ISIL: Servants of Iblis and How to Combat Them

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If there is nothing else more clear, it is that the cancerous ISIL is a child of Iblis. In Islamic Belief, Iblis plays much the same role as Satan does in the Judeo-Christian Mythos. Let’s take a look at his history, and then consider why Islam as a whole seems unable to clearly and unanimously denounce this demonic manifestation of evil in their midst as well as other evils that plague them, and us all.

The Great Mosque in Mecca surrounding the Kaaba.

The Great Mosque in Mecca surrounding the Kaaba.

In Islam (and I apologize to Islamic scholars if I over-simplify), God created three intelligent species that we know of. The Deity has other creations that we know not of, the Qur’an tells us:

…and He has created (other) things of which ye have no knowledge. — Qur’an 16:8

Of the three known intelligent species, there are Angels (without free will to disobey), Jinn and Humans (with free will to choose good or evil). The greatest of the Jinn was Iblis, whose statue gave him a rank equal to an Angel. When God ordered the Angels to bow before humanity, Iblis refused, and was expelled from Paradise for his hubris. He then began to work to influence others to reject God, but could only do so if they failed to adhere to God. He is also known as shaytan, Satan. (Old English Satan, from Latin Satān, from Ancient Greek Σατάν (Satán), from Hebrew שָׂטָן (Śāṭān, “adversary, accuser”).

As we have seen in a previous blog, this is the source of the confusion of Iblis and the Yazidi Melek Taus (Tawûsê Melek), their chief Angel and link to the Divine.

Lawyers1It is interesting to note that in the Hebrew Scriptures, Satan is not always seen as the Devil, but in Job, as a member of the Heavenly Court. He is the “Jack McCoy” of the Court, the D.A. His diabolic character begins to solidify during the Second Temple Period. In the 2nd Century BCE Alexandrian Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Ha-Satan is translated as the Greek diabolos, the slanderer. Our word Devil comes from this. Wiktionary gives the etymology:

From Old English dēofol, from Ancient Greek διάβολος (diábolos, “accuser, slanderer”), also as “Satan” (in Jewish/Christian usage, translating Biblical Hebrew שטן, satán), from διαβάλλω (diabállō, “to slander”), literally “to throw across”, from διά (diá, “through, across”) + βάλλω (bállō, “throw”). The Old English word was probably adopted under influence of Latin diabolus (itself from the Greek). Other Germanic languages adopted the word independently: compare Dutch duivel, Low German düvel, German Teufel, Swedish djävul (older: djefvul, Old Swedish diævul, Old Norse djǫfull).

6241668307_a79abbc40a_o copyInterestingly enough, at the point where the Bronx meets the tip of Northern Manhattan, there is a small neighborhood known as Spuyten Duyvil (Dutch: Spouting Devil). At that point, the currents of the confluence of the Hudson River, which continues down the Western side of Manhattan, and the Harlem River, going down Manhattan’s Eastern shore, are swift. The Harlem River flows into the East River at Randall’s Island around 125th Street.  (Marble Hill, Manhattan’s only neighborhood on the mainland of the Bronx, used to be divided from the mainland by a navigation channel created for shipping, but was united to the mainland when that channel was filled in.)

I am not making a case here for an actually entity “Satan.” If that’s your Faith, fine. If not, “Satan” is the symbol of everything that tries to prevent us from being fully human, and realizing our Divinity. Notice in the Tarot Trump of the Devil, the bondage is illusory. The chains are so loose they can be lifted off. We are only bound by our own ignorance.

Given the context of the traditional Judeo-Christian and Islamic beliefs about Satan / Iblis, it is quite clear that in this framework, one would say that Iblis has seduced ISIL into blaspheming Islam and doing the Devil’s work on Earth. So why is Islam having such a difficulty in clearly responding to this blasphemy within their own household?

A Militant Faith

Islam began as a Militant Faith. The Prophet Muḥammad himself, for various reasons, led armies to subdue Mecca, and later areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Following his death, from 623–1050, there was a phenomenal expansion of the faith, so that by 1050, its reach stretched from Portugal to India, all propelled by force of arms.

Map_of_expansion_of_Caliphate.svg

The Alhambra Palace in Granada

The Alhambra Palace in Granada

While ISIL plays on this, the historical expansion allowed for the Jewish, Christian and Sabian inhabitants to retain their own faith, and communities within the Islamic environment. Those who were not “Peoples of the Book” did not fare so well. Nevertheless, it was conquest. They robbed territories from the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Kingdoms of Spain, the Frankish Kingdoms. No one doubted that this was aggression, just as Alexander and later the Roman Empire had earlier dominated this part of the world. That was the way of the world.

