I’m very troubled by what’s happening in the world generally, and in the Middle East in particular, and I’m struggling to understand it. I am posting this now because it is Holy Week, and I think that’s relevant to my understanding.
Amidst all the trouble and bloodshed, a few facts do stand out:
1. ISIL did not exist a few years ago, before we bombed Libya and invaded Iraq.
2. Al Qaida was not present in those countries either.
3. Also, it’s quite true, as far as I know, that Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar Al Assad are or were tyrants. Still, this much can be said for them. Before the invasions and bombings and (in Syria) civil war, their countries were secular states in which all the “peoples of the book” lived in relative safety. Christians and Jews were not persecuted; in fact, as I remember, some Christians had positions in Saddam Hussein’s government. Nor did various Muslim sects carry out attacks against each other.
So why are these countries being destroyed? Why are republicans in the U.S. now also trying to start a war with Iran? Don’t we all have troubles enough?
There have been various theories as to why these things are happening. Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Libya have all supported the Palestinian struggle. The Neoconservatives in our country, with their project for the new American century, certainly seem to align with the right wing in Israel against the moderates, the peace camp, and the Palestinian people. But can that be reason enough?
I remember, way back at the time of the gulf war, Viggo Mortensen appeared on “Charlie Rose” wearing a T- shirt that read “no blood for oil”. I think a lot of blood has been spilled for oil and other natural resources. That may well be the main reason for all the bloodshed happening in the Middle East right now.
And oil, natural gas, and the money that can be made from them don’t just fuel our cars and our homes. They fuel empire. I’ve been rereading C.S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”, and one passage in it struck me. Mark, an ambitious young man, has stumbled into a company of very wicked men. They are now trying to convert him to their way of thinking by subjecting him to various tests. The final one is to stamp on and insult a crucifix. Though he is not at all religious, Mark balks at this. He thinks, “Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived, and had been executed thus by the Belbury of his day” (Collier paperback edition, page 330). The last thing his teachers expect – the last thing Mark himself expects – is this fellow feeling with the crucified Christ. It is at this point that Mark definitely decides to leave Belbury, though he fully expects his former teachers to kill him.
But what is Belbury, exactly? In the book, it is a think tank that is carrying out a coup against the English government. In the real world, “Belbury” might well stand for empire. Our Lord Jesus Christ was, in fact, killed by the empire of his day – the Roman Empire. However the New Testament may condemn the scribes and the Pharisees, it was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who actually had the power of life and death over prisoners, and who condemned Jesus.
Now, I am not saying Jesus was merely a revolutionary. He was much more than that. But I do believe that Christianity, rightly understood, is profoundly individualistic, and profoundly liberating. It liberates us from the bonds of sin and death, and also from the worship of false idols. Empire is a false idol. As Christians, I believe we are bound to oppose it, and its wars, and its cruelties. For Empire and its evils are opposed to Christ, whom we are bound to follow.
What do you think?