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Friday, August 3, 2012

Away with Them

It is a grim irony: in the Roman Empire before Constantine, the principal charge laid against Christians was that they were atheists, of all things, because they refused to worship false gods, including Caesar himself. In the second century, Polycarp, the old bishop of Smyrna, was captured and taken into the arena. Being threatened by wild animals and fire, the proconsul urged him to repent by saying, “Away with the atheists.” Polycarp gestured at the bloodthirsty crowd in the stands, who refused to worship the true God, the Father of Jesus Christ, and pronounced, “Away with the atheists!”

I have an image in my mind that I’m standing in a courtroom being threatened with severe punishment. The judge tells me I can avoid my fate by saying, “Away with the bigots.” I turn and gesture to the jury, the officers, the prosecutors, and the packed gallery and say, “Away with the bigots!”

They tried to burn Polycarp at the stake, but the flame wouldn't touch him. So they plunged a dagger into him and he died.

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