In time, Islam became the leading scientific, artistic, literary, and philosophical culture in the western world, with the exception of the Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople. Yet it was also still militant.

How about the other Monotheists?

Let’s see how that contrasts with the other Monotheistic Faiths:

Atenism: Akhenaton’s religious revolution was not optional, but since it all

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and family worshiping the Aten.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and family worshiping the Aten.

occurred within Egypt, there was no conquest necessary. It had been foreign to the Egyptian mind-set to impose their own religion on those they conquered outside Egypt. If Atenism had survived the reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, we would have been able to see if this policy would have continued.

Judaism: According to their Scriptures, when the Hebrew people returned to Canaan after their Exodus from Egypt, they understood God to tell them to conquer it from the existing kingdoms there, by force, under Joshua, who was their war leader. After having subdued the area and established their own civilization, later the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the era of militancy came to an end until the times of the Maccabee revolts against Hellenist rule of the  Seleucid Empire. Revolts also took place against Roman Rule. These wars, however, were not for the purpose of expanding Judaism, but for liberation from foreign control.

Whether or not one believes that God actually commanded the conquest of Canaan by force is a matter for one’s faith. The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures of that period appear to say this, but later Judaism (Book of Jonah) begins to become more universalist in tone.

Today, Judaism does not proselytize. The only Jewish state is militant, but not for the purpose of spreading Judaism, but only for preserving its national existence. Arguments may rage about how this is done, but I contend that the State of Israel does not use militancy to spread Judaism as such.

Icon of the First Council of Nicaea

Icon of the First Council of Nicaea

Christianity: Christianity was born among people who had no worldly power, and so it spread by persuasion and example for its first three centuries. During this time, Christianity in each place breathed in the traditions of each place it was growing in, and became distinctive due to this process everywhere. This accounts for the creative differences in Byzantine, Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, Persian, Indian, Celtic Christianities, etc. Later, as we will see, this was repeated the 18th Century Russian Alaska.

However, when Roman Emperor St. Constantine I tolerated Christianity in 313, and began to favor it, things changed. After the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, summoned by and presided over by the Emperor, Christianity in the Empire now had an “Official” version (Nicaean Christianity–Orthodox, Catholic Christianity), increasingly backed by the power of the Roman State.

The Mother Church of the Armenians at Etchmiazin

The Mother Church of the Armenians at Etchmiadzin

In the Kingdom of Armenia, Gregorian Apostolic Christianity had been the official state religion since 301. In the Kingdom of Georgia, Orthodox Christianity had also been the official Religion since 317.

By the time of Emperor St. Theododius I, Orthodox Christianity was made the sole religion of the Empire in 380. From the time of Constantine I to the death of the last Emperor, Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos (1453), the Roman Emperor was the “Sword Arm of God.” One God, One Empire, One Emperor, God’s representative on Earth. Now Christianity was militant. When it conquered peoples, the Empire did not force conversions, but the social and economic pressures accomplished that for them. Rival forms of Christianity (e.g. Arianism) were opposed with force.

From the Book of Kells, Celtic Christian Gospel Book (ca. 800)

From the Book of Kells, Celtic Christian Gospel Book (ca. 800)

As Romanitas (Ῥωμαιοσύνη–Rōmaiosúnē), Roman Civilization, was gradually withdrawn from the West by losses of territory from the 5th Century through the final losses of the 9th century, the power of the militant side of Christianity was de facto, if not de jure, transferred to the Bishop of Rome (Pope of Rome) and delegated to various local Kings, most notably to Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800. Earlier, the Roman Church had used the wars of the Anglo-Saxons to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Roman Christianity, and then to use the Anglo-Saxon victory over the Celtic Christians to impose Roman Christianity on them. Western Christians were using their military power to overcome other Christians!

In a long considered move, the Bishop of Rome, Leo III, who had a longstanding feud with the legitimate Empire, surprisingly and unilaterally crowned Charles the Great (Charlemagne) as Roman Emperor. His argument was that a–gasp!–woman was on the throne in Constantinople–The Empress Irene–who could not be legitimate, as women were unfit to rule. He had no authority to do so, and the Pope of Rome was not the head of the Church–which was an Ecumenical Council. Charlemagne proffered marriage to Irene, but was rejected as a barbarian.

