The one immortal blemish

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Issue: "Osama bin Ashcroft?," April 27, 2002

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.

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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.


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