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An atheist explains the different political theologies he sees in Christianity and Islam (does it explain violence and oppression?)

28 Jan

From Robert Tracinski in The Federalist:

The Charlie Hebdo massacre once again has politicians and the media dancing around the question of whether there might be something a little bit special about this one particular religion, Islam, that causes its adherents to go around killing people.

It is not considered acceptable in polite company to entertain this possibility. Instead, it is necessary to insist, as a New York Times article does, that “Islam is no more inherently violent than other religions.” This, mind you, was in an article on how Muslims in the Middle East are agonizing over the violent legacy of their religion.

It is obviously true that all major religions have had violent periods, or periods in which the religion has coexisted with violence. Even those mellow pacifist Buddhists. These days, especially the Buddhists, who are currently fomenting a pogrom against a Muslim minority in Burma.

But in today’s context, it’s absurd to equate Islam and Christianity. Pointing to the Spanish Inquisition tends to undermine the point rather than confirm it: if you have to look back three hundred years to find atrocities, it’s because there are so few of them today. The mass crimes committed under the name of Islam, by contrast, are fresh and openly boasted about.

As an atheist, I have no god in this fight, so to speak. I don’t think the differences between religions make one more valid than another. But as the Charlie Hedbo attack reminds us, there is a big practical difference between them. In fact, the best argument against the equivalence of Christianity and Islam is that no one acts even remotely as if this were true. We feel free to criticize and offend Christians without a second thought—thanks, guys, for being so cool about that—but antagonizing Muslims takes courage. More courage than a lot of secular types in the West can usually muster.

So it’s a matter of some practical urgency to figure out: what is the difference? What are its root causes?

As I see it, the main danger posed by any religion to its dissenters and unbelievers lies in the rejection of reason, which cuts off the possibility of discussion and debate, leaving coercion as an acceptable substitute. I’m with Voltaire on that one: “If we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities.” But all religions are different and have different doctrines which are shaped over their history—and as we shall see, that includes different views on precisely such core issues as the role of reason and persuasion.

I should preface this by saying that I am no expert on theology, particularly Muslim theology. Yet there are a number of big, widely documented differences between Christianity and Islam that can be seen in the traditions established by their history and in the actual content of their religious doctrines.

The life of Christ versus the life of Mohammed.

Mohammed was a conqueror who gained worldly political power in his lifetime and used it to persecute opponents and impose his religion. He also fully enjoyed the worldly perks of being a tyrant, including multiple wives. Jesus, by contrast, was basically a pacifist whose whole purpose on earth was to allow himself to be tortured to death.

He even explicitly forbade his followers to use force to defend him. Here’s John, Chapter 18: “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear…. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

This does not imply that all Christians ought to be pacifists. But it certainly sets a tone for the religion. The life of the founder of a religion is held up to his followers as a model for how they should live their own lives. The life of Mohammed tells the Muslim that he should expect to rule, whereas the life of Christ tells the Christian he should expect to sacrifice and serve. Which leads us to a deeper doctrinal difference.

“What you do to the least of these, you do to me.”
In Matthew, Chapter 25, Christ tells his followers what will happen during the final judgment, when he separates the righteous from the wicked.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Similarly, there is an episode during the Last Supper when the apostles are squabbling about which of them is greatest. Christ intervenes and tells them that the greatest is he who serves others the most.

And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
This is a very profound idea that goes against the grain of most of human history. I’m a big fan of the Classical world, but the pagans still regarded it as normal, right, and natural that the physically strong set the terms for everyone else. Thucydides famously summed it up in the Melian Dialogue: “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Thucydides was clearly critical of that view, but the Classical world didn’t have a clear alternative. As far as I know, Christ was the first to insist that even the lowest, least significant person has value and that we will be judged by how we treat him.

The distinctive idea here is not a belief in self-sacrifice—Islam, with its emphasis on the glory of dying in battle, has that idea in abundance. Nor is it the idea of a duty to serve others—Communist regimes were built on the idea that the individual exists only to serve the collective. Instead, it is the idea that each individual has a supreme and sacred value. Even Ayn Rand declared this to be the idea from Christianity that most impressed her.

