Episode 113: The Myth of Martyrdom (Part 1) with guest Candida Moss

myth_of_persecutionJesus famously told his disciples “take up your cross and follow me” and the church has proudly circulated stories of Christian martyrs ever since. Stories of believers who refused to renounce their faith in the face of persecution inspire some to great acts of heroism but can also promote a spirit of victimization. In her new book “The Myth of Christian Persecution” Candida Moss argues that the martyrdom stories from the first centuries of the Christian church have been exaggerated, and in many cases completely fabricated. Contrary to popular accounts of church history there never was any widespread systematic persecution of Christians in the first centuries of the common era. Join us as we discuss her fascinating book.
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  1. ullrich fischer says

    Another great episode. The following thought came up for me in response to your comments on terrorism: Non-governmental terrorism is A Bad Idea not because it is always unjustified, just that governments are so much better at terrorism and at spinning it to the public, so all you can hope to accomplish by non-governmental terrorism is your own death, the deaths of innocents, and a general loss of public support for your cause. With the advent of the internet, and while it is still largely outside of direct government control, it is a much better idea to make your case in the myriad forums available through the internet.

    Wow! This form has a truly absurd spell-checker. It is flagging “internet” as a spelling error!

  2. Lausten North says

    I know I harp on this. We need to get past being surprised that there are liberal Christians. I’m sure Notre Dame holds on to a lot of fundamentalists values, but they are an institution of learning. It was the professors in seminaries in the last century that taught the actual history of the Bible that gave us the likes of Bart Ehrmann and others. If we aren’t aware of the reforms that are going on within churches, then we can’t support them. We don’t need to know every detail, but we look uninformed and ignorant if aren’t aware of any of it.

    Besides that 2 second comment (“does Notre Dame know about this”), great show as always!!

  3. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Lausten North #3:

    We need to get past being surprised that there are liberal Christians.

    Article: Wikipedia – Liberal Christianity

    Liberal Christianity was most influential with mainline Protestant churches in the early 20th century, when proponents believed the changes it would bring would be the future of the Christian church.
    However, liberal or mainline churches in America experienced a decline in membership of 70%-from 40% of the American Christian population to 12%—between 1930 and 2000, now being no longer “mainstream”, but a small minority, where the evangelical denominations have grown greatly in size, and the Catholic Church has seen more modest gains.

  4. Indigenous Atheist says

    Thanks guys, another piece of the ” making-sense-of-religion” jigsaw puzzle has been put in place.

    Ps. I like Dave’s pedanticism because I too NEED TO KNOW every little detail of a story. :)

  5. Lausten North says

    I have no idea what you are saying with your unreferenced Wiki-statistic. The increasing acceptance of the LGBT community and a Pope with Liberation Theology roots says far more. Even if there were less, knowing who they are would be just as valuable.

  6. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Lausten North#7:

    The increasing acceptance of the LGBT community and a Pope with Liberation Theology roots says far more.

    Liberal Christianity != Christians who are politically liberal

    Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma.

    The style of Scriptural hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible) within liberal theology is often characterized as non-propositional. This means that the Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements, but instead an anthology that documents the human authors’ beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historical or cultural context.

  7. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Lausten North#7:

    I have no idea what you are saying with your unreferenced Wiki-statistic.

    What you reacted to in the podcast @14:47:

    Stories of persecution in general have been used for millennia since the very beginning of the christian church to promote zeal for the faith. They’ve been used to inspire people to do noble deeds. And they’ve been used to enforce allegiance amongst members of the church.
    She’s written a new book that advances the thesis that a lot of these martyr stories are in fact myths.
    Does Notre Dame know she wrote this book? *chuckle*
    From reading the book, you get the idea that this stuff is fairly common knowledge in the academic community, and it’s just about addressing that popular belief that for the first 300 years of Christianity, they were systematically and continuously persecuted.

    The topic was contradicting popular dogma and misconception with scholarship. You mentioned Bart Ehrman, and said “We need to get past being surprised that there are liberal Christians.”
    I responded with a statistic suggesting why meeting a christian with that theology would be surprising, and a link to the description (seeing the bible as subject to modern scholarship, rather than dogmatic creeds and miracle assertions). There’s a Barna report (evangelical polling firm) and Gallup if you prefer.

  8. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Oh, I had a brain fart composing my previous comment #7:

    I quoted the “liberal” theology definition rather than how the “mainline” churches actually incorporate it.
    Article: Wikipedia – Mainline Protestant:

    In practice, mainline churches tend to be theologically moderate and influenced by higher criticism, an approach used by scholars to separate the Bible’s earliest historical elements from perceived later additions and intentional distortions. Mainline denominations generally teach that the Bible is God’s Word in function, but that it must be interpreted both through the lens of the cultures in which it was originally written, and examined using God-given reason.

    A 2008 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 22 percent of the 7,500 mainline Christians surveyed said the Bible is God’s Word and is to be interpreted as literally true, word for word. Thirty-eight percent thought that the Bible is God’s Word but is not to be taken literally, word for word. Twenty-eight percent said the Bible was not the Word of God but was of human origin.

  9. Lausten North says

    “Liberal Christianity != Christians who are politically liberal”

    Ahh, we’re talking about two completely different things. That explains it.

  10. Curt Cameron says

    ullrich fischer wrote:
    Wow! This form has a truly absurd spell-checker. It is flagging “internet” as a spelling error!

    The word “Internet” is supposed to be capitalized – could that be it? My browser (Chrome) doesn’t flag it with a lower-case “i,” but maybe yours does.

