Category: Christianity

All imperialism

Monroe,

It’s Sunday morning. Why aren’t you in church? I hate to bring this up again because I got flamed big-time on the last occasion, but here’s an excerpt from Charlie Reese’s editorial in today’s local paper:

All imperialism, even the American form, is ultimately based on social Darwinism, a belief not openly stated these days that we are a superior people and therefore must inevitably rule in one way or another the inferior others.

Earlier in the last century, this was openly admitted. Read this quote from Frederick Courtney Selous, a British colonialist who played a large role in establishing Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

“Matabeleland (a part of future Rhodesia) is doomed by what seems a law of nature to be ruled by the white man, and the black man must go, or conform to the white man’s laws, or die in resisting them. … The British colonist is but the irresponsible atom employed in carrying out a preordained law – the law which has ruled upon this planet ever since … organic life was first evolved upon the earth – the inexorable law which Darwin has aptly termed the Survival of the Fittest.”

Of course, today there is no Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe is ruled by black people, as is all of sub-Saharan Africa. The British Empire, upon which in the past the sun never set, no longer exists. What happened to the survival of the fittest?

Well, intellectuals, whether British or American, are inevitably out of touch with reality. It didn’t seem to occur to them that even a person who couldn’t read Latin or solve a simple equation could nevertheless wield a machete and shoot a rifle. An illiterate man can eradicate a lot of intelligence, experience and education with one 10-cent bullet. He can undo the work of years in a second. The Europeans didn’t voluntarily abandon their colonies. They were driven out by people they had considered inferior.

The code word we use for superiority these days is “democracy.” It is democracy that is superior to all other forms of government, and therefore we are doing people a favor to spread it while, like the British, exploiting their natural resources and cheap labor. We will eventually meet the same fate as the British. The Philippines have already kicked us out. Sooner or later, the Japanese will tell us to get out of Okinawa and other parts of Japan. Even one day the South Koreans and the Germans will say, “Go home.”

In my opinion, we are living in a world that has rationalized that there is nothing to strive for but “what’s in it for me.” To get back to the title of your religious tract, what we see all around us is exactly what happens… The best defenses of Christianity I’ve read weren’t based on whether or not evolution was/is good science, but on the basis of philosophical reasoning. C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and Elton Trueblood’s “A Place To Stand” are excellent answers to the old question of “Is the universe – and us in it – some kind of cosmic accident?” If you’re really interested in “What happens to the Gospel…” then read what they have to say.

—–Original Message—–
From: Monroe Pastermack
Sent: Sunday, August 14, 2005 10:56 AM
To: ACS Listserv
Subject: I just came across this religious tract

Do any of you have comments?
As I recall it came form the Newsletter of the Flat Earth Society.
Monroe

What Happens to the Gospel if Evolution is True?

SIN: No objective basis for determining right and wrong. Even if one believes there is a God, and believes in evolutionary naturalism, that God is not personally involved in His creation. (He works through natural laws), and therefore He has no knowledge or care of personal lives, deeds or misdeeds.

SAVIOR: Belief in a Savior cab be little more than a psychological exercise since there is no responsibility for sin to be saved from. Why do I need a Savior -and from what?

SALVATION: At best, salvation may provide the illusion of hope, but this life is all that there is. At worst, as many evolutionists have pointed out, “dreams” of salvation distract people from “realizing their full potential here and now.”

SCRIPTURE: The Bible is nothing more than a records of what the ancients believed -beliefs which may have been helpful at one time in man’s evolution, but which are now outmoded by better standards. Evolutionists who accept God . and choose in Scripture accepting what they like and rejecting as myths those things that don’t suit them, according to their subjective tastes. Organized religion ends up striving for “unity in diversity” as a result of all these subjective tastes getting together.

Christopher Chui

Detail from 1867 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Napoleon and His Staff in Egypt.  http://en.wahooart.com/A55A04/w.nsf/Opra/BRUE-8BWS6V or http://bit.ly/oVtDc6 or http://tinyurl.com/3k9frhm

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2005/08/14/all-imperialism/

True believers

I think that for most people, their religion, philosophy, life’s ambition (or whatever you want to call their primary sense of purpose) has degenerated into a football-fan spectator sport. It no longer matters whether you’re a good steward of the environment, or whether you’re building good relations with your neighbors, or whether you’re gainfully employed or, better yet, employing. It just matters that you’re rooting for the winning team and accumulating as many toys along the way as you can.

