According to early Christians, Christians lived in constant fear of persecution. The brutality of Roman treatment of Christians is shocking: girls sent to brothels to be gang-raped, young mothers stripped naked and thrown to wild animals, and fragile old men tortured and burned alive, all for no reason other than that they were Christians. Yet, despite these horrors, and out of love for Jesus, Christians stood resolutely against the might of the Roman Empire. They would not betray Christ; they would rather die than sacrifice their religious convictions.
According to Moss, the problem with the idealization of Christian martyrdom is that it isn’t true. While some individual cases of martyrdom are authentic, there was no systematic persecution of Christians during the first three hundred years of the faith as is popularly believed. These martyrdom stories, rather, were exaggerated, invented, or forged many years later as evangelistic propaganda or as a fund-raising technique to build churches.
When modern Christians claim to be “persecuted,” they connect themselves to this earlier tradition. Moss argues that the rhetoric of persecution and martyrdom is a powerful way of silencing dissenters. Just as the early churches used martyrdom to exclude heretics, today martyrdom is used to condemn others as enemies and opponents. Yet the idea that Christians have always “battled” others and been “persecuted” by others is a myth.