He died in 1900, but philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, along with fellow German atheists Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, cast a long shadow over the 20th century. The latter two assumed religion was a mere fantasy, but for Nietzsche, who denied there was any reality outside our minds, religion was a more powerful fantasy than most. Perhaps that is why he hated it so much. "I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty," he wrote in his 1888 diatribe, The Antichrist. "I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind." Nietzsche's hostility to Christianity set the tone for a century of persecution in which more Christians died for their faith than in the previous 19 centuries combined. What follows is a timeline of that persecution
After the Boxer Rebellion installs her as China's Empress, Tzu Hsi orders her officials to "exterminate the Christian religion!" Officials and mobs, sometimes yelling, "Death to the foreign devils!" kill 135 missionaries and 53 children, along with many Chinese Christians.
July 9 in Taiyuan brings the beheading, one at a time, of 32 Protestant missionaries and children and 12 Catholic clergy; their heads go on display in cages on the city wall.
On July 14 in Peking, according to a London Times correspondent, "Boxers were sweeping through the city, massacring the native Christians and burning them alive in their homes." Rescue parties the next day find "women and children hacked to pieces, men trussed like fowls, with noses and ears cut off and eyes gouged out."
In the 19th century, it was said, missionary efforts in New Guinea yielded more martyrs than converts. Scotland's James Chalmers arrived on the island of Rarotonga in 1866 and buried two wives over the next 34 years. On April 4, 1901, cannibal warriors living on Goaribari Island invite Chalmers, another missionary named Tompkins, and a few native Christians from a neighboring island to a feast. As the missionaries enter a building, the warriors knock them down and behead them. They then hack them into pieces, cook the body parts, and eat them.
Japanese soldiers march on Manchurian villages in southern China whose Christian inhabitants refuse to acknowledge the new Japanese emperor, slaughtering hundreds.
After interviewing survivors from Norabawie, Canadian doctor S.H. Martin reports to his mission board later that year that soldiers ordered residents out of their homes: "As each son and father stepped forth he was shot, and though perhaps not dead, heaps of burning straw were placed over them. If they struggled to escape the flames, they were bayoneted." Dr. Martin lists 32 villages "where fire and willful murder were used-in one village the dead numbering 145."
Alarmed by the growing numbers of Armenian Christians, Turkish authorities launch a genocidal campaign, killing at least 600,000 Armenians (estimates vary), most of them Christians.
On April 24, today known as "Genocide Memorial Day," the Turkish government summons hundreds of Armenian leaders to Istanbul and murders them. The authorities then "draft" many Armenian men to help in the wartime effort and promptly kill or work them to death; officials empty the leaderless villages of women, children, and the elderly, and send them on death marches across the Syrian desert.
Turks bayonet, bury alive, burn, crush, dehydrate, drown, rape, stone, shoot, starve, and otherwise torture victims in what contemporary accounts call the bloodiest campaign in modern history. In August, 1939, just before German troops invade Poland, Adolf Hitler tells generals who were objecting to the proposed massacre, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Resentment over Japanese attempts to impose Shintoism in Korea, where Christianity is popular, erupts in demonstrations in the streets. Japanese soldiers burn churches and mission schools, kill Christians at roadside checkpoints, and torture Christians who refuse to recant.
One foreign journalist recounts how guards hang prisoners by their arms until they lose consciousness, burn them with hot wires, tear their flesh with sharp hooks, force back their heads and pour hot water up their nostrils, and flog them "until some had to be taken to hospitals where big slabs of gangrenous skin had to be cut off ... and some kinds of tortures were unprintable."
Josef Stalin becomes Premier of the USSR and extends V.I. Lenin's persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church to all believers. Lenin despised Christianity ("There can be nothing more abominable than religion," he wrote in a 1913 letter to Maxim Gorky) but his antipathy pales in comparison to Stalin's vicious persecution, made all the worse by his famine-inducing collectivization policies.
Believers smuggle letters out of the country to friends and mission agencies describing how Soviet authorities shoot their preachers, exile their women and children, and send the men to die in hard labor camps. Those who remain report mixing their meager rations with grass.
One gulag survivor from 1930 recounts in Harvest Field how soldiers hauled peasants and ministers off to Siberia on open sledges in minus 40 degree Celsius temperatures: "The first night was spent under the open sky. Many of the aged and women and children froze that night. Others had frozen hands, feet, or faces. There were screams and sobs that cannot be described. One father ... could not stand it any longer. Snatching a rifle from a Red soldier, he shot his family and himself."
Of the perhaps 60 million Soviet citizens Lenin and Stalin murder between 1917 and 1953, no one knows how many are killed because their Christian faith prompts the Communists to persecute them as "counter-revolutionaries."