A 13th-century fresco of Sylvester and Constantine, showing the purported Donation. Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome

A 13th-century fresco of Sylvester and Constantine, showing the purported Donation. Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome

The Popes of Rome based their sovereignty on what was perhaps the most flagrant forgery of the era if not of all history, the “Donation of Constantine.” This forged document, probably from the 8th century, claims that Emperor Constantine I was miraculously cured of leprosy and paptized by Pope Sylvester I of Rome. In thanks, it says that he bestowed on the Roman See “power, and dignity of glory, and vigour, and honor imperial,” and “supremacy as well over the four principal sees, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople, as also over all the churches of God in the whole earth.” He is then said to grant lands “in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa, Italy and the various islands” to support the See. To the Bishops of Rome he gives “the city of Rome, and all the provinces, places and cities of Italy and the western regions.”

Of course, this was a dream come true for the Roman Church, which already believed all of this about itself, even though everyone else knew it to be untrue. Why not make up a document proving what you wanted to be true? Not to mind that the whole thing was a fiction from beginning to end.

schismWith the Roman Church making it up as they went along, the Schism held, and East and West began their separation. It was punctuated by the illegal crowning of Charlemagne by the Roman Pope (800); the deposition and restoration of Patriarch St. Photios of Constantinople (863–867); the ridiculous mutual excommunications of 1054 caused by the thoroughly illegal action of Cardinal Humbert, a petulant idiot; the sack of Constantinople by the Western Crusaders in 1204; and finally the lack of support to protect Constantinople by the West in 1453.

As the years went on, both Western Christianity and Roman Empire’s Christianity used their Swords to expand. Generally the Westerners fought among themselves, while the Romans fought to maintain the Empire. Occasionally they were able to recover lost territory.

The Crusades (1095-1254) present a particularly striking case of Christian militancy. It is not easy to assess this historical movement.

Roman Emperor Alexios I Comnenos

Roman Emperor Alexios I Comnenos

In 1095, the Roman Emperor Alexios I Comnenos sent Ambassadors to Pope Urban II requesting western reinforcements for the Roman army to repulse the inroads that the Seljuk Turks had made into Imperial lands in the Levant, including Jerusalem. If the Pope had simply done so, this would have been part of the normal struggle of the Empire against the encroaching Muslim forces. But Urban decided to use this to his own advantage.

He needed to find a way to stop the warring kings of Western Europe from fighting one another. He took this opportunity to declare a Crusade to “rescue the Holy Land.” Alexios was horrified! Now 30-35,000 foreign fighters descended on Constantinople. On their way, they persecuted the Jewish inhabitants of the Rhineland. Alexios managed to extract a pledge from all of Crusader chiefs to be loyal to him and to return captured lands to the Imperial Throne. Off they went into the Levant.

A full history can be found here, but ultimately, when they reached Jerusalem 1099, they cruelly slaughtered thousands. The streets ran red with blood as had similar cities as the Muslims attacked in the past and would in the future. A Latin Patriarchate was set up in Jerusalem.

Even though the Crusaders “formally acknowledged” the suzerainty of the Emperor, they did not return their conquests to Imperial rule, but set up their own Crusader Kingdoms. The Crusades continued, one after the other. In 1204 the Roman Catholic armies sacked Constantinople itself and set up a disastrous Latin Dynasty until 1261. A Latin Patriarchate was set up in Constantinople.

What might have been “business as usual,” as Emperor Alexios intended, was turned by Urban II into everyone’s nightmare of disorder.

Map of Languedoc / Occitania in Southern France © 2014 Odejea / Wikimedia Commons

Map of Languedoc / Occitania in Southern France © 2014 Odejea / Wikimedia Commons

LabyrinthBookCoverAs the centuries of Crusading wore on, Crusades were held internally in Western Europe, for example the horrendous Albigensian Crusade of Pope Innocent III and he French Kings Louis VIII and XI (1209-1229). This was religious persecution at its worst. The area of Languedoc in Southeastern France was a bastion of religious tolerance, and Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the Gnostic Christians known as the Cathars (Albigensians) all lived in relative harmony, protected by the nobility. Of course, this could not be countenanced by the Papal authorities or the French monarchy who found toleration heretical! The bloody massacres are well known, and dramatized in the fascinating novel Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. The persecution was continued by the Inquisition until 1244 and the martyrdom of the Cathars who had taken refuge at Montségur.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in 1453, the Christianity of the region was submerged under Islamic Ottoman government, and the Eastern Christian torch was passed to Moscow, which rapidly expanded the Russian Empire by means of conquest.

The territories that were at one time or another part of the Russian Empire. © 2014 Shadowfox / Wikimedia Commons.

The territories that were at one time or another part of the Russian Empire. © 2014 Shadowfox / Wikimedia Commons.

