John Allen’s Stark Reality of a Global War on Christians – UPDATED

Deacon Greg Kandra has linked to the words of an Orthodox Priest, Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, who is sketching out the difference between what American Christians perceive as persecution, and what what real persecution is:

Are you, as a Christian, prevented by anyone from setting up a Christmas tree in your home? Are you, as a Christian, prevented from attending the church of your choice on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?. . .Have armed rebels stormed your church or home and taken you hostage or shot you in the street just for being a Christian? My guess the answer to all of these questions is no.

Just yesterday, it was reported in the news that Syrian rebels have reentered the Syrian city of Maaloula, entered a Christian monastery, which also serves as an orphanage, kidnapped the 12 nuns living there and desecrated the monastery’s church. This was done for no other reason than they are Christians. That is persecution…

Father Preble goes on to effectively lay out some genuine insults to Christmas, given by us Christians, when we are thoughtless, or when — as with this story — we completely lose site of mercy and further bend the cross of Christ Jesus to the ground.

Christmas aside, the bottom line is this: in America we live in a habitual conceit of primacy; we think if something isn’t happening here, it’s not happening anywhere, and if something is happening here, it’s either better or worse — but by all means more worthy of note and action — than anything that’s happening in other parts of the world.

In the case of religious persecution, for example, the argument can be made (and I have certainly been willing to make it) that the creeping governmental and court-supported intrusions upon religious conscience are a kind of incipient persecution — one that portends an anti-religious, conscience-crushing future.

All symptoms noted, that future is distant. If we want to gain some useful perspective, however, on what anti-Christian persecution entails, and understand how 100,000 or so Christians are slain each year for professing the Christ, then it’s time to read John L. Allen’s unnerving new book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution

I confess, I have had the book for over a month, but have only just begun to read it. I even contacted Image books, seeking out a review copy, but when it arrived, I found myself facing the thing with dread. There would be, I knew, no merry Christmas stories within its pages.

The book was inspired, Allen writes, by a conversation he had in 2009 with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York. Dolan mused that perhaps Christians had not roused themselves to confront the problem of [of persecution] because we “don’t have our own literature.” He meant that Christians haven’t told the stories of their new martyrs in a compelling way, in the same fashion that Jewish authors have described the horrors of the Shoah. This book is my own small contribution to a budding Christian genre dedicated to telling these stories…”

If some take immediate exception to that comparison, I beg them to subdue their outrage until they’ve read some of these reports, because while the horrors may not be as concentrated as the Shoah’s, they are eerily similar in depravity:

[In the Me'eter military camp and prison, located in the Eritrean desert off the coast of the Red Sea] the prison’s signature bit of cruelty is the use of crude metal shipping containers to hold inmates, with so many people forced into these 40-by-38 foot spaces, designed to transport commercial cargo, that prisoners typically have no room to lie down and barely enough to sit. The metal exacerbates the desert termperatures, which means bone-chilling cold at night and wilting heat during the day. When the sun is at its peak, temperatures inside the containers are believed to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. One former inmate, lucky enough to be released after serving up a coerced confession, described the containers as “giant ovens baking people alive.” Because prisoners are given little water, they sometimes end up drinking their own scant sweat or urine to stay alive.

When not in lockdown, prisoners are forced into pointless exercises such as counting grains of sand in the desert at midday, and scores die of heatstroke and dehydration. There are no toilets inside the containers, just crude buckets overflowing with urine and feces, placing inmates at risk for infection with diseases such as cholera and diphtheria.
[One] survivor described being forced to squat on her haunches and lift three different sizes of rocks while moving them from one side of her body to another, over and over again. At one point she was tossed into a container with a female inmate who had been beaten so badly her uterus was actually hanging out of her body. The survivor desperately tried to push the uterus back in, but cries for help went unanswered and the woman died in agonizing pain.

That is excerpted from page 2.

Allen, who is a first-rate journalist, is very careful with this book; he is not sneering here at American fears of a coming persecution, but he is insistent that the reader understand the distinction between perceived persecution and its realities. He spends an appropriate amount of time examining why these stories, which are not unknown by governments and human-rights agencies, appear to get such short shrift; the reason is complex, but some of it is simply the global nature of the persecution, itself. After an eye-opening statistical overview (“Christians are the Target of 80 Percent of all Discrimination”) Allen looks at persecution in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe (by comparison, the combination of disdain and indifference shown to Christians by the West is a mild thing, indeed) and then deals with the five myths that have thus-far served as excuses for inaction:

– The Myth That Christians Are at Risk Only Where They’re a Minority
– The Myth That No One Saw it Coming
– The Myth That It’s All About Islam
– The Myth That It’s Only Persecution if the Motives are Religious
– The Myth That Anti-Christian Persecution is a Political Issue

When he’s done taking out those complacent theories, Allen looks at the fallout — social and political — of our negligence, the Spiritual Fruits of the Global War, and what is to be done.

