October 2016

The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution.  By John L. Allen Jr.. Image. 317 pages. $16.

In The Global War on Christians, John L. Allen Jr. offers a comprehensive and sobering analysis of perhaps the most ignored crisis of this century: anti-Christian persecution. Since the rise and spread of the Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram, two jihadist groups, the West has been forced to admit that Christians in parts of the world are being persecuted. But anti-Christian persecution is not confined to areas under the control of these groups or even to lands dominated by Muslims. Rather, as Allen successfully argues in this book, “Today’s war on Christians is a global phenomenon,” with Christians making up “the most persecuted religious body on the planet.” His goal is to “break the silence” about the global war on Christians currently underway in order to “place anti-Christian persecution among the towering human rights challenges of our times.”

To make his case, Allen uses a wealth of statistics, news reports, eyewitness testimonies, and other data gathered from experts, agencies, and media outlets around the world, as well as from his own travels and research as a Catholic journalist. According to a conservative estimate, at least one Christian — Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant — is martyred every hour somewhere on earth, while other estimates claim that number to be as high as 11. Overall, Christians are the target of 80 percent of all religious discrimination. Allen observes that the rate at which these persecutions occur has rapidly increased in the past two decades, often to the point of genocide, making the West’s ongoing silence on this issue nearly deafening. He explains that, generally, the West ignores the war on Christians because it “defies the Western narrative of Christianity as the architect of oppression rather than its victim.” Genuine ignorance also plays a part, as do political preoccupations and the complexity of the situation. Sadly, even most churches in the West shy away from the topic, usually due to their lack of personal experience of persecution, misdirected notions about peacemaking, or the self-imposed restrictions of interfaith dialogue.

Allen presents an overview of the anti-Christian persecution that has taken place across the globe between 1993 and 2013, which has involved “legal harassment, social discrimination, arbitrary detention and imprisonment, torture, physical assault and injury, and, all too often, death.” Governments are often the persecutors, yet military and police forces, non-Christian religious groups, cartels, civilian groups and mobs, sinister individuals, and, most tragically, even other Christians also bear guilt. The five “zones” Allen examines are Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, with Asia and the Middle East being responsible for the most atrocities. (He chooses to avoid discussion of church-state tensions in America and Western Europe to focus on places where the war on Christians is already full-blown.) In total, anti-Christian persecution has occurred in 139 countries within the studied time frame, resulting in as many as 100,000 or more new martyrs per year. Allen gives helpful background information for each zone, and then he focuses on several countries within that zone, providing abundant facts and stories to give a picture of what’s going on. The stories are alarming and deeply unsettling; no graphic details are spared. A reasonable person cannot read about the horrors so many Christians face on a daily basis and doubt that this is truly a war in the fullest sense of the term.

The book powerfully refutes five myths commonly repeated by those who wish to sidestep or outright deny the global war on Christians. Of the five, Allen seems most intent on debunking the myth that it’s religious persecution only if the motives of the persecutors are religious. This myth partly excuses a huge portion of the anti-Christian persecution that takes place, and it overlooks the remarkable witness of so many Christians who put themselves in harm’s way in order to live out the Gospel. Even though in many cases Christians are oppressed due to non-religious motives, such as ethnic rivalry, many could be spared were they not to live their faith so heroically. Therefore, to determine religious persecution, the motives of the victims must also be considered, not just those of the aggressors. For example, in 1997 Hutu rebels confronted a group of 36 Catholic seminarians in Burundi, a small African country, and told them to separate between Hutus and Tutsis. Knowing that this meant the Tutsis among them would be killed, the seminarians refused to split up, and all were slaughtered. Although the Hutu seminarians could have saved themselves, their Christ-like love for their fellow seminarians destined them to share their fate.

Allen discusses the long-term ramifications of the war on Christians and ways to fight back. He believes that consciousness about anti-Christian persecution will continue to grow in time, and he forecasts a number of significant changes that will result. Non-Western Christians will likely play a much larger part in the leadership and day-to-day life of their respective churches, and thus religious freedom, democracy, and justice will be more emphasized in the public sphere. As has happened throughout history, current persecution should reinvigorate the Church and possibly cause the Church to expand. At the same time, through an “ecumenism of the martyrs,” Christian unity will be highlighted, and the witness of today’s martyrs will affect Christians’ self-understanding and be a key factor in evangelization. However, while martyrdom can bear fruit, all of us are obliged to help those in peril and stop the war on Christians. For this reason, Allen discusses in depth several practical things all of us can do, such as support relief services, educate fellow citizens in various forums, work to change public policy, and, most importantly, pray together for an end to the war.