I think that when things get really, really tough again — then we’ll find out who the “true believers” are. If history is any guide, there won’t be many. There is a thread of dissent that runs throughout the history of Christianity — when it became easy (after Constantine) or popular (right now) to be a Christian, then the basic message of the Gospel gets subverted and perverted by the artificial traditions of men and a lot of really stupid books like the “Left (your mind) Behind” series. There is/was always a small population of dissenters (heretics according to the Establishment church) who preserved the texts and ideals of Christian orthodoxy (and not the Greek kind) despite horrific persecutions — the kind that aren’t supposed to happen to “true believers” because they’re supposed to get whisked outa here in a fantastical rapture before things get really, really bad (but only for the bad guys).

Personally, I think our Republic began dying during the Civil War. I know that slavery was bad and the war ended that (at least in a legal sense), but a lot of our ideals about personal and regional independence were destroyed as well. Don’t know if it’s related to this conversation or not, but here’s an interesting excerpt from a letter President Eisenhower penned to his brother, Edgar Newton Eisenhower, on 8 November 1954:

Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this–in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Neither side has men the caliber of Ike and Harry any more. Even if they’re out there, I’m not sure they can lead us out of the mess we’re in. Depressing as hell, ain’t it?

Photograph of Eisenhower, by Richard Avedon:  http://theworldofphotographers.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/3385/dwight-david-eisenhower-richard-avedon/ or http://bit.ly/lDR0hN or http://tinyurl.com/6b24aja

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2005/06/09/true-believers/

Don’t you realize?

It’s really very simple. George W. Bush IS God, or at least speaking directly for Him. What I can’t quite figure out is why God can’t pronounce “nuclear” or string together a coherent, gramatically-correct sentence (to paraphrase Molly Ivins). Anyway, nearly half of the country acknowledges Bush’s deity and the other half are hell-bound infidels who don’t matter anyway. You’re either with Bush or you’re an enemy of the state. End of story, end of discussion. If you can even engage the blindly devoted in a discussion…

Photograph of GW from http://revart.blogs.com/minister_of_rants/2006/week45/index.html or http://bit.ly/pKZjSc or http://tinyurl.com/3lkqyjn.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2005/06/09/dont-you-realize/

Evangelism 101

This is from part of President Daniel Bliss’ speech when the cornerstone of College Hall was dedicated at the Syrian Protestant College (now American University of Beirut) in 1871:

“This college is for all conditions and classes of men without regard to color, nationality, race or religion. A man, white, black, or yellow, Christian, Jew, Mohammedan or heathen, may enter and enjoy all the advantages of this institution for three, four or eight years; and go out believing in one God, in many gods, or in no God. But it will be impossible for anyone to continue with us long without knowing what we believe to be the truth and our reasons for that belief.”

Photograph of Daniel Bliss from http://www.aub.edu.lb/president/Documents/biographies/Daniel%20Bliss.htm or http://bit.ly/p3jOmy or http://tinyurl.com/3mzmxsk

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2005/06/09/evangelism-101/

Rights and wrongs are rather more complex

Seidnaya

Syria’s Shades of Gray

By William Dalrymple, June 07, 2003

 

The United States has probably never been more engaged in the Middle East than now, with an American army of occupation in Iraq and President Bush promoting a Israeli-Palestinian road map to peace. Yet the Bush administration has virtually ignored Syria, which physically links Iraq and Israel, except to single it out as a target of occasional bellicose threats. There has been no question of constructive engagement with Iraq’s most powerful Arab neighbor. Instead Syria is seen merely as an unofficial adjunct to the Axis of Evil, ripe for reform if not outright invasion.

That’s unfortunate, because Syria, despite its many justifiably condemned policies, stands out in the Middle East in one respect that American policy makers should take into consideration. This aspect of Syria is most starkly on display at Saidnaya, a large Orthodox monastery north of Damascus.

