How the ‘Christian’ right is destroying Christianity in the Middle East

I have linked to a sad but hopefully thought provoking story about the current travails of Christianity, which is facing possible extinction in the Middle East.   My concern is not so much the faith itself as with the people adhering to this faith.  Christians are apparently at genuine risk of disappearing from the Middle East. The usual reason given is “radical Islam.”

I will be the last person to say anything nice about radical Islam, the Muslim world’s equivalent to Christian dominionists, without the cultural and political factors we have to hold them in check.

That said, Christians have lived in the Middle East as long as there have been Christians. And for over 1000 years Islam has been the dominant faith there. Mohammed commanded tolerance for them as “people of the book.”

Now they are on the defensive, tolerance disappearing or absent.

What changed?  Ask Ann Coulter who, when cheerleading for war, urged us to invade these countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. Ask the ‘Christian’ right who leaps for joy when we attack in the Middle East because they think that will bring God’s judgment about more quickly. Ask  President Bush who used the language of the Crusades when implementing war. Ask General Jerry Boykin who, while wearing the uniform of our country, tried to make a military action a religious one and continues to preach the need for religious war. Ask the Evangelicals deliberately infiltrating our military with their attempts to make it an instrument for their deity.

Christianity grew to world domination by attacking other religions through the armies its adherents controlled:  usually brutally, sometimes extraordinarily so. Many Christians eschew that past and sincerely hope for a better record in the future, but others continue to push this bloody tradition whenever they get the chance. In the process, they set their fellow members of the faith in other countries up for being framed as internal enemies, traitors, and agents of the American government. They set up their fellow Christians, men and women who are likely more genuinely Christian than they are, for destruction.

Similar charges made by these same militant Christians against American Muslims (and with similar falsehoods). But when religion marries the sword, or the drone, truth is one of the first casualties.

The more so-called Christians urge our government to be Christian and impose Christianity on others at home and abroad, the easier it is for dictators and theocrats of other religions to demonize their homegrown Christian communities.  And whereas at one time the Christian West’s military advantage was so great that a relative few Brits, Americans, French, or others could subjugate large numbers of other people, this is not true any more. Contemporary Christian wishful thinking about the bad old days, combined with the brutalities of modern politics, increases the danger to Christians in countries that have not adopted the standards of religious toleration that these same Christians despise at home.

The bomb at Nagasaki wiped out almost all that survived of Japanese Christianity.   Now further military action by the US may well wipe out (or nearly so) the longest-standing Christian communities on earth.

With Christians like the ‘Christian’ right, the church needs no enemies; they grow them themselves.

So long as adherents of one religion believe they are so intrinsically superior to other paths that they have a responsibility to correct others’ ‘errors’ and ‘wickedness,’ there will never be religious peace.  Here in the United States, right-wing Christians seek to oppress other faiths.  In the Middle East, radical Islamists seek to do the same.  Both share a fatal error. In these groups’ cramped and disrespectful conception of deity, their deity is too weak to do Its dirty work on Its own; instead, Its followers puff themselves up with pride at dirtying their hands in Its name.


About Gus diZerega
  • Joel


  • M.A.

    This is sad, especially for the many Christians and Muslims who are not extremists, and who only want to live peacefully within their faith. Just like first grade, the bullies ruin it for everybody…

  • Gus diZerega

    Christians’ failure to clean their own house seems to be having rather jarring karmic consequences. Maybe good Christians will learn that attending to the evils of those hiding behind the name count for more than attending to problems elsewhere.

    • R.M.

      What exactly should Christians do to “clean their own house”?

      Other than being a good Christian and denouncing when terror, violence, bigotry, or cruelty is done in your religion’s name (which a lot of Christians already do), what should they be doing?

      How does one “attend to the evils of those hiding behind the name”?

      Christianity’s a huge religion with billions of people and many different denominations. I’m not sure there’s anything that CAN be done. It’s not like there’s some governing body that we can appeal to that affects how Christians do things. Especially with the more fundamentalist types.

      • Gus diZerega

        Here is an example of those who you legitimize by terming them fellow if erring Christians.

        If they and you are both Christians, what, pray tell, is uniquely worth while in Christianity? Tell us, for I see no grounds for any such statement.

        If they are NOT Christians, it’s time to say as such within your own communities and not just denounce their errors.

        • R.M.

          Denounce their errors? It’s difficult to do that as Christianity is not some monolithic entity with a single interpretation.

          The evangelical literalists obviously think their view is “the correct one”. The non-literalist liberal emergent types think their interpretation is correct. Who is to say which is correct and which is not?

          Let’s use Paganism as an example. Paganism is incredibly diverse with many different religions being considered part of Paganism as well as solitaries who do their own thing.

