Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rodney Stark: Statistics on Persecution of Christians

In an interview by Daniel Philpott with Baylor sociologist of religion Rodney Stark on "Why the World Is Becoming More Violent" (Christianity Today, May 12, 2014), Stark disputes some figures I've also seen bandied about:
Much of what has been written about terrorism and the Middle East simply isn't true. There was the recent, widely publicized claim of 100,000 Christians a year dying for their faith. That's pretty stunning. When I found out how that 100,000 number was calculated, I realized it was absurd. More likely, the number was less than 7,000 a year.
As noted, I'd also heard the hundred-thousand figure claimed (though I learned it as a worldwide figure, not solely for the Middle East), and I had little reason to doubt it, until Stark challenged the statistic. He doesn't explain his reasons (those are in his book, I guess), but since he's generally pro-Christian, I think we can accept his figure. However, he also adds some disturbing news:
The most stunning finding: It had been widely reported by people who were looking at survey data that majorities throughout the Middle East disapproved of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Then I discovered something. The reason that overwhelming majorities disapproved is because they think it was a frame-up done by George W. Bush. Among those who accept that it was committed by Arab terrorists, most of them approve of the 9/11 attacks. That shocked me. Overwhelmingly, people approved to the extent that they rightly understood what happened on 9/11.
Stark wants to avoid attributing the increase in religious violence to an intrinsically violent Islam:
Religious violence isn't something new in the world. Lord knows there were 90 brands of Christianity all busy hating each other not long ago. Tolerance is hard to come by. I hesitate to think there is anything peculiar to the Islamic tradition. There is a problem, to be sure, in that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion. But the fact is, Christians have killed each other by the millions too.
Yes, there is a problem, to put the case mildly, in that the moral exemplar for Muslims is Muhammad, much as the moral exemplar for Christians is Jesus . . .

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