"The Middle East remains the oldest established crisis in the world.... [it] remains the region that for years -- centuries -- has shown a capacity like no other to affect the destiny of the world."
- Daniel Schorr, Cradle & Crucible, 16 -
Cradle and Crucible¹ is one of the most incisive analytical work on the social, political and religious problems in the Middle East. Part I of this book ("Longest History") consists of five chapters dealing with a comprehensive historical survey of this troubled land from the 8th century B.C.E. to the early years of the 21st century C.E. Part II ("Sacred Ground and Sacred Ways") has three chapters introducing the three great religions locked in a hate-love affair across the centuries -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
One of the articles in this work is "Christianity: And the Word Became Flesh" by journalist Charles M. Sennott in which he describes a Holy Week ceremony among the Greek Orthodox Christians as follows:
In the Old City of Jerusalem, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Orthodox Christians gather for the lighting of the "holy fires" the day before, Holy Saturday. It is a mystical celebration of the arrival of light that Christians believe Jesus brought to the world. The tomb in which tradition holds Jesus was buried is sealed shut and then 'miraculously' a flame emerges from a corner of the edicule, or empty tomb. Soon that light is passed by votive candles among the crowd packing the church. And suddenly a wave of light spreads out over the church and a loud cheer rises up in celebration of the new life that Jesus brings through salvation. The same light is taken by lantern to Orthodox churches all over Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.²
Obviously, this dwindling group of Christians go through this cinematic rite with pride. And rightly so, for the lighting ceremony is a fine display of their devotion to their duties and an added color to this tapestry called "Holy Land."
I only wish though that they also pass the lantern to their Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic (Franciscan) brothers. For while this rite dramatizes the promise of the Resurrection, it also portrays these Christians' failure to resurrect the unitive teachings of Jesus Christ which have been buried under the weight of pompous ceremonies, sectarian rhetoric, political intrigues, and physical violence.
We recall that just a few months ago, the Orthodox Christians brawled with their Armenian brothers in the same site where their Master was supposedly buried and raised from the dead. With all the verbal and physical infightings among the cross-wearing pious in this Holy Land of Blasphemy, it is no wonder then that Christianity has not contributed much in the resolution of the Middle East crisis.
We note too that fundamentalist Christians, especially the millenarian-crazed section of the Religious Right in the U.S.A., have fueled the fires of hatred and violence with their insistence that the Holy Land belongs to the Israelis only, notwithstanding the fact that the Palestinians have as much claim to this land as the Jews.³
In the same essay Sennot mentions that the Crusades was instigated by Pope Urban II to "unify the Christian forces of the continent to exert Rome's power" and that massacres during this period were made with shouts of "'Deus vult!' (God wills this!)." 4 Not much has changed since then for in the 20th century Britain and France, under the aegis of the League of Nations, carved up the Middle East without respect for ethnic heterogeneity. Later, the U.S.A would have been the perfect force to help bring lasting peace to the Middle East were it not for its misguided moves that further escalated violence (e.g. Reagan's support of Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, G.W. Bush's conquest of Iraq, U.S. bias for Israel).5 All these machinations were done not only in the name of Democracy but also in the name of Christianity.
This is not to gloss over the terrorism waged by fundamentalist Muslims with each bomb explosion resounding with "Allahu Akbar!" It is to say that terrorism in the name of Jesus is as detestable as terrorism in the name of Allah. It is to say that this Easter, when we pray for lasting peace in the Middle East we must not forget that the real Jesus we should pray to is not the Jesus of Sectarian Christianity and Dispensational Theology.
¹ Fromkin, David, Zahi Hawass, et al. Cradle and Crucible: History and Faith in the Middle East. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.
² Cradle & Crucible, 209.
³ Hopes are now pinned on Obama for the implementation of the stalled Annapolis agreement. Among the books that helped me have a good grasp of the interplay of religion and politics in the U.S.A., especially of the American Religious Right's political agenda and its influence on U.S. foreign policy are as follows: Black, Amy E. Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008; Lanham, Robert. The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right. New York: New American Library, 2006; Balmer, Randall. Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. New York: Basic Books, 2006; Edgar, Bob. Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006; Avram, Wes, ed. Anxious About Empire: Theological Essays on the New Global Realities. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004.
4 Cradle & Crucible, 212.
5 cf. John T. Rourke & Mark A. Boyer, International Politics on the World Stage, 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 121.
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