  11. deltamachina says

    The Culture Industry – The Ideology of Death



  12. Dan says


    Are you seriously trying to say the new Pope is theologically liberal? For one thing, he doesn’t accept liberation theology like you claim, but in fact helped attempt to stamp liberation theology out in South America.

    Have you heard his views on the LGBT and secular community? Calling gay people disturbed individuals, saying the devil invented same-sex marriage, and claiming that atheists pray to Satan is not very liberal. He also says that gay adoption shouldn’t be allowed because it is “discrimination against children.” He is no theological liberal. Politically he may not be as far right-wing on economic issues as many American Republicans, but as far as I can tell his social views on issues like LGBT rights, contraception, abortion, and women’s rights are about as liberal as Rick Santorum’s.

  13. Lausten North says

    I said “roots”, meaning he was there. He neither led the movement nor helped “stamp it out”. The whole Pope thing is peripheral to my point anyway. I’m not going to analyze the details of Popedom.

  14. Dan says


    One of your main points was that we were ignoring how influential liberal Christianity is, and the pope’s supposed liberalism was 1 of only 2 examples you used to back up your claim. My point is that you have an extremely confusing definition of liberal if you think that word describes the current pope. I don’t see why you think the point is peripheral, when that was 50% of your evidence

    And the current pope certainly does not have “roots” in liberation theology. He loudly denounced the movement, and helped assist the Vatican when they sent high ranking officials to South America to threaten priests supporting liberation theology with excommunication.

  15. Lausten North says

    I spend an inordinate amount of time on religious chat sites, so when I say that I don’t have time to sort out how you are misconstruing my words, not mention making a mockery of statistical analysis, you might want to take that to heart.

  16. Dan says

    OK, I’ll take it to heart that you are too busy commenting on religious chat sites to correct your misinformation about the influence of liberation theology on the current ‘liberal’ Pope.

    (If I said something similar to your claim, like that Michele Bachmann’s positions have secular humanism roots and her prominence shows how tolerant the modern-day GOP is, I would anticipate that I might have to justify that claim, but your time is your time, so enjoy yourself.)

  17. Indigenous Atheist says

    @ andrewryan

    Thanks for your correction, the word I should have used is “pedantry”. I knew that as soon as I had clicked on the “Submit Comment” button [of course].

    By they way, one of my favourite Rugby League footbal players is named Andrew Ryan, he captained the Canterbury Bulldogs.

  18. Andrew Ryan says

    Indigenous Atheist, yes that’s me.
    Not really, and I’m not the villain of BioShock either. I am, however, Carl Sagan’s third wife.

    I don’t normally correct people’s grammar/spelling etc, but I thought it appropriate given that you were discussing pedantry to be a bit pedantic myself!

  19. Sixtus says

    I would think there were much better theologians out in the Catholic World that this would have been brought out to the public along time ago! Apparently the Christians sent to the Coliseum to be eaten by Lions, the Apostles who Martryed is just lies! What liberal think tank did you come out of!!! I mean you have no better to do than Satan’s work who is the Master of lies and the Prince of Darkness! Perhaps you’ll blasphem the Lord Jesus Christ with some more of Satan’s fairy tales!!! If I were you I would repent and come back to Christ your Savior!

  20. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    I would think there were much better theologians out in the Catholic World that this would have been brought out to the public along time ago!

    It’s been known that they were myths for a while. This book is just a reminder for the general public.
    Most people who call themselves christians barely learn doctrines and a few stories about the bible they heard in church, much less actually read through the bible (to see whether the stories were really in there as described), let alone follow biblical scholarship or classical history.

    I mean you have no better to do than Satan’s work who is the Master of lies and the Prince of Darkness! Perhaps you’ll blasphem the Lord Jesus Christ with some more of Satan’s fairy tales!!!

    Clearly, you are all-knowing and infallable.
    If someone points out your ignorance they must be a liar.
    They words you used are spelled “Colosseum”, “martyred”, and “blaspheme” by the way.
    Oh no, all the dictionaries are allied with Satan too!

  21. hypatiasdaughter says

    I think people are getting Liberation theology, Liberal xtian and Liberal theology mixed up (but I am no expert and may be using the wrong vernacular for them).
    Liberation theology – interpreting the words of Jesus as a call to action to aid the poor
    Liberal xtian – a xtian of any stripe who holds “progressive” social and/or political views, such as a Catholic or Baptist who supports church/state separation or gay rights
    Liberal theology– often refers to “higher criticism” or “historical criticism”, which investigates the ancient texts in the context of their historical time period. An example of higher criticism is understanding that that there were a lot people claiming to be the messiah when Jesus was making the same claim; so that people were ripe to follow him. Thus Jesus gaining followers was not as historically unprecedented as many xtians claim. Another example, from the program, is that the martyr stories were more like the martyr memes of their time rather than recounts of actual events.
    Higher criticism began in the 17th century, and lead to the writing of The Fundamentals in the 1920’s as a reaction to it. Conservative xtian theologians don’t much like higher criticism, and like to smear it with the “liberal” label.
    Sixtus, this stuff has been known for centuries. My Lutheran pastor told us some of this stuff in our Bible study classes 35 years ago! Every seminary trained priest and minister knows it. They just have a hard time educating their congregations about it. The average xtian stops learning about their own religion after they leave Sunday school so most have, at best, a grade 4 level of understanding of the Bible and their church’s theology.

  22. Jenn says

    I forgot to mention that it was a linked in the word “Zip” and goes to another article about the book.

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