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Can't We All Just Get Along?

Reader comment on item: Christianity Dying in Its Birthplace

Submitted by Kierkegaard (United States), Sep 16, 2005 at 14:58

I have always been a great admirer of Mr. Pipes and so have become a regular reader of this, his website; indeed on several occasions I have actually written comments in reply to his articles, not merely because they raise interesting and courageous points but also I think because of the astonishing erudition of his readers (as exemplified by their comments) and something more that is a bit difficult to describe. I think it's the essential 'humanness' that is often revealed in their words, reflecting a touching state of fears, prejudices, and needs, along with a wide range of knowledge and occasional expertise by which I am pleased to be instructed. I have never written anything at any other blog or website; in fact I am barely engaged with the world at all, never having held any sort of job (despite being born into poverty); instead having spent half a century self-indulgently reading and day-dreaming by turns.

However deplorable, my lifestyle has granted me a certain detachment in my political views, which are necessarily oppressed by history. When I read attacks here, by otherwise decent and educated contributors, on each other's religious beliefs it saddens me, not merely because such outbursts resemble nothing so much as the maddened blind flailing out at each other in a darkened prison cell, but also because there is almost nothing expressed intellectually in them that hasn't been written before, whether recently or in the millenium before by the vilest of propogandists. Visceral hatred of religion--any religion, on any grounds--is simple tribalism dignified by a new dictionary. All religion, quite simply, arises from a laudable attempt to codify humankind's more spiritual and compassionate instincts and impulses into a workable blueprint for social survival. That blueprint necessarily changes with the times and conditions of its framers, and we cannot blame our ancestors of a thousand--or six thousand--years in the past for their own prejudices and lack of modern correctness. There are passages in the Koran, as well as the Hebrew Bible (and indeed the Bhagavad Gita and the T'ao te Ch'ing) which make me personally cringe, but the one common thread that elevates all spiritual writings is the quest for God. As long as we are all embarked upon that quest, we are all co-religionists; those who, like the Assassins of the Middle Ages, believe that their murderous suicide missions are part of that quest are merely Manchurian Candidates; I need scarcely remind this audience of the enormous pressure brought to bear in madrassahs and by the well-paid families of such 'martyrs'. Real religion has nothing to do with it; even the least devout among us recognize instinctively that God does not delight in murder. When we go to war, the sober and religious among us leave God behind to guard our homes; anyone with combat experience knows that He plays no favorites in battle.

In an earlier comment... I pointed out the similarities between the ancient Assassins (named after their consumption of hashish) and the modern outbreak of the revived tactic of the suicide bomber; indeed, the headquarters of the sect were in the Bekaa valley and in northern Iran; history, as I say, endlessly repeats itself. I also pointed out that initially Islam was simply viewed as a Christian heresy by the Church and that Muhammed or Mahomet was reviled as a demon, Baphomet, by medieval Catholics; in their eyes Islam was Satanic. ... (Interestingly, the Vatican has quietly begun to take steps to revive the notion of Satan as an active force again: http://news.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/09/16/wexocr16.xml)

My point was, quite simply, that it is useless to expect Christianity to protect its own in the Middle East because in essence, most mainstream Christian church leaders no longer believe--literally--in the tenets of the religion they are paid to be a part of. This trend was brilliantly satirized in the 1960s by Auberon Waugh in 'Consider the Lilies'; his target then was the avowedly agnostic Anglican Church, but his cruel honesty applies equally well to most modern denominations. Indeed, so comical has the trend become that I can most easily illustrate it by mentioning the recent arrests of two Episcopalian ministers, husband and wife, in Pennsylvania for participating in an outdoor 'Wiccan' ceremony in the nude. In short, there are very few priests, ministers, pastors, or indeed rabbis who implicitly believe in Satan, or in fact any absolute personification of Evil any more, and those public figures in the West who employ the term at all are likely to excite mockery from their ranks. In this, too, the West differs signally with Islam, for whom Satan remains a vivid symbol, if not a palpable physical presence (there is a rumor that Sadam Hussein, like Sammy Davis Jr, is a practicing Satanist and wears an amulet to advertise his allegiance).

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has traditionally viewed the Christian sects in 'Palestine' as heretical as well. As most of Mr. Pipes' readers know, Palestinian Christianity is a crazy-quilt of Aramaic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Georgian, Armenian, Abyssinian etc. belief, much of which predates the consolidation of the western church. During the Crusades many of these groups were persecuted by Rome and thousands exterminated, which is how they first came to find common cause with their Muslim Arab cousins. Further, after the Arab-Israeli wars many were pushed out of Jerusalem, where they had once been a majority, further radicalizing their already anti-Zionist political stance (and often personal anti-Jewish prejudices). The Church of England has since championed many of their causes in the West, but this has more to do with the political 'Arabism' of the British Foreign Office during the 1920s and 30s than any commonality of belief or peculiar doctrinal sympathy. Indeed, it is the British (and I say this as one who remembers his schooldays in London with great affection) who are most to blame for the current critical stalemate in the 'Palestine' which, like Iraq, is largely their artificial colonial creation.

But never mind. This is the world we have inherited and must all live in. And no one who has read the poetry of the great 17th-Century Sufi masters, the sonorous Shakespearean grandeur of the King James Bible, the boundlessly human and dignified words of the Buddha, or thrilled at the very sight of the Qumran Scrolls, can fail to doubt that God is everywhere and in all of us. That we dispute it endlessly and lethally has to do with the Ape rather than the Angel. Any group which, like the Chaldean or Palestinian Christians, placed their hope of a future with the power blocs the British left in place, or, even more foolishly, in the mercy and tolerance of a vigorously hostile oppressing religion, is doomed to extinction. One can only feel great sorrow and sympathy for them for having so palpably backed the wrong horse. And that is about all they can expect from their co-religionists in the West, aside from the economic sanctions against the 'Zionist Entity', which are aimed, not at easing their plight, but rather at appeasing their persecutors.
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