The Global War on Christians clearly shows that for Christians living in the 21st century, persecution is the norm, not the exception. Now as much as ever, to follow Christ is to embrace the cross. The countless modern martyrs around the world testify to the truth of what Jesus said to the Apostles in His Farewell Discourse on the night before His crucifixion: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn. 15:20).

- Stephen J. Kovacs



Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts.  By Robert Spitzer. Ignatius Press. 320 pages. $19.95.

Finding True Happiness is the first volume in Fr. Robert Spitzer’s Happiness, Suffering and Transcendence tetralogy. He writes for those struggling with skepticism and malaise, and for those who want to deepen their faith and be of assistance to others who seek help and advice. Combining philosophy and psychology, he references both ancient and contemporary thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Teresa of Avila; Catholic existential philosophers such as Max Scheler and Gabriel Marcel; Protestant philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard, Rudolf Otto, and Karl Jaspers; Jewish philosophers such as Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel; contemporary neo-Thomists such as Jacques Maritain, Josef Pieper, and Bernard Lonergan; phenomenologists such as St. Edith Stein and Simone Weil; and modern psychologists such as Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Abraham Maslow, Martin Seligman, Erik Erikson, and James Fowler. With this array of notables, Spitzer investigates the meaning of happiness and why man always seems to long for an almost indefinable “something.”

After defining three levels of desire, from the superficial materialistic to the altruistic or empathetic, Fr. Spitzer concludes that we really can recognize truth, love, goodness, beauty, and being. Next, he presents evidence that man truly is transcendent, though some deny it. He goes on to define the four levels of happiness and how each affects man’s self-image and his view of others. A wrong or superficial choice can lead to creating one’s own personal hell; only via the call of the transcendent is an escape route provided. One’s response to the call of the transcendent leads to a “dynamic encounter with God.” The outcome of such an encounter leaves man with the desire to contemplate the image of God in prayer and silence and to be always searching for inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Spitzer notes that there are three major ways to achieve personal prayer, which can help us to know God, follow His guidance, imitate Him, and deepen our relationship with Him. In separate chapters, he explains the nuances of contemplation, divine inspiration and guidance, and interior transformation through the Examen prayer. He explores each of these paths with consideration of the difficulties faced by everyday people who lead ordinary lives but want a transformative relationship with God through prayer. The reader can’t help but feel grateful for the clarity of his writing and explanatory examples. Spitzer concludes that a sincere practice of contemplation will lead to interior transformation and ultimately to transcendent happiness. Thus, the desire for that certain “something” comes full circle to find its fulfillment in the assurance of eternal life with God.

The journey in Finding True Happiness is not a simple one. Fr. Spitzer uses all the knowledge he has accrued over years of study, together with his great intelligence, to define, synthesize, analyze, and explain the path the human psyche seeks but does not necessarily comprehend. He wisely gives examples taken from his life experience, and his personal story gives a glimpse into his humanity and the wisdom he gained the hard way. Three months before his ordination, Spitzer was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable eye disease that resulted in total blindness. He shares what his blindness has taught him: “In times of suffering, when one door is closing, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is opening at least one new door of opportunity.”

Fr. Spitzer specially notes that man is not just an intellectual, thinking being but also a being who listens most assuredly to the messages of the heart. He wisely goes to great literature to quote from Shakespeare, Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, and C.S. Lewis, among others. Mindful of the heart and beauty, Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, warns of “Men Without Chests” and, referring to Plato, writes of “the well-nurtured youth” who “would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it.” Spitzer concludes on the subject of our hearts: “We will always be able to talk ourselves out of any evidence — proofs of God from logic and philosophy, the evidence of God from physics, the evidence of a soul from near-death experiences, and the evidence of transcendence from the five transcendental desires, the numinous experience, and our sense of the sacred. Why? Because God will not allow us to be enslaved by a miracle; He will not make a relationship with Him dependent on the mind alone, because He wants us to come to Him through our hearts as He has come to us.”

- Clara Sarrocco





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