John Azzopardi wrote that, in 2016, “90,000 Christians were killed because of their faith” (January 24). This figure is highly exaggerated, as the BBC’s ‘More or less: behind the statistics’ points out.

The correct figure of Christians killed - not because of their personal faith but because of their religion - was about 10,000. This tendency by Christians to hype up the numbers of their ‘martyrs’ can be traced back to their early history. As historians Edward Gibbon and Will Durant observed, more Christians killed each other during the Arian and Monophysite controversies over mere words and phrases in their own ‘creed’ than were killed by the edicts of Roman emperors.

Early Christians suffered from a persecution complex, which persists to this day. It did not take long for their complex to metamorphose into martyr psychosis. Their Acta Martyrum was full of far-fetched legends and exaggerations. To be ‘martyred’ was to be guaranteed a place in heaven - a familiar strain heard too often even today.

Cyprian described the delight of the Lord with the spectacle of “flowing blood which quenches the fires of hell by its glorious gore”.

Some early Christians courted martyrdom as if they had a death wish. One Roman governor pleaded with a would-be martyr: “Do you want to wait a few days to think it over?” On another occasion, a group of Christians approached the governor of Asia and begged him to put them to death. The governor refused to oblige them. He told them they were free to use cliffs and ropes if they wished.

It was during this Christian mania for ‘martyrdom’ that Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations: “Let me not make a tragic show of my faith.”

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