This weekend I want to take you back nearly 2,000 years to consider a subject that gets a fair amount of attention today, though perhaps out of proportion to what's really happening.
We return to Dec. 15 in the year 37 of the Common Era (or A.D., as folks used to say), when the Emperor Nero (the photo here shows his high school graduation picture) was born. Well, he wasn't emperor at his birth. Instead, he was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, but later became Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. Or, to you and me, just Nero.
Nero has long -- and justifiably -- been associated with the persecution of Christians. As David Chidester writes in Christianity: A Global History:
"The earliest persecution of Christians, which occurred when Nero blamed them in 64 C.E. for causing the fires in Rome, exploited Christians as scapegoats.
"Due to their marginal position in Roman society -- living in society, but not being of society -- Christians were particularly vulnerable to accusations of antisocial conduct."
Similarly, in Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmaid MacCullough writes of "persecution whipped up in Rome by the Emperor Nero."
Nero, by the way, became emperor at age 17 and at first was seen as a virtuous ruler. But before long he fell into evil ways and became a wasteful tyrant. Eventually even the Roman Senate declared him to be a public enemy and at age 31 he committed suicide. Such a life.
At any rate, the idea of Christians being persecuted for their faith has been around since then. Earlier this year, however, I reviewed here a new book called The Myth of Persecution, which makes a persuasive case that there hasn't been nearly as much persecution of Christians as most people think. Beyond that, Candida Moss, the author, argues, it's mostly silly to argue that Christians in the U.S., where they make up about three-quarters of the population, are persecuted, a charge you hear in such places as the culture wars by such "War on Christmas" culture warriors as Bill O'Reilly.
Nero's persecution of followers of Jesus? Yep, it happened. And it was bad. Today there is persecution of Christians in many lands. In the U.S.? Not so much.
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AND BURGLARY IS BAD, TOO
The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia has condemned suicide bombing. You'd think some things would be so obvious that they wouldn't need saying. You'd think.