Spiritual Fruits, some might wonder? Allen, early in the book, recounts a prophecy of Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George [who] memorably expressed where he believes Western society is heading in 2010:

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” (Not often quotes is George’s more hopeful footnote after the reference to the martyred bishop: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

Rebuilding a civilization fallen to ruin thanks to depraved indifference to the dignity of human life, and the greed and glad-handing cronyism that separates the well-connected from the rest of humanity in an ever-widening chasm? It’s a tall order; it’s not low-hanging fruit. John Allen has done us a service in opening our eyes for, as the back of his book bluntly states without roundaboutation: “It’s time to wake up.”

Is this beneficial reading for Advent? I think so. It is one of those unhappy books we must make ourselves read, and for which we should be grateful.

Moreover, in these cold and shortened days, as we pray “Come, Lord Jesus!” this book can better help us speak these words most fervently on behalf of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, who await Christ’s coming less “with joyful hope” than with bodies and souls crying out for rescue, release and yes, heavenly peace.

Ed Morrissey
reviews Allen’s book over at Hot Air.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Win Nelson

    Thank you, I have only started to read it also.

  • Nancy

    John Allen writes well-researched and thoughtful books. I’ll make this one part of the 2014 resolutions…

  • 2muchcoffeeman

    Thank you for the review. A further review, which places Allen’s book alongside the surprising number of persecution-related books published in the past year, can be found here:

    And for ongoing news coverage of Christians living under pressure:

  • Danusha Diane Goska

    Decades ago I served in the Peace Corps in the Central African Republic. There are people who know me well who don’t know this about me. They don’t know because I almost never talk about it.

    Recently Seleka, organized groups of Muslims, began massacring Christians in the CAR.

    I was not surprised. These massacres fit perfectly with what I saw in CAR.

    I see that the massacres are not receiving much news coverage.

    The reasons I don’t talk about my time in Africa, and the reasons that the CAR massacres are not getting much coverage are the same, I suspect.

    The West insists that any tension between Muslims and Christians is rooted in the Crusades, in white supremacy, in Edward Said’s “Orientalism,” in the creation of the state of Israel.

    This is nonsense, but it is the dominant paradigm.

    The violence by Muslims against Christians in Africa is rooted in the Arab slave trade and jihad.

    More about this here:

  • Ambaa

    Thank you! American Christians claiming persecution is a real slap in the face to Christians facing actual persecution. This is exactly why freedom of religion and separation of church and state is so very critical. No authority should be deciding what religion people are allowed to practice!

  • michicatholic

    It’s fine to track persecution and it’s something we should be doing for our own protection and awareness. But Catholics have got to stop ragging on other people about their choices and work on their own holiness. Otherwise as Pope Francis has said so clearly, “If
    this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the
    Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our
    greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached,
    but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.
    The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have
    “the fragrance of the Gospel.” Evangelii Gaudium,
    By “radiating forcefully and attractively,” he does not mean carrying on with anger and attempting to shame or harass others who aren’t doing what we think they should. He means that holiness should be radiating from us. People should see and hear that we have something worth having.

  • David Brunk

    No, it is not a slap in the face. Far otherwise. It is a recognition that the attitudes that permit persecution to occur are shaped long before the first jail sentence is handed down or the first shot is fired. First there is propaganda and a hardening of attitudes against the rights of the Church in the public square. The much vaunted “separation of church and state” is not a remedy for persecution. It is a prescription for it.

  • Gail Finke

    No it’s not a “slap in the face” to see weak forms of what is happening in other places begin to happen here. If you don’t see it happening, you can’t stop it.

  • Romulus

    Just because persecution in America is (mostly) soft doesn’t mean it isn’t persecution. Relentless secularism is everywhere. It isn’t just rigorist interpretations of “separation of church and state”; it’s a full-scale anti-culture that marginalizes the mention of faith as something bumptious and uncouth, and actively resents attempts to actualize one’s faith in an integrated way. Faith in America is tolerated as an exotic hobby at best, and it’s entirely within the pale to speak of it openly as a social nuisance, a dangerous obsession, a vice that threatens social order and civil rights. Uncloseted faith is unwelcome in America.

  • Manny

    As it so happened, from a discussion on this topic on Rebecca Hamilton’s blog (I think it was over more than one of her posts) I wrote a letter to Cardinal Dolan urging him to step up both within the church and within our country’s political leadership a response to the Christian persecutions. He wrote back a kind response almost immediatel to my surprise , and then shortly after gave a major speech on the issue at the US Bishop’s meeting in November. I doubt my letter had anything to do with his speech, but it was coincidental. If anyone is interested, I share my letter to His Eminence and his reply back to me on my blog:
    The Cardinal mentions John Allen’s book.
    By the way, just becasue we’re not technically being persecuted in this country doesn’t mean it is not unjust. I’m not letting our government off the hook.