Nazis execute German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer on April 9. His major offense: joining a German resistance movement in the late 1930s and eventually a plot to assassinate Hitler, deciding that he must "consent to the bad" to "ward off the worse."
Until his arrest in April 1943, Bonhoeffer spends the war assigned to the German Military Intelligence Department, a center of resistance to Hitler's plans, secretly helping Jews escape into Switzerland; he escapes punishment for that, but the Nazis call and imprison other Christians for protecting Jews. Three weeks after guards take Bonhoeffer from Buchenwald into the woods and shoot him, Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun swallow poison; a week after that Germany surrenders.
Romanian Communists arrest Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand in February and torture him regularly during his 14 years in prison. On one occasion guards hang him by his knees and flog the soles of his feet until he faints, then revive him with cold water and resume the beating until his feet are a "mass of dark red pulp," demanding that he inform on other "secret enemies of the state."
He leads many to Christ while in prison, sometimes through tapping a secret code on the walls, and after his release in 1964 eventually founds Voice of the Martyrs. Also in 1948, Bulgarian Communists arrest and interrogate Baptist pastor Harlan Popov. After 10 days of questioning, on a starvation diet, he sees reflected in a window "a horrible, emaciated figure, legs swollen, eyes like empty holes in the head, with a long beard covered with dried blood from cracked, bleeding, and hideously swollen lips. In that moment of total, crushing hopelessness, I heard a voice as clear and distinct as any I have ever heard in my life. It said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" Popov spends 11 more years in Bulgarian prisons.
After seizing power in 1949, Mao Tse-tung's Communist regime forces most Christian missionaries out of China, but Bill Wallace, a Baptist bachelor surgeon, stays to operate a hospital in Wuchow. Communists imprison him in late 1950, and the following February instruct his American nurse and the Chinese hospital staff to claim his body. Prison officials say he hanged himself in his cell, but his corpse lacks signs of strangulation and his upper body is a mass of bruises. Fellow prisoners later report that guards often used long poles to jab him into unconsciousness. In the early 1950s, thousands of Chinese Christians are imprisoned or killed for refusing to join the Communist-controlled National Christian Church, choosing instead to fellowship in house churches, a movement that continues in China.
Mexican newspaper Tiempo publishes on Feb. 8 an exposé of eight years of Catholic persecution of Protestants that follows the archbishop of Mexico's call for priests to defeat the "hellish serpent" of Protestantism.
Among the incidents listed: An evangelical house church is burned down, killing two adults and five children; two pastors are lynched and quartered and their houses dynamited; Protestant minister Samuel Juarez is found dead with 85 knife wounds in Rioverde.
Auca Indians kill five young missionary men from three different missions on Jan. 8 in the most highly publicized martyrdom of the century. Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Nate Saint had flown into the Ecuadorian jungle looking to make contact, and their first radio reports back to their mission station recount friendly meetings. On Jan. 9 they fail to check in, and a search party a few days later finds their bodies in the Curaray River, speared to death. Many Auca subsequently become Christians, and at least one is killed bringing the gospel to another tribe down river.
Nikita Khrushchev's government declares all unauthorized religious gatherings to be illegal. Over the next 25 years, although some Soviet evangelicals worship in relative freedom, Communist authorities martyr or imprison many believers and take away their children.
In western Siberia in 1964, chronic drunk Nikolai Khmara becomes a glowing believer and six months later receives a three-year prison sentence for witnessing. Two weeks later his wife receives his dead, bruised body, which has burn marks on the feet and hands, a puncture wound in his stomach, and his tongue cut out.
In 1972, for praying and witnessing to his comrades, Private Ivan "Vanya" Vasilevich Moiseyev has to stand outside his barracks in freezing temperatures for 12 consecutive nights-in summer uniform. Then he is handed over to the KGB, and on July 15 beaten and stabbed to death in a soundproof room. An officer who was present later told the family that he "died hard, but he died a Christian."
Gen. Mohammad Irwa, Sudan's Minister of Interior, announces the expulsion of all Christian missionaries from Sudan and declares to Sudanese pastors gathered at Malakal a new policy of forced Islamization over all Sudan.
On Aug. 15 authorities shoot Melut pastor Gideon Adwok and elders Simon Anyang and William Olyew and dump their bodies, weighted with stones, into the Nile.
Soviet-backed Muslim Sudanese troops burst into a Christian church in the southern village of Banja on July 26. They tie up the congregation and then scour the village, shooting everyone they see. The soldiers then return to the church, empty their weapons into the congregation, and set the building on fire. Only 14 villagers escape.
