a stranger condemned to death by the Nazis.

The other category, “martyrs for truth,” designates those such as Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi (1998), who was killed by the Guatemalan military for his efforts in promoting social justice after a long and bloody civil war, and the case of a devout Mexican woman, Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who was brutally murdered in 2012 for speaking out against gangs and drug cartels.

By showing the worldwide and diverse causes of hostility to Christianity, Mr. Allen debunks the myth that Islam is the main culprit. He blames this perception on a disproportionate share of American media and foreign-policy attention directed at the Middle East since Sept. 11, 2001. To back this assertion he exposes the atrocities committed by Indian Hindus, Sri Lankan Buddhists, the persecutions in Christian countries, such as Eritrea, Belarus, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the horrors Christians endure in atheist China and North Korea. He says that social forces in these countries contrive against Christians because their Gospel values shape their actions, which counsel human dignity, respect for conscience, social justice and opposition to organized crime.

Our understanding of the plight of Christians is further expanded by Mr. Allen when he indicts liberal Western societies for their growing attacks on religious freedom. He points to a 2012 statement made by Archbishop William Lori, before the House Judiciary Committee: “The bishops of the United States have watched with increasing alarm as this great national legacy of religious liberty has been subject to ever more frequent assault and ever more rapid erosion.” He points to the harassment and discriminatory practices by the Department of Health and Human Services, whose mandates require abortion and contraception to be included in faith-based organization counseling for human-trafficking victims, as well as in insurance plans under Obamacare.

He also exposes growing restrictions on religious speech and relates how a Pentecostal pastor in Sweden was convicted for hate speech when he condemned homosexuality as “a deep, cancerous tumor on all society.”

Observing the growing anti-Christian legislation, Francis Cardinal George ominously stated in 2011, “I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr.”

As distressful as persecution is, Mr. Allen is optimistic that its results may be encouraging a greater ecumenism among Christian denominations, as well as providing a boon for evangelization efforts. This was true for the early church, wherein Tertullian (197) proclaimed that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Mr. Allen says that Tertullian’s aphorism is confirmed by evidence that suggests that when martyrdom does occur, “it’s an enormously powerful resource for introducing people to the faith, or renewing it in those whom the faith has grown cold. Even for people hostile to religion or to Christianity in particular, the martyrs represent Christianity at its most attractive.”

The Rev. Michael P. Orsi is chaplain and research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla.

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