          Who am I to say whether what another Pagan believes is wrong or “an error”? I can say what is right for me. I can also say, as an individual…that if someone were to use their Paganism to justify what I consider immoral (say, for example, child abuse) that I don’t believe in it and that I am appalled by the person’s actions representing my religion.

          But it’s not up to individual Christian communities to “denounce the errors” of people that don’t interpret Christianity the same way that they do. People self-identify as Christian. Other Christians cannot control who is considered Christian and who is not.

          Maybe it was done 1500 years ago when there was only ONE church and it was a monolithic entity, but that’s no longer the case. If you’re branded a ‘heretic’ in one denomination, you just go and find one who agrees with you. If you can’t find one, you start your own.

          While I am very disturbed by the example you linked to, regardless of what religion it occurs in, I’m not entirely sure what this has to do with Paganism. Or what your original post has to do with Paganism.

          • Gus diZerega

            There is one major difference between what I might think of certain Pagans traditions – say the racist versions of Nordic traditions – and what you write about Christianity. NO Pagan tradition claims spiritual superiority or exclusivity. At one time some Pagans believed you had to at least to some degree honor local spirits pr else bad things would happen, but these did not have evangelical implications. Actually quite the contrary.

            Actually my personal criterion for spiritual truth in a Pagan tradition is two fold. First, do the Gods come? If they do, the fact it makes no sense to me – like “Christopaganism” – is not very relevant. I am not a God.

            Second, does it make you kinder, more loving or compassionate? If it does not and the Gods still come, I’d wonder about the spiritual neighborhood you were slumming around in. There are negative spirits out there, I’ve met some, and only fools seek to get deeply involved with them. But fools exist.

            If any Pagan presumes to say their tradition is best, that all other traditions are in error, and that we all should live under whatever rules his or her tradition claims as its own, you may be 1000% certain my condemnation will be strong and without exception, and claiming they serve all that is nasty in the world.

          • Sarenth

            If I am consistently having to divorce myself from ‘Natzitru’ and anti-LGBTQI types, among others, within Heathenry then the least a Christian can do is the same for their own intolerant types.

  • Gus diZerega

    The very fact that you identify these followers of Sauron (or the equivalent) illustrates my point. If these people are Christians, why on earth should anyone have regard for that religion? If they are not, why do you refer to them as of the same religion as yourself?

  • David

    Gus, I’m a British Pagan, and, once again, the old anti-Christian bias comes out in you (and BTW, your books were not “interfaith”, they were not “building bridges between faiths”, it’s just you ranting on about Paganism is superior to Christianity, I closed it, when I saw you try to defend the Roman persecution of Christians “oh, if the Christians had just worshiped the gods, there’d have been no problems”, – yeah, and if black people had just been good little slaves and did what their white masters (or your ancestors) wanted, there’d have been “no problems”).

    I would say aggressive American Christianity is a threat to Middle Eastern Christians, and, Muslims, and I’d say extremist Islam and extremist Christianity empower each other, but, you seem, like a lot of Americans like to do, blame it on a certain element within the U.S., it’s never America’s fault is it, Gus, no it’s those goddamn Christian fundies, and they’re actually “betraying” the intent of the “Founding Fathers” (I mean, those “Fathers” (no Mothers, though?) were “enlightened, rational” people who crafted a nation built on “tolerance”, similar to Paganism (tolerance for all except blacks, Jews, Native Americans, Muslims, etc).

    The reason the Middle East is turning into chaos is because of America’s brutal imperialism of going into countries, thinking it has the “right way” (afterall, your democracy is amazing isn’t it, Gus?). If you had stayed out of Iraq, or even Afghanistan, there wouldn’t be as much chaos and death and destruction in the Middle East, if your country hadn’t armed Al Qaeda, then they wouldn’t be a threat.

    And, you know what Gus, the U.S. has a lot of similarities to ancient Rome – both are imperialistic “superpowers” which believe its’ culture is supreme, it has the “right way of life” (you think the Church invented the “one path to salvation thing”, no, Rome had it’s own version – “the Gospel of true civilization”, where only Rome offered a path to civilization, the rest was just darkness and barbarians).

    You think it’s Christians at fault?, no, it’s America. Until America exorcises from itself the spirit of Rome/Imperialism, it will always spread destruction and death (I’m sure the soldiers or pro-Iraq war Pagans will all rant away saying about “America is great” or chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.”, firing rifles into the air, or how “America saved my country in WW2″ (apparently, America get all their history from Saving Private Ryan).

