Christianity and Freedom Vol. II, Contemporary Perspectives by Allen D. Hertzke and Samuel Shah, eds. Cambridge, 518 pp., $145.50 Reviewed by Stephen Schwartz

First Things Blog May 6, 2016

This volume accompanies another substantial collection, Christianity and Freedom: Volume 1, Historical Perspectives, prepared by the same editors. Professor Hertzke is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences as well as the faculty of the University of Oklahoma. Mr. Shah is a staff member at Georgetown. So monumental a work was funded by the John Templeton and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundations, with academic support from Baylor University and the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown.

In an Introduction, Prof. Hertzke avers that the compilation of the sixteen papers in Volume 2 took place in the shadow of interreligious and intrareligious bloodshed in Iraq, epitomized by the brutal atrocities of the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). While the world watched, massacres, expulsions, and onerous regulations imposed on the Christians of Iraq accelerated with the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS.

Christians suffering for their commitment is not new, but the current attacks have a special significance for the future of freedom in the world. The editors argue that the continuity of Christian history through the present demonstrates that Christianity bears within itself “a transcendent conception of human dignity and equality conducive to free institutions and societies.” For this reason, they declare, the fate of other religious minorities and of religious pluralism in general in the Middle East depends on that of the Christians. One might then think that the future of pluralism is dim in that region.

But the observations of the contributing authors are judicious and do not reinforce stereotypes. In a paper titled “Arab Muslim Attitudes Toward Religious Minorities,” Michael Hoffman and Amaney A. Jamal of Princeton University recognize that in the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), 90 percent of all such countries curb proselytization by minority religions (i.e. those other than Islam). But they go on to assert that “the majority of MENA countries do not [emphasis in the original] restrict public observance, access to places of worship, production or dissemination of religious materials, or ordination of clergy, and barely 20 percent of countries in the region require religious minorities to observe Islamic religious law.”

The editors entrusted the definitive paper in this book, “Patterns and Purposes of Contemporary Anti-Christian Persecution,” to Paul Marshall, the outstanding Washington-based monitor of religious freedom, based at the Hudson Institute. Marshall presents a thorough and valuable “map” of the difficulties faced by Christians around the world today.

These comprise restrictions by the remaining Communist regimes, including China, Cuba, and Vietnam; South Asian religious extremism among Hindus and Buddhists; and oppression in the Muslim-majority lands and by “post-Communist, national security, and other authoritarian states.” The latter group includes Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Belarus. Marshall specifies that Muslim countries, although they do not account for the largest number of Christian victims, are the location of the most widespread persecution and where persecution is increasing.

Marshall observes further that contemporary persecution of Christians “is massive, it is relatively underreported, and in several parts of the world it is growing.” He notes that “while they do not rise to the level of persecution, there are also increasing restrictions on religious freedom in the West caused by newer forms of secularism.”

Nevertheless, as delineated by Marshall, China and its recusant Communist peers “are still the largest source of Christian persecution, simply because of the sheer numbers of Christians living within their borders—especially in China.” Marshall estimates there are at least 70 million Chinese Christians, and that “there are likely now more Christians than Communist Party members in China.” (The Communist Party of China claims some 88 million members.)

Turning to the relations between Christians and Muslims, Marshall writes, “in the Muslim-majority world . . . persecution of Christians is now most intense and involves the greatest number of countries. Ominously, persecution in these areas is increasing. Extremist Muslims are expanding their repression and sometimes even direct it at their coreligionists, the majority of Muslims who reject the radicals’ programs.”

Marshall describes Malaysia, Turkey, the Turkish-occupied zone of Cyprus, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories as “not as dangerous for Christians as Saudi Arabia or Iran.” Still, the former countries “in varying degrees . . . discriminate against Christians, and, at times, Christians are subject to acts of persecution, which serve to restrict Christian practice.”

The Saudi kingdom recognizes Islam as the sole lawful faith within its borders. But as Marshall emphasizes, its residents encompass “millions of Christians” compelled to conceal their faith. Western expatriates may worship in their closed compounds, but Saudi Arabia houses, as well, Christians from Egypt and Lebanon, and Christian workers from Muslim-majority Pakistan and Bangladesh, and Christians from the Philippines.

There are parallels to the global appeal of Christianity, as well as to its widespread martyrdom. This book offers important studies of national churches that have suffered persecution, as documentation of their share in the progress of their countries. The Vietnamese Christians are discussed in a paper by Reg Reimer of the World Evangelical Alliance, an active missionary in Vietnam. Reimer praises the first Catholic missionaries in Vietnam, who arrived in the 17th century and invented a Latinized alphabet, replacing a traditional system based on Chinese characters. The spread of Western-style writing made possible a literacy rate of 95 percent.

If one lesson emerges from this wide survey, it is that cultural contexts in which Christians spread their faith, and are sometimes oppressed for it, are extremely diverse. An illuminating paper on “Christianity and Religious Freedom in Indonesia Since 1998,” by Zainal Abidin Bagir, an Indonesian scholar, and Robert W. Hefner of Boston University, explains the legacy of 350 years of Dutch colonial rule in the world’s largest Muslim society, counting 250 million people. This heritage offers a surprising perspective on the separation of church and state.

The Dutch brought with them a “corporate” and “consocial” model of religious relations, such as exists today in both the Netherlands and Belgium, and has been continued by Indonesia. Under this system, the state recognizes, administers, and finances recognized religious communities. Among the Indonesians, these are six: Islam (87 percent), Protestantism (seven percent), Catholicism (three percent), and “declining” communities of Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians.

Indonesian state support for religion has created some problems. In 1965, under former leftist dictator Sukarno, the country adopted a law against “religious defamation,” aimed against “new religions” that drew Muslims away from Islam. Since the democratization of Indonesia began in 1998, complaints of “religious defamation” have increased in number.

The augmentation of radical Islam presents yet another challenge to Christians and moderate Muslims in Indonesia. The final judgment of Bagir and Hefner holds that Indonesia “has a wealth of social resources for pluralist coexistence . . . But much work needs to be done.”