Islam has no corresponding idea. The news is constantly bringing us a story of some imam somewhere declaring it consistent with Islam for a man to beat his wife, and the rise of the Islamic State in Syria has provided us current examples of Islam sanctioning slavery, including the capture and systematic rape of sex slaves. This is a religion that is still very much in the “rights of the conqueror” mode, in which the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Again, this goes back to the beginning. Consider the story, from one of the earliest Arab biographies of Mohammed, of Asma bint Marwan, an Arab poet in Medinah who spoke out against the rise of Mohammed. According to legend, he asked his followers, “Who will rid me of the daughter of Marwan?” (His version of Henry II’s “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) One of them took it on himself to sneak into her house and murder her in her sleep. There are questions about the authenticity of the story, but the fact that it was widely believed and reported indicates the example Mohammed set.

To be sure, this brutal attitude is partly because of the backwardness of some of the quasi-feudal societies that are majority-Muslim, where divisions of tribe and caste still dominate. But then again, Islam hasn’t done much to elevate those societies, despite having more than a thousand years to do so.

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10 myths about Christian missions in history

9 Dec

I hear these all the time in the secular academy.

From Dr. Brian Stanley:

As followers of Christ and adherents of the Bible, Christians are called to be a people of the truth. Thus, it is crucial that we seek to understand our tradition as accurately as possible. So consider these top ten historical myths about world Christianity.

1. Christianity is a Western religion.

It neither began in Western Europe, nor has it ever been entirely confined to Western Europe. The period in which it appeared to be indissolubly linked to Western European identity was a relatively short one, lasting from the early 16th to the mid-20th centuries. The church in China, India, Ethiopia, and Iraq is older than the church in much of Northern Europe.

2. Christian missions operated hand-in-glove with the colonial powers.

Sometimes they did, but frequently they didn’t. Missions were usually critical of the way in which empires operated, mainly because they conceived of empire as a divinely bestowed trust. True, they didn’t oppose colonial rule on principle, but then who did before the late 20th century?

3. Christianity was imposed by force on non-Western people.

If this were true, it would reduce non-Western Christians—even today—to the status of passive recipients of Western ideological domination. In fact, Western missions never possessed the power necessary to achieve such capitulation, even if they wanted it, which they did not.

4. Protestant missions began with William Carey in 1792.

John Eliot’s mission work among the Native Americans of New England began as early as 1646. The first Lutheran missionaries arrived at Tranquebar in South India in 1706. In his famousAn Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792) Carey insisted that he had many predecessors.

5. Missionaries destroyed indigenous cultures.

Indigenous cultures were not static entities: to suggest that they were is characteristic of Western modernity. Missionaries often displayed what we would term cultural blindness, but their message, once translated into the vernacular, acquired indigenous cultural overtones. Missionary contributions to the inscription and study of indigenous languages have helped to preserve or enrich such cultures.

6. The 19th century was the great century of Christian missions.

It was the great age of Western missionary expansion, but not the great age of indigenous conversion and agency: that was the 20th century. K. S. Latourette’s “great century” is a misleading phrase.

7. ‘Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization’ was an imperial creed.

It was essentially an anti-slavery humanitarian creed, associated especially with David Livingstone (though he didn’t invent it). For those reasons it often led to advocacy of imperial solutions. Fighting slavery actually led imperial expansion as humanitarians called for deeper commitment from Britain to root out the slave trade at its sources in the African interior.

8. We live in a post-missionary era.

No, we don’t. There are approximately 426,000 foreign missionaries in the world today. In 1900 there were about 62,000. The United States still sends something like 127,000 missionaries overseas.

9. We live in a post-colonial age.

We certainly don’t live in a post-imperial age. Formal colonial rule is usually a last resort adopted by powerful nations who run out of cheaper options of control. Decolonization can be seen as a return to informal means of control. Definitions of what constitutes colonialism are contested: what about the subject status of first nations people in Canada, aborigines in Australia, Tibetans, West Papuans . . . and even the Scots?!