  • Manny

    As I relooked at my letter to the Cardinal, I noticed i mentioned John Allen’s book myself. I had forgotten when i wrote my comment above.

  • Glenna Bradshaw

    Since I had an “ouch” reaction while reading this, I am pretty sure the Holy Spirit was speaking thru you. Thx..I think!

  • Matthew J. Ogden

    Fraternal correction is a virtue. It is incumbent upon all Catholics as such to correct people’s errors for the sake of their own virtue. If you are wrong, those who are right have an obligation to tell you so you can stop being wrong and become better by being right.

    Wherefore: you are wrong in the statement you made. So I am telling you right now.

  • Matthew J. Ogden

    From a historical perspective, there are two ways the current American persecution can go. The first is the way it’s already going in Syria and Egypt, or has gone in so many other places before: where Christians are killed, tortured, despoiled, and so on for the faith. This is the better known form of persecution.

    The second is the way it went (for example) in France during the Third Republic. The Radical Party (which, by the way, enacted the 1905 law on separation of church and state as the culmination of their persecution) monitored Catholics in the army, prevented them from being promoted because they were Catholic, confiscated Church property (all Church property in France that was around in 1905 is, to this day, still government property), shut down Church schools and hospitals, and expelled clergy and religious. No one was killed and the Church did recover, but let no one say what the Radicals did was not persecution. And as an ironic epilogue to the Radical Party persecution of the Church, the Third Republic re-established relations with the Holy See in 1926: and the Radicals were okay with it.

    So we have to see if this will “blow over” without blood being spilled (as in France in the early 20th century); or if some of us alive today will be imprisoned or killed in the United States for the faith. It’s probably too early to tell, but it’s something to consider.

  • Matthew J. Ogden

    Laïcité (a.k.a. church-state separation, secularism, etc.) can go both ways. It’s not that people don’t have a right to tell other people how to live or what to believe. Following the Great Commission, all Christians have an obligation to tell others what to believe and how to live. True enough, we cannot force them, but we can tell them what it is and what they must do for their own good. Indeed, we must. Christ said so.

    And the state simply does not have the authority, as a temporal agency, to make religious decisions, since this would be infringing upon the realm of the Church. On the other hand, the Church can persuade the state what to do when the state violates natural law because the Church is a moral authority. She can even command individuals in the state if they are baptized Catholics to behave certain ways for the sake of their souls.

    That said, laïcité is often a tool for persecution, as the others pointed out. And as it’s becoming right now.

  • S Dunn

    Is it then time for a new group of Templars to arise? Who will defend the faith when defending the faith requires not words but arms? Let us all pray to St.Michael to place his shield and sword between the faithful and the persecutors, and especially may he defend the Holy Father with all the power of Heaven.

  • Umar Marsh

    Coptic and Syria Christians have lived in harmony with Muslims in Egypt and Syria since the Roman times—unlike in many European Christian countries where Muslims were decimated including areas which comprised the Soviet Union–– as is the case of Christians of Lebanon and Syria, who differ from Christians of Sub-Saharan African countries who have been part of a Western orchestrated conversion drive to establish outposts of western culture and values in strategic cross sections if the African contenant for future ventures.They coerce the burgeoning Christian communities to cry foul and seek moral and material support from Western nations for the ‘out -of -place western style Christian outposts where ‘the Calling to the Lord’ just happens to take place in countries possessing sizeable natural mineral deposits and oil. A good example is in Southern Sudan where animism, paganism and ancestral worship existed and and the abscence of Christianity. Another example is in East Timor, Indonesia where Christian missionaries quietly worked to create the foundations of a western enclave which eventually seceded from mainland Indonesia with the help of Australia. They keep these Christian enclves desperate to build a case and create a state of hopelessness, and then, to the rescue!! when the timely opportunity avails itself to hatch their (the West’s) ‘divide and reclaim’ plan. Similarly , Christians of the Arabic countries who have coexisted with Muslims seem to display opportunistic albeit treacherous tendencies, especially in times of instability and turmoil as if they were waiting for it to happen. Case and point, the Coptic Christians of Egypt, some of whom happen to be the wealtheist and most influentual in the country such as the Coptic business man who admitted to having played a pivotal role in the overthrow of the Morsey government. These treacherous Coptic Christians now lead a vicious and misleading campaign in America claiming to have been victimized while in fact, they were the darlings of the previous regime. Many of them were the thugs who were shooting the protestors. Let’s not forget that directly prior to the overthrow of the Islamist government which was not salvory to them, Cairo one of their Coptic religious leaders indicated that “The blood of Christ would flow on the streets of Cairo”, in a clear indication that they were aware of a plot soon to be hatched in conjunction with the secularist movement with support from their colonial co-religionsts who have seemed to pick a war with Islam–again. And let’s not forget Somalia and the US’s Operation Bring Hope or something like that. According to the Somalis, as soon as they finished levelling a uranium mountian, the ‘Hope’ disappeared and turned into a war.

