I have just read Rupert Shortt’s impressive new book Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack. I should explain that I got my copy direct from the UK, and I don’t know exactly when it will be available officially on this side of the Atlantic. Very soon, I hope, as it is just an excellent study of anti-Christian persecution around the world. Really, it’s a splendidly rich and informative book, and very up-to-the moment in its coverage. It has been favorably reviewed in the Independent, Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere .

Shortt argues that what he calls Christianophobia is “The persistent prejudice you’ve never heard of.”  As he writes, “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.” Of course, those horrors are exactly what have been inflicted on Christians in recent years, and still many informed people seem neither to know nor care about them.

Tragically, the Christmas season is usually the most dangerous of all, a time when extremists of all shades feel the need to target Christian believers. (Christmas 2012 was a relatively quiet season: as World reports, only a dozen or so worshipers perished at the hands of Nigeria’s Islamist terrorists. Hardly enough for the mainstream media even to notice).

I was impressed by Shortt’s personal observation of the situations he describes. Also appealing is his avoidance of the straightforward “Clash of Civilizations” idea. Although he explores situations where the persecutors are Muslim – Nigeria, Egypt, the Middle East, Indonesia – this is in no sense a tirade against Islam. Several of his examples concern the persecution of Christians by other Christians, as in Belarus; by Indian Hindus; or by secular states of no faith whatever. He even addresses Christian sufferings in Israel, a subject that American observers are usually too timid to confront.

He’s also interesting on the historical roots of these persecutions, situating some in bygone imperial policies. While he certainly does not seek to lay the blame for all modern atrocities on the imperial inheritance, he does show how that history created and heightened religious tensions. In many instances, modern-day laws used against Christians and other minorities are borrowed wholesale from statutes passed by the old colonial empires, British or Dutch, with not too many modifications.

I hope Americans will soon have the chance to read this fine book.

By the way, Rupert Shortt is also Religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement, where he recently did an interesting review on contemporary liturgy.



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  • I obviously haven’t read the book, but based on this account of it, it looks like one to keep an eye out for. This is an important topic that Christians should pay more attention to. (Incidentally, if this is the book, it does seem to be available in the US – though perhaps those are just UK sellers willing to ship stateside?) However, I did have two questions/critiques spring to mind.

    First, I know a lot of Americans talk about things like gay marriage bills and the ACA infringing on religious liberties. I’m not saying there aren’t issues to be fleshed out and avoided, but I have a hard time seeing a Catholic adoption agency having to choose between losing a state contract and placing children with homosexual couples being on the same level as firebombing a church or beheading schoolgirls. Do you think that our use of the same phrase, religious persecution, to talk about both phenomena dulls us to the real horror Christians (and other religious minorities depending on the region, I’d imagine) face around the world? That’s not so much a criticism of the book but something related to this topic that I think feeds into the way we discuss this issue.

    Second, you talk about religion being the cause of this persecution – does the book present it as being closely connected, and if so do you agree with this point? I’m thinking of cases like Anders Breivik, the Norwegian shooter who said he was trying to defend Christianity against multiculturalism. The man said he didn’t believe God existed but did see Christianity as a kind of representation for European culture and thought it was worth defending on those grounds. I’m wondering if the same thing might be at play in other areas of the world: people attack Christians not because they hate or fear Christians per se, but because they see them as the “other.” If so, the title Christianophobia seems very misleading to me.

    That said, I really should read the book before I critique it! These concerns may be off-base, but they seemed like they were worth bringing up for discussion.

  • Philip Jenkins

    Your questions aren’t off base at all, they get to the heart of the issues raised by the book.

    I entirely agree about the misuse of the word “persecution.” I may have strong feelings about (say) the right to display Christian-related symbols in public places, but we should be very careful indeed about using such loaded words against an agency that limits or prevents that. That’s particularly true when Christianity or any branch of it is subject of verbal criticism or vilification. Fight back against it yes, but don’t call it persecution.

    Hmm, Shortt is good on this issue of causation, which he stresses is very complex, and he goes after secular agencies and movements at least as much as rival faiths. Whatever the causation though, the consequence is a legal or physical assault on Christians as Christians. So I would disagree with you when you say that “the title Christianophobia seems very misleading to me.”