10. To proclaim the unique saving value of the Christian gospel is to be intolerant of other religions.

This is to confuse a theological position with an attitudinal stance. Because of their understanding of the nature of truth, Christians can (should?) believe that others are fundamentally mistaken in their beliefs and still defend to the hilt their right to hold and practise such beliefs.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published at the Centre for the Study of World Christianity.

Brian Stanley read history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and stayed on in Cambridge for his PhD on the place of missionary enthusiasm in Victorian religion. He has taught in theological colleges and universities in London, Bristol, and Cambridge, and from 1996 to 2001 was director of the Currents in World Christianity Project in the University of Cambridge. He was a fellow of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, from 1996 to 2008, and joined the University of Edinburgh in January 2009.

Just a reminder to the disciples of Jesus: Give, because He gave

2 Dec

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

From Acts 11

Should the church be involved in politics? Well, what is meant by politics?

7 Nov

From Greg Forster:

Growing numbers of Americans want pastors to talk about politics. A generation ago, we learned the hard way that when churches take sides in partisan and ideological disputes, the result is disaster. But there is a legitimate reason public demand for political theology is rising, and there are ways to meet that need without having pastors endorse candidates.

The Pew Foundation reports that the number of Americans who want pastors to talk about politics has risen to 49%, rising six points in the last four years. A full 32% want pastors to endorse specific candidates. It’s not clear how many of them are aware that churches are (rightly) forbidden to do this as long as they are tax-exempt entities.

There are a lot of reasons for churches to be wary of getting involved in elections and public policy. It discredits the gospel; 6003555815_f4a2434100_zwhen the stewards of the gospel message advocate political programs, people naturally get the idea that the gospel message is a political program. Pastors often compromise moral standards in order to forge alliances with the least-imperfect of the very imperfect candidates available. And it prevents the church from being the “church universal,” the place where everyone meets on equal terms.

Moreover, politics is simply not an area of giftedness for religious leaders. Unscruplous politicians are very skillful at manipulating well-meaning pastors. That seems to be their area of giftedness.

We saw all these lessons in the debacle of the Religious Right movement. However, that was not just a one-time event. Throughout the last century, American churches became the dupes of cynical politicians time and again. Richard Nixon was caught on the Watergate tapes discussing how to manipulate evangelicals, saying things like “you have to give the nuts 20% of what they want.” Billy Graham, who had done a great deal for Nixon, wept when he heard those tapes.

Does that mean churches should steer clear of anything political? Actually, it depends on what you mean by “political.”

The hunger for churches to speak into politics is perennial for a good reason. Every area of life needs a moral purpose and clear ethical boundaries, and no area of life needs it more desperately than this one. Where no one is casting a profound vision for the transcendent meaning and purpose of an activity, that activity quickly descends into shallow narcissism and brutal exploitation. And because politics involves the use of coercive power, it descends into brutality more quickly than most activities.

For the last century, we’ve been caught in a vicious circle. Churches keep getting drawn into politics because people are desperate for a moral vision that can humanize politics and point it toward its proper end: justice. Then, churches take sides in elections and ideological disputes, resulting in disaster. So churches withdraw from politics, and the cycle begins anew.

I think we might break out of this cycle if we rethink what we mean by “politics.” This word comes from the Greek polis, which simply means “city” – that is, the civil community. The deepest level of politics concerns the way the public business of the civil community is structured. As the editors of the journal First Thingsonce put it, politics in the profoundest sense is “free persons deliberating the question, How ought we to order our life together?”

The “politics” that really count in America is not who wins the election. It’s whether we will remain a nation dedicated to what have been our central political commitments: religious freedom, constitutional democracy, the rule of law, recognition of the household as the central social building block, equal dignity for women, an entrepreneurial economy based on opportunity and hard work, and a special concern to extend opportunity to the poor and the marginalized. Are these commitments just? Do we even remember what they mean? Those are the real political questions of our day.