    The problem with the Christianity, at least Western Christianity is not the religion itself, but, the Roman spirit it inherited, you want a look at how Christianity could have been, read ‘The Lost History of Christianity’ by Philip Jenkins, it shows a Religion that would have been much closer to Love (and Jesus) than hatred, although I don’t want to romanticize them, I’m sure they had their own problems and issues, just like all religions do. However, I doubt you’ll want to hear that, because, from my experience of online Pagan forums, many American Pagans seem love ancient Rome (perhaps it’s home from home for them), and, if they, somewhat grudgingly, accept that that there were negative things about it, they’ll water it down or say it “wasn’t so bad” or try and say, they weren’t as “bad as the Church”, so that “justifies” or “excuses” it, which I call pure BS.

    They’ll say “well, the oppression of the Druids was just political”, so were Stalin’s purges, that doesn’t make it any less evil. They’ll say “they only persecuted the Jews because they rebelled, or the Jews should have been more tolerant, the Romans were”, yeah, those Jews back then were funny like that, I mean, not wanting a foreign occupying power to rule you and rape your people (which the Roman Legions did) and take your hard earned money, what little you had of it, how “intolerant” of them!!, then, when it comes to the persecution of the early Christians, you’ll hear things like “oh well, the Christians should have worshiped the gods”, or “it wasn’t that bad”, or the Romans were “trying to maintain their empire” – not sure why the last one could even be used as an excuse, but, I’ve heard it. The fact is all of their answers are BS. What the Romans did to the Jews, the Christians and the Druids was evil, even demonic (and, I mean that how I spelt it, don’t read the neutral word daemon into it).

    Now, Gus, I’m sure someone here will say I’m a closet Christian (hardly an insult) or that I “just don’t understand” or something, but, sorry, if I see someone condemning an entire religion, like you’ve done Gus in your posts and comments, or seeming to hold Christians, and Muslims, to a higher standard than other religions (funny, Gus, why aren’t you so hard on Hindus about the oppressive Caste System and it’s treatment of women, or how about the Hindu opposition to abortion?, I personally believe it’s a women’s Sacred right to do what she wants with her body), then, I step in to call BS.

    Now, you can back to ranting away about the “evil young British Pagan” that dared say you were wrong, because I don’t care, I just had to say these things. I

    • Gus diZerega

      I read a part of what you wrote and broke off when you accused me of defending the Roman persecution of Christians. You are either incompetent in the English language, or not telling the truth, (I suspect the latter) and there truly is no more reason for me to read you till you apologize. Then, after you apologize, make single points suitable to this format.

  • kenneth

    The positions of Christian communities in the Middle East is complicated. The rhetoric and actions of the American Christian Right is certainly unhelpful in a number of ways, reviving the ancient grievances of the Crusades and offering radical imams a scarecrow for their own incitements. That said, there are some other important factors at work. One is a foreign policy which has consistently favored compliant, but brutal and corrupt regimes in these countries. Radical Islam would never have taken root as a serious force if people had been able to realize legitimate political and economic aspirations. We were unhelpful in that, to say the least.

    It’s also a fact that Christian communities in many of these nations made the wrong friends, often out of necessity. In a number of these countries, including Syria, the Christians allied themselves with the ruling minority ethic/religious caste. The regimes were typically secular in nature and so offered the Christians a degree of safety through iron-fisted autocratic rule. The Baathists in Iraq and Syria didn’t much care what religion you were, as long as you fell in line. With those regimes gone or soon to be gone, the seething Muslim and Islamist forces are looking to settle old scores, and they remember Christians as some of the folks who helped keep the state’s boot on their neck for so many decades.

  • Gus diZerega

    Good points and to the degree I understand the Middle East I agree. But those Christian communities managed to survive 1000 years of Moslem rule without any secular regimes.

    One of the other tragedies playing itself out, as I tried to explain, is that of two religious traditions each claiming overwhelming spiritual truth for its side and falsehood for others. ANY person claiming absolute superiority for their path is, in my view, an enemy, intentional or otherwise, of Spirit and of the human race.

  • http://MARVINFOX.COM Marvin Fox

    Your passion for the subject is good Mr. diZegera. I think you are missing the point of those you disagree with, at least those I am familiar with. They too are passionate and they are passionate for the safety of Christians and the Christian religion in the Muslim nations. The militancy of the growing number of Jihadists, advocates of world wide Sharia Law, the world Caliphate, and the destruction of all that is not Islamic, has not been missed by those I know and who have spoken against the Islamists’ proposing the world must change to the Muslim religion or perish.
    Christians should speak out against our government financing terrorist organizations. including governments, who wish to destroy our way of life.
    Our soldiers fought and died for the freedom of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. If those wars become a success it will be a success because Muslims saw a free people in their lands and are willing to fight for their own freedom. There doesn’t seem to be enough of them to become free nations.
    No one has imposed Christianity on anyone else at home or abroad. Our soldiers had to be especially careful not to show their own Christianity to the Muslim soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that our G.I.s were training to defend against Muslim tyrants.
    Agressive American Christianity isn’t the reason we have 50 million abortions, Same sex marriages, increasing drug use, euthanasia in Obamacare, and a declining education level with growing education costs. A growing lack of Christianity is causing those and many more social problems.
    I don’t believe you have found anyone forcing anyone else to become a Christian. your article is an interesting puff. It seems to be more of the left accusing the right than the left attempting to solve a problem or understand the logic of Christianity.
    Marvin Fox

