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Religiously motivated oppression

A brief overview of religious oppression
in biblical times and in Western countries

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bullet Anon: "People consider themselves to be orthodox, and everyone else to be a heretic." 1
bullet Bruce Buursma: The Chicago Tribune: "Almost every story around the world has a religion sub-plot."
bullet Johan Galtung: "Every religion contains, in varying degrees, elements of the soft and the hard. For the sake of world peace, dialogue within religions and among them must strengthen the softer aspects." 2
bullet Philip Jenkins: "If we're not careful, fifty years from now we may find a largely secular North defining itself against a largely Christian South. This will have its implications." 3 [Jenkins is referring to northern and southern hemispheres, not northern and southern states in the U.S.]
bullet Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist: "...on balance the moral influence of religion has been awful...With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil--that takes religion." 4

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In the following group of essays, we briefly discuss the types of religious oppression experienced by individuals during different eras and in different areas of the world: ancient Israel, the Roman Empire, Europe, North America, etc. We have selected a few typical examples from various cultures. Hopefully, they will demonstrate that when religiously motivated people lose track of respect for human life and personal freedoms, they are capable of performing great atrocities.

As Sam Harris wrote: "A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion." 5 It appears to matter little whether the perpetrators are Buddhist, Christian, Jews, Muslims or Pagans. It matters little whether they lived in the second millennium BCE or the third millennium CE. However, monotheistic religions seem to have, on average, generated more serious crimes against humanity then polytheistic religions.

In fact, if one considers the tens of millions of individuals murdered by regimes in the USSR, China and Cambodia it becomes obvious that communist believers who also ignore human rights and freedoms can produce genocides that are just as serious as those atrocities that are religiously motivated.

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Topics covered in this section:

bullet Events before the 4th century CE: Persecution of religious minorities in the Bible; persecution of Christians by Roman Pagans
bullet Events during the 5th century CE: The tables are turned: Persecution by Christians of Roman Pagans
bullet More essays coming

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Sorry, we have not been able to track down a citation for this quotation.
  2. John Galtung, "Religions, hard and soft," 1994, at:
  3. Philip Jenkins, "The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity"
  4. Quoted by Ron Csillag, "Math + religion = Trouble," The Toronto Star, 2008-JAN-26, at:
  5. Sam Harris, "The end of faith: Religion, terror and the future of reason," W.W. Norton, (2004). Read reviews or order this book from online book store

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Web sites with extensive documentation on religiously-motivated atrocities:

bullet Kelsos, "Victims of the Christian Faith," at:
bullet Matthew White, "Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities Before the 20th Century," at:

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Copyright 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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