If you think these commitments are just platitudes – so obviously right that they can be taken for granted and don’t need strong champions to speak out for them – you aren’t paying attention. I don’t think we need pastors to pick candidates or debate the tax rate. I do think we need pastors to remind us that the purpose of politics is justice, and to remind us of what justice requires.

This is exactly what the pastor is supposed to be doing anyway: helping people interpret the meaning of their lives and understand what God requires of them in all areas of life. Human beings are political creatures, and a gospel that has nothing to say about politics (in the sense of the polis) is a gospel that doesn’t renew the whole human person for Christ. If pastors learned to preach about public justice effectively, there would be more public justice – and, therefore, less demand for pastors to pick candidates.

TPC_GregForster_bioGreg Forster  has participated in previous Public Squares on capitalism and religious trends.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2014/11/politics-in-the-pulpit-yes-and-no/#ixzz3IOZXDEjv

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2014/11/politics-in-the-pulpit-yes-and-no/#ixzz3IOZICijc

Christianity is a natural prop for liberal democracy, Chinese communists are continuing to learn

8 Oct

As history shows (Western Civilization; South Korea, predominantly Christians nations in Africa and South America; America itself) and as research empirical research has shown, the internal logic of Christianity tends towards liberal democracy, even a constitutional republic.  China is finding this out these days (excerpt)…

The involvement of Protestants and Catholics in Hong Kong’s protest movement is an added concern for Beijing, which on the mainland has put in place an elaborate bureaucracy of agencies and state-approved religious bodies to monitor and control religious groups.

Hong Kong churches have long tried to spread Christianity in China. Protestant pastors based in Hong Kong have helped propagate the evangelical brands of Christianity that have alarmed the Chinese leadership in Beijing with their fast growth.

A religious group gathered in Hong Kong’s Admiralty area, a focal point of the pro-democracy protests, on Wednesday. Paul Beckett/The Wall Street Journal

About 480,000 Protestants and 363,000 Catholics live in Hong Kong, a city of about 7.2 million, according to government figures from 2013. Buddhists and Taoists make up the vast majority of the city, the government says. Many Hong Kongers have been educated through large networks of Catholic and Protestant schools.

That includes some protest leaders. Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old who is a public face of the rallies, was educated at one of the top Protestant-backed private schools in the city. Now in college, Wong was a 15-year-old student at United Christian College (Kowloon East) in 2012, when he led a movement called Scholarism that defeated the Hong Kong government’s plan to introduce patriotic education classes in schools.

Occupy Central leader Chu Yiu-ming is a Baptist minister, while founder Benny Tai is also a Christian. On Thursday, Mr. Tai declined to discuss his faith in detail, but he did call himself a “part time theologian” and said he could “write a thesis” on the topic of Christianity and the protests. “My faith is in the streets,” Mr. Tai added.

Wendy Lo, 21, was born in China’s Guangdong province but grew up in Hong Kong and became Christian after attending an Evangelical secondary school. The University of Hong Kong linguistics major says her bible study group this past weekend discussed how to interpret a biblical story in light of the protest movement. The chapter they read was about Queen Esther daring to approach the king without his permission.

“The story made me think about speaking up for myself,” said Ms. Lo. “If Hong Kong residents don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?”

Full Article

Why does America, both its Christians and the left, neglect the plight of Arab Christians?

15 Sep

From Ross Douthat (excerpt):

WHEN the long, grim history of Christianity’s disappearance from the Middle East is written, Ted Cruz’s performance last week at a conference organized to highlight the persecution of his co-religionists will merit at most a footnote. But sometimes a footnote can help illuminate a tragedy’s unhappy whole.

For decades, the Middle East’s increasingly beleaguered Christian communities have suffered from a fatal invisibility in the Western world. And their plight has been particularly invisible in the United States, which as a majority-Christian superpower might have been expected to provide particular support.

There are three reasons for this invisibility. The political left in the West associates Christian faith with dead white male imperialism and does not come naturally to the recognition that Christianity is now the globe’s most persecuted religion. And in the Middle East the Israel-Palestine question, with its colonial overtones, has been the left’s great obsession, whereas the less ideologically convenient plight of Christians under Islamic rule is often left untouched.