    • Gus diZerega

      I am not discussing your claims about fighting tyranny. We are fighting some tyrants while supporting others. In my view the well-being of the Iraqi or Afghan or any other people over there do not much matter to the main decision-makers in this country. They have other far ;ess noble priorities. I am sorry you are naive enough to believe otherwise, but this is not the place I want to discuss it and others have done a better job than I can.

  • Gus diZerega

    I don’t think you read me at all carefully. I NEVER accused our troops of imposing Christianity and thought that was very clear to any reader. I accused the religious right, the war advocates at home, mostly people who love others to fight and die for their beliefs, of so framing these conflicts that radical Islamacists could use their quotations, including those of evangelical right wing generals, to make the case we were entering another Crusade.

    The past history of Christian coercion added to these quotations is used against Christianity by Islamic extremists. JUST AS Christian extremists like to use the past history of Islamic aggression combined with the actions of radical Islamicists to attack American Muslims.

    In both cases decent practitioners of both religions are victimized- ironically given the evangelistic motives of the American religious right, in a way that might finally eliminate viable Christian communities from places where they existed for 1000 years of Muslim rule.

    These crimes will likely continue so long as any group of believers claims they have sole access to the truth that will ‘save’ people. As the current events in the Middle East demonstrate. such attitudes can become a religion’s own worst enemy. I’d say it’s karma coming home to roost were it not for the innocent people of both faiths that are killed.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    There is no way to re-write history that does not produce Islamist organizations taking over the democratic-secular uprisings of the Arab Spring against Cold War era dictators and dynasties. Islamism has been suppressed in that part of the world, and organized itself underground far better than the democrats or secularists ever did. Neither the dictators not the West nor the indigenous Christians are to blame for the nature of Islamism; it is inherent in the writings of Islam. How Islamism is positioned today can indeed be traced to historical acts, but those acts are premised on earlier historical act, and so forth down the line. The blame game is fruitless.

    • Gus diZerega

      Baruch, in many ways we agree. But you negflect one important point- these Christian communities have survived 1000 years of Islamic rule and the Quran commands they be tolerated.

      The Islamic world will need to develop its own path to toleration, just as the Christian world did (through a 30 Year War and other stuff). It has one significant advantage- our success in doing so is a good example – and among other things a contemporary disadvantage – the greater power of the West was used and is being used again to attack the Middle East. In the current case this attack has lots of right wing Christian rhetoric in support, that Islamacists can be used to bolster their case.

      It is easy to paint indigenous Christian as fifth columnists. They are as ruthless as Christian right politicians and unfettered by our laws and traditions, so splitting communities and demonizing others goes farther and with more tragic consequences. Absent our military adventures accompanied by right wing Christian rhetoric in support, and able to be used by the other side, I seriously doubt the position of Christian communities would be in peril of extinction.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        So far I don’t see a clear causal line between Christian Right rhetoric in the USA and anti-Christian Islamist violence in the Middle East. Each seems to be following its own script insensitively to outside thoughts. It’s useful to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood has been underground for the same generation that the Cold War dictators and dynasties have been in power; they are erupting under their own impetus and have a well-honed enemies list including anyone who got cozy with the former rulers.

        From what little I know of Moslem Scripture, there is a disjoint between what the Prophet said before and after a key battle. The “Islam is a peaceful religion sadly hijacked by extremists” crowd quote the former (iirc) and the jihadists quote the latter. IOW Islam, like Christianity, has a mixed-bag Scripture from which one can proof-text anything one wants.

        I understand your point about that 1,000 years of toleration, but question any effort to attribute its disruption to any particular cause other than the curse of living in interesting times.

  • Gus diZerega

    I think you make the disconnect way way too strong. Just as our religious totalitarians have used statements by Moslems- usually really old ones from the Quran – to heat up bigotry here at home while ignoring what most Moslems do and think, so the totalitarians over there make similar use of far more recent- even current – statements by people who were closely associated with Bush. It would be very strange if they did not.

    My understanding is that there is no ambiguity about the Quran’s call for tolerating Christians or Jews. None at all.

    Even the local tyrants against whom they organized underground for so long were closely associated in many cases with the US. Mubarak, the Shah, and Saudi Arabia are examples, and until he got too big for his britches, Saddam. That, I think, is why the peril for Christians is so great now whereas for 1000 years they survived- not always happily, but they survived.

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