  • marco

    Actual persecution? hmm, isn’t the HHS mandate actual persecution?
    Do we need to wait before imprisonment before asserting our rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution? It is beyond dispute that our religious freedoms are under attack by government entities and by private individuals, private groups, and private corporations. The fact that things are worse elsewhere simply means that if we fail to act here, the more rabid forms of bigotry against Catholics and Christians will eventually occur here as well. Additionally, if Catholics eventually lose their religious freedoms here in America out of apathy, we obviously will lose the ability help those who are more violently attacked elsewhere.

  • ahermit

    As deplorable as religious persecution is it’s important to get the facts straight; that 100,00 a year number is derived by including things like the Rwandan genocide, and the civil war in the Congo which are both examples (mostly) of Christians killing other Christians…

    The number is more like 10,000, which I agree is appalling, and I happily join you in condemning that violence and drawing attention to it and speaking out against it.

    But please don’t go pinning those inflated numbers on secularists (as some in the comments here are doing.)


    edited to add the phrase in parentheses

  • kenofken

    So long as you assert and presume the power to “correct” the rest of us and try to force us to live by your religion, we will work to support the most vigorous forms of secularism and church/state separation. It is the only way we can guarantee our own freedoms and spiritual autonomy.

  • kenofken

    The 100,000 figure is grossly inaccurate and will erode the credibility of those calling attention to what is a very real human rights problem affecting Christians.

  • one comment

    No one is forcing you to do anything! Not in this country anyway. If you want to go to hell you are more than free to choose to do so, the road is plenty wide enough, you won’t have any trouble finding it. But free speech still means for all, Catholic or non, and when it becomes (as it seems to be) a crime for some to speak freely about their religion (just because you don’t like to hear it and so you try to call it prejudice, hateful or whatever to make it a crime when you and others do continue to spew out every hateful, prejudice against religion and label it free speech – double standard!!), then it is no longer free but suppressed and yes, it is persecution.

  • PianoPersona

    So true, shared openness about being/living a Christian lifestyle in our secularized world is “poo-pooed” within neighborhood gatherings, at supermarkets and other public places. Don’t dare say “Merry Christmas” to anyone, they may try and correct you using a condescending tone replying, “Happy Holidays”. Some of these people are even “Christians”, but they feel they need to use inclusive language. Attitudes prevail in our society that try to make Christians feel that they are overstepping their boundaries in secular society when they make any displays, whether visually (ex.- setting up a manger scene, wearing a cross) or verbally (saying Merry Christmas or Happy Easter, talking actively about your beliefs). This is only the beginning of Christians being put into the closet. Yet the secularists do enjoy having a “Holiday tree” all decked out in festive lights (I wonder what Holiday they are celebrating?) and Santa(St. Nicholas) bringing their kids gifts on “Christmas Day”, and “Winter Break”, no longer “Christmas Vacation” for their kids. Seems as if they don’t want to give up those traditions, but want to re-name them for their convenience. Recently, an “activist Atheist blogger” in Florida decided to put up a “Festivus pole” made of aluminum Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans on display alongside the Christmas Nativity Scene and Menorah. How childish! There have been blatant oppositions towards Christians from atheist organizations by trying to have Christmas Crèches removed from public places. Will they also try to remove the large scale Menorah that sits on some town greens or will they come up with their own sacreligious counter-attack of “art work”? Where is freedom of religion? Where is RESPECT of diversity? One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?

  • Bob Seidensticker

    What numbers are we talking about here? I’m sure we’ll agree that even one person killed or persecuted for their faith is too much, but I recently wrote about the dramatic (but misleading) claim of 100,000 Christian martyrs per year. Sounds like you’re focused on a more serious kind of persecution than simply victims of violence who happened to be Christian, which is where that huge number came from.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    That Cardinal Francis George quote is certainly dramatic, but are you accepting it as a likely prediction of America’s future?

    Yes, I see pushback against Christians in America today, but there is a very, very big difference between eliminating excesses (the “right” of Christians to impose their beliefs on others, for example) and infringing religious rights. I may be as strongly against infringing religious rights as you, but I have no sympathy for a believer imposing beliefs on society.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Even as a RC school child in the 1950s, I knew that there was a difference in being faithful to The Sacred Spirit and saying what I believe to those who wish to torture me (the Russians in those days). Anyone can feel free to follow in the footsteps of Jesus without a big show of religion. We must never forget how much persecution is revenge for what “Christians” have done to others over the last 2,000 years. Jesus had no “soldiers” unlike the religions that call themselves “Christian” and openly recruit “soldiers of Christ.”