Communist Muslim guerrillas kidnap two veteran Overseas Missionary Fellowship nurses, Minka Hanskamp and Margaret Morgan, on April 20 while the women are traveling to Pujud, Thailand, to hold a leprosy clinic. The terrorists demand that OMF pay $500,000 and write a letter to Israel in support of Palestinian rights.
Later, a Malay informer confesses that he shot the women; when told they were to be killed, they said calmly, "Give us a little time to read and pray."
Also that year, Eritrean Liberation Front rebels abduct Dutch nurse Anna Strikwerda and American nurse Debbie Dortzbach-both missionaries-from Compassion of Jesus Hospital in Ghinda on May 27. The rebels shoot Miss Strikwerda and hold Mrs. Dortzbach 26 days before her release on June 22.
The Khmer Rouge take over Cambodia in April, according to church leaders, and kill at least 1 million of the country's 7 million people; among the slain are most of the 10,000 Cambodian Christians, including 12 members of the Bible-distribution mission, the Gideons.
One army officer and church leader, Chhirc Taing, writes to his wife just before his death, telling of how he and several other church leaders read John 13 together and wash each other's feet as the Khmer Rouge approach. She receives the letter a year later and reads his last words to her, "Tell Christians around the world to pray for Cambodia."
With civil war breaking out over independence in Eritrea, the Soviet and Cuban-backed regime of Mengistu Haile-Mariam in traditionally Christian Ethiopia kills up to 150 civilians daily in July.
At one point the Save the Children Federation reports that the bodies of over 1,000 massacred children are left in the streets. A representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover writes of how "priests and other church workers are hunted down like dogs."
Seven Pentecostal Christians take refuge in the American Embassy in Moscow. Dubbed the "Siberian Seven," they draw media attention to Moscow's persecution of Christian believers. After five years, under pressure from other governments, the Soviets allow 14 family members and their dog to leave the country.
M-19 terrorists kill Wycliffe translator Chet Bitterman in Bogota, Colombia, and leave his body on a bus in Bogota.
Muslim militants with rifles, pistols, and knives march into Manshiet Nasser, Egypt, a quiet farm village, and kill 14 Christians on May 5. Some shoot at farmers as they enter their fields, others break into the home of a doctor and stab him to death, and a third group bursts into a local classroom and starts shooting.
Police say the attack is to avenge the deaths of a Muslim fundamentalist leader and another man a few months earlier. The longstanding quarrel began when a Christian refused a Muslim man's demand to sell a house to him.
China ratchets up repression against underground churches, the worst since the early 1980s, after the Communist government mandates the registration of all religious groups.
At first authorities offer incentives to register-such as free Bibles-but soon turn to harsher measures, mainly labor camp sentences against underground church leaders.
According to a 1996 Freedom House report, 50 of the 126 inmates of one camp in the province of Henan are imprisoned for underground church activities. Also in Henan, authorities arrest 300 Protestants between June, 1996, and July, 1997.
Underground Christians across the country report beatings and torture using cattle prods and other instruments, resulting in coma, paralysis, and even death. Local leaders believe that Chinese authorities, seeing the role of Christianity in the fall of the Soviet empire, are attempting to eradicate the churches.
Three days after his Feb. 14 arrest, Cuban security police order Baptist pastor Eliezar Vegilla to "confess" to espionage or "sleep with a bear." He refuses, and when pushed into a dark underground cell at police headquarters in Havana finds that he shares the cell with a live bear.
He prays and prepares to die, but soon realizes that the bear is chained to the wall. Veguilla, who later flees to Miami, says authorities persecuted him because of his success in evangelizing young people.
In Cambodia, Khmer Rouge gunmen kill Khoun Sokan and Toun Chantouen, two Christian workers in World Relief's Gateway economic development program.
In Iran, searchers discover the corpse of pastor Mohammad Bagher Yusefi hanging from a tree in a forest near his home. Mr. Yusefi, who was born in a Muslim family but became a Christian as a young man, is the seventh Christian leader killed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Helicopters of the radical Islamic Sudanese government strafe a mission team and more than 500 civilians who had come to meet the group in the Nuba Mountains on March 4. A DC-3, chartered by South African-based Frontline Fellowship and Voice of the Martyrs, is on the ground only 45 minutes when two Soviet-made MI-24 Hind helicopters roar over the airstrip. Frontline Fellowship director Peter Hammond reports, "They systematically rocketed and shot wherever people were fleeing. Our team saw two Nuba women shredded by machine cannon fire."
In Saudi Arabia, the government beheads two Filipino Christians, Rue Janda and Arnel Beltran, who are accused of armed robbery. Fellow inmates say the two were actually incarcerated for their faith on fabricated charges, according to a report from Compass Direct.
As Indonesian President Suharto falls from power amid scandal and the country's political system unravels, the Chinese, barely tolerated Christian minority becomes increasingly vulnerable to Islamic hardliners.