The monastery sits on a great crag of rock overlooking the olive groves of the Damascene plain, more like a Crusader castle than a place of worship. But what is most striking about Saidnaya is that on any given night, Muslim pilgrims far outnumber Christian ones. When you walk into its ancient pilgrimage church, you find the congregation consists largely of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. As the priest circles the altar, filling the sanctuary with clouds of incense, the men bob up and down on their prayer mats. A few of the women approach the icons. They kiss them, then light a candle.

Ordinary Muslims in Syria, it seems, have not forgotten the line in the Koran about not disputing with the people of the book — that is, Jews and Christians — ”save in the most courteous manner . . . and say we believe in what has been sent down to us and what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is one.”

The religious pluralism that the pilgrimage church represents was once not uncommon across the Levant. Throughout the region until very recently, villagers of all faiths would converge on the shrines of Christian saints to ask for children and good harvests. Eastern Christians and Muslims lived side by side for nearly one and a half millennia because of a degree of mutual tolerance and shared customs unimaginable in the solidly Christian West. From Bosnia to Egypt, Christians and Muslims as well as many other religious minorities managed to live together. If that coexistence was not always harmonious, it was at least — with a few notable exceptions — until the beginning of the 20th century, a kind of pluralist equilibrium.

Only in the last 100 years has that pluralism been replaced by a new hardening in attitudes. Across the former Ottoman dominions, the 20th century saw the bloody unraveling of that complex tapestry — most recently in Kosovo and Bosnia, but before that in Cyprus, Palestine, Greece and Turkey. In each of these places pluralism has been replaced by a savage polarization. In dribs and drabs, and sometimes in great tragic exoduses, religious minorities have fled to places where they can be majorities, and those too few for that have fled the region altogether. Only in Syria has this process been firmly arrested: there alone, you still find five or six religious sects coexisting in villages across the country.

Since the coalition’s victory in Iraq, Syria has frequently been given notice that it could well be the next target of American wrath. Yet the Middle East is not a place where the simplistic notion of good guys and bad guys makes much sense. It is a place of murky moral gray, not black and white. Torture, repression of minorities, the imposition of military law and the abuse of basic human rights happen every bit as frequently and as unpleasantly in states that are American allies as they do in states that are not.

Certainly, most would agree that Syria has much to reform. It is a one-party state where political activists are suppressed and the secret police fill jail cells with political prisoners who will never come before a judge. Violent opposition to the regime is met with overwhelming force, most horribly in the case of the armed rising of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982: the city was sealed off and at least 10,000 people were killed.

Yet the balance sheet is not entirely one-sided, and with the Pentagon busy drawing up invasion plans even as Iraq still contends with postwar anarchy and the Taliban resurfaces in southern Afghanistan, it is well to consider carefully exactly what would be lost if Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, were to be deposed.

For if Syria is a one-party police state, it is a police state that tends to leave its citizens alone as long as they keep out of politics. And if political freedoms have always been severely and often brutally restricted, Mr. Assad’s regime does allow the Syrian people cultural and religious freedoms. Today, these give Syria’s minorities a security and stability far greater than their counterparts anywhere else in the region. This is particularly true of Syria’s ancient Christian communities.

Almost everywhere else in the Levant, because of discrimination and in some cases outright persecution, the Christians are leaving. Today in the Middle East they are a small minority of 14 million; in the last 20 years at least two million have left to make new lives for themselves in Europe, Australia and America. Only in Syria has this pattern been resisted. As the Syrian Orthodox metropolitan of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Ibrahim, told me on my last visit: ”Christians are better off in Syria than anywhere else in the Middle East. Other than Lebanon, this is the only country in the region where a Christian can really feel the equal of a Muslim.”

He added: ”If Syria were not here, we would be finished. It is a place of sanctuary, a haven for all the Christians: for the Nestorians driven out of Iraq, the Syrian Orthodox and the Armenians driven out of Turkey, even the Palestinian Christians driven out by the Israelis” in 1948.