Photo

Farida Pols Matte, 80, in Ankawa, Iraq, with her family and other Iraqi Christian refugees. They are among the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. CreditLynsey Addario for The New York Times

To America’s strategic class, meanwhile, the Middle East’s Christians simply don’t have the kind of influence required to matter. A minority like the Kurds, geographically concentrated and well-armed, can be a player in the great game, a potential United States ally. But except in Lebanon, the region’s Christians are too scattered and impotent to offer much quid for the superpower’s quo. So whether we’re pursuing stability by backing the anti-Christian Saudis or pursuing transformation by toppling Saddam Hussein (and unleashing the furies on Iraq’s religious minorities), our policy makers have rarely given Christian interests any kind of due.

Then, finally, there is the American right, where one would expect those interests to find a greater hearing. But the ancient churches of the Middle East (Eastern Orthodox, Chaldean, Maronites, Copt, Assyrian) are theologically and culturally alien to many American Catholics and evangelicals. And the great cause of many conservative Christians in the United States is the state of Israel, toward which many Arab Christians harbor feelings that range from the complicated to the hostile.

Which brings us to Ted Cruz…

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The death of Christianity where Christianity has always been – Mosul

12 Aug

From Philip Jenkins:

The ancient Christian history of the Middle East has become agonizingly relevant. Cities central in that history appear in headlines in the context of fanaticism and mass destruction. The State Department’s maps of the latest atrocities coincide with the most venerable landscapes of Eastern Christianity.

The city of Damascus in Syria needs no explanation in terms of its role in the Christian story, and late Roman Gaza likewise produced some pivotal thinkers and theologians. Both cities are also featured in the Old Testament. But what about Syria’s Hama, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in that country’s civil war? The Byzantines knew it as Epiphania, home of the historian John, who is a prime source for the Roman-Persian wars of the sixth century. Hama’s Great Mosque stands within the readily identifiable remains of the Byzantine basilica church.

The first Syrian provincial capital to fall under rebel control in the current conflict was Ar-Raqqah, which historians of Chrisian monasticism know as Kallinikos, a haven of learning and piety from the sixth century. Latakia was once Laodicea, where the bishop was the often vilified heretic Apollinarius. Homs, another frequent Syrian battlefield, was fifth-century Emesa, where a beloved shrine claimed the head of St. John the Baptist.

Syria can scarcely compete historically, however, with neighbouring Mesopotamia, the land we presently call Iraq (future maps might bear different names). Over the past summer, the city of Mosul has been the centre of global attention, following its capture by the forces of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

ISIS then went on to proclaim a revived caliphate, an office dormant since 1924, and promised to lead its followers against Christendom, even to the gates of Rome. It also launched a brutal reign of terror against both Shi’a Muslims and fellow Sunnis. Before the new self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, first addressed the Islamic world, his minions had murdered the city’s leading Sunni clerics. Although the so-called Islamic state may have stirred up too many enemies to prove an enduring presence, it naturally terrifies surviving members of other religions, especially Christians.

That story has been prominently reported, but few reports have paid much attention to the identity of those Christians and their spiritual culture which now seems on the verge of extinction. For Westerners, those local Christians face an easy choice: Why don’t they just leave? If they do, though, they will be abandoning a Mosul that in its day occupied a central place in Christian thought and development. Would Christians happily forsake Assisi or Santiago de Compostela, Canterbury or Cologne, if threatened with a similar situation? Would they not be held back by centuries of Christ-haunted memory and tradition? The story of Mosul is at least equal to that of any of these later upstarts.

Mosul was originally a centre of the fearsome Assyrians, and that connection attracted the attention of Jews, Christians and Muslims. All three faiths esteem the prophet Jonah, whom God sent to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Ancient Nineveh itself was once separate from Mosul but has now been absorbed into the metropolitan area that the region’s Christians call Nineveh rather than Mosul. Under its Arabic name of Nebi Yunus (Prophet Jonah), the prophet’s grave was a pilgrimage destination for millennia – although reports suggest that ISIS thugs are in the process of demolishing the shrine.

