Thursday, January 24, 2013

Christianity 'the world's most persecuted religion'

Imagine the unspeakable fury that would erupt across the Islamic world if a Christian-led government in Khartoum had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese Muslims over the past 30 years. Or if Christian gunmen were firebombing mosques in Iraq during Friday prayers. Or if Muslim girls in Indonesia had been abducted and beheaded on their way to school, because of their faith.

Such horrors are barely thinkable, of course. But they have all occurred in reverse, with Christians falling victim to Islamist aggression.

So wrote Rupert Shortt in the Telegraph.

A couple of months ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Shortt, who has been responsible for writing biographies of Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict, has now written a report titled Christianophobia, published by the UK think tank Civitas. In it, he agrees with her assessment.

Christians, he says, are targeted more than any other body of believers. An estimated 200 million Christians are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.

Shortt lists atrocities in Egypt, where whatever the results of the Arab Spring, "Copts remain deeply concerned about the future of their battered Church"; in Iraq, where the number of Christians has fallen from 1.2 million in 1990 to less than 200,000 today; in Pakistan, with its blasphemy laws; in Nigeria, where thousands, including children, have been caused to disappear, hacked to death, burned alive or pulled off buses and murdered; in India, where Hindu extremists have killed or displaced thousands; in Burma, and in China, where more Christians are imprisoned than in any other country in the world.

"One reason," he says, "why Western audiences hear so little about religious oppression in the Muslim world is straightforward: young Christians in Europe and America do not become 'radicalised,' and persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence."

In addition, "Parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition."

His conclusions: "The Qur'an does not set out specific punishments for apostasy in this life. The notion that converts to other religions should be killed fed into all the main branches of sharia law via later collections of teaching, especially the Hadith. . . Muslim attitudes should not be considered immutable."

Christianity has evolved, he says, and there are reasonable grounds for thinking Islam will do so too.

But "there is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands."

I greet his conclusions with some scepticism. I am reminded that Christianity's founder said that He would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it - and that Christianity has a habit of flourishing under persecution, painful though it is.

You can read the 41-page report here.