The confidence of the Christians in Syria is something you can’t help but notice the minute you arrive in the country. This is particularly so if you arrive from eastern Turkey. There, until very recently, minority languages like the Aramaic spoken by Syrian Orthodox Christians were banned from the airwaves and from schools. For Christianity in eastern Turkey is a secretive affair, and the government has closed all the country’s seminaries.

But cross into Syria and you find a very different picture. Qamishli, the first town on the Syrian side of the frontier, is 75 percent Christian, and icons of Christ and images of his mother fill shops and decorate every other car window — an extraordinary display after the furtiveness of Christianity in Turkey.

The reason for this is not hard to find. President Assad is Alawite, a Muslim minority regarded by orthodox Sunni Muslims as heretical and disparagingly referred to as ”little Christians”: indeed some scholars believe their liturgy to be partly Christian in origin. Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, who was president from 1971 until his death in 2000, kept himself in power by forming what was in effect a coalition of Syria’s religious minorities through which he was able to counterbalance the weight of the Sunni majority. In the Assads’ Syria, Christians have done particularly well: in his final years, five of Hafez’s seven closest advisers were Christians. The Christians are openly fearful that if the Assad regime should fall, their last real haven in the Middle East will disappear and be replaced by yet another fundamentalist government, as may be the case in Iraq.

All this does not excuse the repressive policies of the Assad regime. But in a region where repression is the rule rather than the exception, it is important to remember that the political rights and wrongs are rather more complex than the neoconservatives and Pentagon hawks are prepared to acknowledge — or perhaps even know.

William Dalrymple is author of ”From the Holy Mountain: Travels Among the Christians of the Middle East” and ”White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-Century India.”

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/07/opinion/syria-s-shades-of-gray.html or http://nyti.ms/17AqrQO

Photograph (modified) of Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya, by Jerzy Strzelecki, 2001.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seidnaya(js)2.jpg

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2003/06/07/rights-and-wrongs-are-rather-more-complex/

Fertile shores of the 700 Club

Dear editor,

A couple of nights ago, channel-surfing landed me on the fertile shores of the 700 Club. The Reverend Pat Robertson was doing a spectacular job of keeping a straight face as he “logically” connected the dots for his audience, directly linking natural disasters in these United States — fires, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes — to her continued diplomatic “interference” in Israel’s affairs, first with the Camp David agreement, then the Oslo accords, and now the “Road Map” to peace. The moral of Rev. Robertson’s story (he spelled it out in case you weren’t clever enough to follow along) was that Israel gets everything it wants or God will get you.

Such brilliant logic would be funny if the consequences of letting Israel run amok weren’t so tragic. America’s 50-year hands-off sponsorship of theocratic apartheid, now steeped in a folklore-as-religion of fables and prophetic fantasies, has brought untold misery to the Middle East and irreparable damage to nearly two centuries of charitable engagement by Western missionaries. It is hard to remember, given the current state of affairs, that Jews and Christians and Muslims lived together in relative tranquility for most of these last thousand years. (“Relative” is the important disclaimer here — for the last 500 years at least, us civilized Westerners are off the scale in terms of being really, really good at killing ourselves and everyone around us.)

Maybe one of the reasons Americans support Israel so uncritically is that we view them as a righteous extension, an “embed” of our Western, “Judeo-Christian” ideals in a godless heathen land. Maybe we’re vicariously reliving the thrill of exterminating our own indigenous populations, of herding them like animals onto reservations. Maybe the true mark of a civilization’s superiority is its ability to covet what it hasn’t been naturally blessed with. We noble Europeans and Americans have meddled in every corner of the globe in our rabid pursuit of land, water, cotton, opium, rubber, bananas, and now oil. But hey, as long as we’re wearing our WWJD trinkets, and as long as we leave Israel alone to misbehave just like we did… And as long as we’re praying our Jabez prayer (that the stock market recovers and we continue to be richly blessed with low-cost imported sneakers and blue jeans made with child and near-slave labor), then God is surely on our side. For ever and ever, Amen.

Jacques d’Nalgar

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2003/06/06/fertile-shores-of-the-700-club/