Muslim militia soon attack Christians in the scattering of eastern islands called Maluku. On Ambon, an island 1,400 miles east of Jakarta, local people in 1999 attack each other with machetes, spears, and knives, and set fire to buildings.
By now, between 5,000 and 8,000 people are dead and half a million are refugees, and many have been forced to convert to Islam; 400 churches are destroyed.
Residents on one of the nearby islands, Kesui, report forced male and female circumcision. Jaffar Umar Thalib, head of the jihad forces, calls for the imposition of Islamic law in areas cleared of Christians. While the Christian militias strike back, burning mosques and some homes, jihad forces, with the assistance of Indonesian security forces, who are predominantly Muslim, outnumber them.
Hindu radicals in central eastern India surround the Jeep of Australian medical missionary Graham Stuart Staines, douse it with kerosene, and set it on fire, killing Mr. Staines and his sons Phillip, 11, and Timothy, 6.
These are the first fatalities after 108 reported cases of violence against Christians in India in 1998, 58 in the State of Gujarat alone. Christian workers say that the trend coincides with the ascendance of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janat Party, or BJP.
The Sudanese government in August begins collecting oil revenues from a joint partnership with Canadian firm Talisman Energy and PetroChina to develop oil fields in southern Sudan. That deal provides an estimated $200 million per year to finance the previously cash-strapped Muslim government's civil war against Christians and others in southern Sudan.
Since the genocidal campaign began in the early 1980s, about 2 million people have been killed and another 4.5 million displaced, with the Sudanese government bombing and burning hospitals, refugee camps, churches, and other civilian targets.
By manipulating foreign aid, that government brings 2.6 million Sudanese to the brink of starvation in 1998, and kills an estimated 100,000. Thousands of women and children are raped and kidnapped, Christian boys forcibly converted, and clergy flogged, tortured, and assassinated in a war on south Sudanese Christians that continues to the present.
Mostly Muslim mobs murder 21 Christians in a village 300 miles south of Cairo, while local security officials watch and take part. A few Muslims risk themselves protecting Christian neighbors.
The Egyptian government denies the killings were religiously motivated, and on Feb. 5, 2001, all those charged with the murders are acquitted. Four Muslims are given short jail sentences for the accidental death of another Muslim in a nearby village, while one Christian is now serving three years hard labor for allegedly "insulting Islam" during the aftermath.
The Filipino Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf kidnaps 76 children and teachers and a priest administrator from a Catholic school. The terrorists, who include in their list of demands the removal of all crosses, kill the school administrator, Fr. Rohel Gallardo, and four others.
During a week of fighting that kills 200 in Kaduna, Nigeria, a mob drags 26-year-old priest and former Muslim Clement Ozi Bello from his car, gouges out his eyes, and kills him, leaving his body by the road. Hundreds more die in conflicts provoked by the imposition of Muslim law in northern Nigeria. Among the dead are three parish priests, eight seminarians, 38 pastors, and 148 evangelists of various churches.
A Vietnamese source sends to Freedom House eight secret government documents (some from the national Communist government, some from local authorities) that describe strategies for suppressing religion in general and Christianity in particular.
Some of the documents complain about evangelistic radio broadcasts in the northern part of the country, the "malicious scheme of the enemy," that have led to thousands of conversions in the last decade.
Another "poisonous plot of an evil gang of Christian missionaries" is that they went "right to the people, lived with the people and spoke the language of the people, taught them Christian hymns, ... helped people in need in a timely manner, taught people to do good deeds as opposed to the vices (because those who follow the Christian Religion, don't consume alcoholic drinks, don't smoke tobacco, don't beat their wives and don't do other evil things, are frugal in wedding ceremonies, avoid backward customs, and happily do things in community)."
Some documents advocate for a more relaxed policy because "if we crack down hard, Christianity grows faster."
Chinese officials sentence to death Gong Shengliang, a leader of the unauthorized, 50,000-member South China Church. They say he is a rapist, but church members report that police are beating and torturing female members of the church with electric cattle prods to force "confessions" that they had sexual relations with the pastor.
Two church members reportedly die under torture. China's Hubei appeals court has postponed its decision on his sentence.
Freedom House releases a report on seven official Chinese government documents leaked to the organization that describe the Communist government's strategy for repressing religion. One document quotes the Minister of Public Security as instructing his staff to "smash the cult quietly." There are about 7 million registered Protestants in China, which prohibits children from religious instruction and attending religious services, and about 50 million in house churches.
SOURCES: James and Marti Hefley, By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century; Media Research Center; Freedom House; Voice of the Martyrs; Paul Johnson, Modern Times; International Center for Human Rights and Decency; James A Haught, 2000 Years of Disbelief