Mosul was an early centre of Jewish life and learning, where a Christian church emerged no later than the second century. It became a key centre for the Church of the East, the so-called Nestorian Church, which made it a metropolitan see. Also present were the so-called Monophysites, today’s Syrian Orthodox Church. These churches used Syriac, a language close to that of the apostles, and the Mosul area still has some Syriac-speaking villages.

Mosul was at the heart of a network of very early monasteries. Within 30 miles of the city are St. Elijah’s and St. Matthew (Mar Mattai), which date from the fourth century, Rabban Hormizd and Beth Abhe from the sixth or seventh, and many others: Mar Behnam, Mar Gewargis (St. George), Mar Mikhael (St. Michael). The greatest of these yielded nothing to such legendary houses as Monte Cassino or Iona. At its height, Mar Mattai was one of the greatest houses in the Christian world, with thousands of monks.

Around 850, Bishop Thomas of Marga described the lives of famous Syriac monks and holy men in his Book of Governor, which gives us a tantalizing picture of this lost spiritual world. Although his main interest was his own house of Beth Abhe, he mentions in passing dozens of small religious houses in the Mosul region, most of which we can no longer locate. The remains of many presumably survive under Iraqi village mosques.

The Church of the East that Thomas knew persisted for centuries, incredibly successfully considering it never enjoyed a close alliance with the secular state. Successively, the region was controlled by Zoroastrian Persians and by Muslim Arabs, but still the monasteries endured and flourished. In the histories of the thirteenth-century polymath Gregory Bar Hebraeus, the Mosul region appears as one of the hubs of the Christian universe. (Gregory himself was buried at Mar Mattai.)

Hard times arrived in the later thirteenth century with the coming of the Mongols. Facing growing intolerance in their old seat of Baghdad, the patriarchs of the Church of the East based themselves at the house of Rabban Hormizd. Christian life persisted there and in the surrounding religious houses. We get a sense of this from priceless Syriac Christian scriptures like the Cave of Treasures, which is preserved in the British Museum. It was copied in 1709 by the learned priest Homo, the son of the priest Daniel, who lived in Alqosh, near Mosul.

Mosul retained its Christian significance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when Western Catholics arrived to bring those ancient believers into submission to Rome. The missionaries enjoyed some success. The ancient Eastern Church was split into pro-Roman factions, known as the Chaldeans, and the sturdily independent resisters, the Assyrians. In the long term though, those once bitter divisions would not matter too much. Both groups still exist – on a sadly diminished scale.

The fall of Christian Mosul loomed in the beginning of the twentieth century. Kurdish raids and bandit attacks repeatedly hit the monasteries and devastated their libraries. During World War I, the Ottoman Turks inflicted on local Christians the same attempted genocide they directed against the Armenians. By the 1920s, the once transcontinental Church of the East was reduced to about 40,000 survivors in the Mosul area. The church’s patriarch today is based in Chicago.

But even then Christians did not forsake Mosul. The population included Assyrians, Catholic Chaldeans, Syrian Orthodox and Orthodox Arabs, who hoped to benefit from the state secularism promised by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime. If their ancient glories were long past, they hoped to remain unmolested in the land of the prophet Jonah and of the great patriarchs and abbots. The Ba’ath regime was shaken by the 1991 Gulf War and then overthrown in the 2003 invasion led by the United States, which brought Islamist resistance to the fore. The ISIS campaign will presumably spell the end of a Christian presence.

We often read of the birth and growth of churches, very rarely of their deaths. In Mosul, however, we may be seeing the end of an astounding example of Christian continuity that lasted nearly two millennia.

Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Co-Director of the Program on Historical Studies of Religion at theInstitute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University. His most recent book is The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. Copyright 2014 by the Christian Century. “Leaving Nineveh” by Philip Jenkins is reprinted by permission from the 20 August 2014 issue of the The Christian Century.

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