Rupert SHORTT. Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012. pp. 328. $26.00 pb. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6985-2. Reviewed by Daniel LLOYD, Saint Leo University, North Charleston, SC 29406.
Rupert Shortt’s Christianophobia presents a much needed account of Christian persecution in the modern world. In part, acknowledging the rise of religious practice internationally is an important framework for understanding the material presented in the book. As Shortt points out, this is a trend surprising to many who assumed a clear trajectory of increasing secularization (xiii). Predictably, Islamism plays a large part in the examples of persecution and oppression which the author presents. Shortt, however, repeatedly distinguishes between the rise of militant Islam and his classification of Islam as not inherently more violent than any other religion. Furthermore, as Shortt’s research makes clear, much of the persecution of Christianity in the world is not at all related to Islam. Persecutions based on the desire for unhindered political control (mainly in the form of iterations of communism) and cultural homogeneity also feature significantly.
The author organizes the book in chapters dealing mainly with individual countries. The first ten chapters survey Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, Burma, and China. Shortt looks at Vietnam and North Korea in chapter 11 and the Holy Land in 12. The thirteenth chapter is a rundown of six countries. As the author points out several times, the book is about persecution of Christians, and he keeps the focus on that phenomenon. Nevertheless, Shortt remains concerned throughout the book to offer an evenhanded presentation of situations where groups other than Christians share in persecution.
The general focus on severe persecution leads Shortt to identify some of the worst violating countries, but he also allows himself the flexibility to treat some others, such as Venezuela. A little surprisingly, Israel makes the cut, which some will undoubtedly view as politically motived in light of the relatively limited evidence of the extreme forms of persecution compared with the other countries discussed. Others will see it as Shortt’s attempt to fill out the contours and flexibility of the term “persecution.” Although no one doubts the need for a constant and serious discussion of the issues related to the Holy Land, the inclusion of Israel was a little odd in that it did not very well fit the basic rubric of persecution established in the other chapters.
Shortt relies on presenting a blend of well documented reports and personal narratives in order to analyze the different instances of systematic oppression. The result is a bracing and highly engaging book. Shortt’s work as a journalist and as the religion editor of the The Times Literary Supplement shine through in his ability to draw his readers into feeling strong personal connections with the individuals and the communities discussed. Beyond the fact that some of these reports and stories have made it into the headlines, one is left amazed at how many more have not. This last point confirms what Shortt himself notes as one of the reasons for writing the book, namely the need to correct the media’s neglect of the widespread and methodical persecution of Christians in the modern world (263). His argument is successful, and the book engages the reader by pressing him through a wide array of emotions: anger at the story of children tortured in a Vietnamese village for attending a religion class (207), anguish at the details of a mother lying quietly for hours between her murdered sons killed during a Catholic mass in Iraq (30-33), hope reading about the struggle of some Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to end the repeated choice for hate and violence (127-128).
Christianophobia is necessary reading, simply put. The evidence and stories Shortt marshals defy easy categorization. They also defy the all-encompassing and lazy narratives too frequently offered as an explanation for conflict in the world, whether that narrative is based entirely on the repercussions of post-colonialism or wealth disparity. There is obviously much that is unpleasant in this book. However, genuine engagement with the world politically, economically, socially, and religiously means real engagement with reality. Shortt’s presentation and analysis accomplish this engagement admirably.