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Monday, August 17, 2015

Christian Persecution: Is It Increasing?

When the Pope says, "More Christians are being persecuted than ever before", what, exactly, does this mean? Sure, the raw numbers of Christians persecuted may be higher, but is Christian persecution increasing?  In order to know if Christian persecution is increasing, we have to know how many people have been Christian in each age, and how many Christians in each age were martyred for the Faith.

We also have to define exactly what counts as martyrdom. Is it the premature death of someone who witnesses to Christ? Do they have to be actually slain by someone else, or can they merely die as a result of a civil war, in which many victims are killed indiscriminately? What if they were killed partly because of their tribe or race, that is, the killer always hated the Tutsi tribe (whether Muslim, Christian or animist), but the killer also always hated Christians, and this one happened to be a Christian Tutsi, which made the killing more delectable?

Or, perhaps, the killer doesn't even know his victim is Christian, the man dies simply because the killer doesn't like the man's stance against multiple wives or homosexuality?

Keep in mind, it is quite possible for the number of martyrs to increase, while the actual amount of persecution is decreasing.

Year (AD) World Population (billions) Christian% of World Christian Population (millions)
1000 0.263 17 45
1800 1 27 200
2015 7 32 2600

Clearly, the number of Christians in the last two-centuries has grown ten-fold. If the amount of persecution has neither increased nor decreased, we would expect the number of martyrs to grow ten-fold as well. By the same reasoning, if the number of martyrs has only quintupled, (grown five-fold), we could say with confidence that the amount of persecution is actually decreasing.

It is sometimes said that 45% of all of history's Christian martyrs have died in the last two centuries. That may be true (although a lot of that depends on whose numbers you believe and how you count), but it is also quite possible that the number of people alive right now comprises about 45% of all the Christians who ever lived between 33 AD and 2011. After all, according to the tables at this link, roughly 50 billion people have been born, lived and died between 1 AD and 2015. About 18 billion of those lived during the last two centuries.

If the population of Christians was never above 20% of the world population (and it wasn't until the last century), then the entire Christian population for all of history has been around 10 billion people. About 3.6 billion have lived during the last 200 years, 72% of whom are alive right now. So, yeah, we should see that a pretty high percentage of all martyrdoms have occurred in the last century or two, without necessarily seeing any real increase in the percentage of persecution across the Christian experience.

Does this make the persecution any less real or heinous?
Of course not - it is still just as vicious and evil today as it ever was.
Has the raw number of Christian martyrs increased?
Obviously, yes.

But has overall Christian persecution increased?
On that point, it is hard to say that it has.



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