The Reconstructed Russian Chapel at Fort Ross © 2014 Introvert / Wikimedia Commons.

The Reconstructed Russian Chapel at Fort Ross © 2014 Introvert / Wikimedia Commons.

From 1812 to 1842 the Russian Empire had a settlement in Sonoma County, CA at Fort Ross, and the historic chapel and buildings have been reconstructed there.

To their credit, the Russian Empire did not convert conquered peoples by the sword. As in Alaska, they shared their Orthodox Christianity with the native peoples, who often found it attractive and adopted it.

When the Western Christian powers, notably Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands and Italy set out to conquer the planet after during the 15th-16th centuries, they did bring their own Roman Catholic or Protestant Christianity with them, usually not imposing it on non-Christians, but strongly suggesting it through missionary efforts, which were sometimes coercive, as in the Americas. The strangest thing was that usually, when they encountered Eastern Christians, as in Ethiopia, India, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, Western Christians were more coercive to them, than to non-Christians! In general, Christians have always been harder on different forms of their Brother and Sister Christians than on others.

Today, “Christian” nations, even those who still have a State Church (Greece, Russia, UK, Sweden, etc.), do not generally use military means to proselytize.

410011FrSOLBuddhisim:

Outside of Monotheism, even the arguably non-theistic Buddhism, nowadays seen as a peaceful faith, used the might of its governments to crush opponents. Primarily, Lamaist Tibetan Buddhism supressed Mongolian Shamanism, as mentioned in Peter Kingsley’s A Story Waiting to Pierce You.

So Why is Islam having such a Hard Time Condemning ISIL?

Born in militancy, Islam grew into a mature and noble Path, and in its Golden Age (7th-13th centuries) led the Western World in the Arts, Philosophy and Science. The Mystical Paths of Islam, notably Sufism and Ismāʿīlism have become sublime ways to the Divine.

With the Ottoman Turkish domination, however, Islam began to fall into decadency, and51qbBsMH8fL its glories diminished. What Went Wrong is an excellent study of how Islam got to where it is today.

Anomie Ushers in Evil

So first, Islam in is disarray, and a chaotic state of anomie allows evil forces of domination to creep in and take over, as happened in Weimar Germany, humiliated by the unfair terms of the World War I armistice. This gave Hitler and the Nazis just the opening they needed to perpetrate one of the greatest evils we have known.

anomie-in-the-ukAnomie or Anomy (ἀνομία anomía, “lawlessness”, from ἄνομος ánomos, “lawless”, from ἀ- a-, “not” + νόμος nómos, “law”) is a state of society where little guidance is given, “alienation or social instability caused by erosion of standards and values” (Wiktionary).

This has happened in the Middle East and North Africa, as the vacuum was filled by dictatorial régimes (Saddam, the Saudis, Assad, the Shah of Iran followed by the dictator Ayatollahs, the dictator “presidents” of Egypt, et al.). Now we have an even greater evil, ISIL, a demon worse than the first.

Islam is only 1392 years old this Year

Islam dates from 622 CE, with the Prophet’s Hejira. The fact that the Islamic year is 1435 AH is due to the fact that their calendar is lunar, not solar as are the Gregorian and Revised Julian Calendars, and so run more rapidly.

Let’s take a snapshot of what Christianity was like in and around its AD 1392 (14th century). Here are some highlights:

Palace of the Popes at Avignon, France

Palace of the Popes at Avignon, France

  • The Avignon papacy transfers the seat of the Popes from Italy to France, setting the stage for The Great Schism and three competing Roman Popes in 1378
  • The Great Famine of 1315-1317 kills millions of people in Europe.
  • The Hundred Years’ War begins when Edward III of England lays claim to the French throne. (1337) The French recruit troops and ships in Genoa, Monaco, and Nice (1345–1346).
  • Black Death kills around a third of the population of Europe. (1347–1351).
  • The Lollardy movement rises in England protesting corruption in the Church, as did the reform movements of Conciliarism and the Hussites elsewhere. These will be the roots of the upcoming Reformation.
  • Peasants’ Revolt in England
  • King Philip IV of France created an inquisition for his suppression of the Knights Templar
  • Franciscan friar James of Jülich is boiled alive for impersonating a bishop and ordaining his own priests.
  • Dominance of the nominalist or voluntarist theologies such as those of William of Ockham, which began to dismantle the brilliant synthesis of the 13th century.
  • The Hesycast controversy in Orthodox theology, spilling over into Roman Catholicism.
  • Crusade against Muslim Alexandria
  • Civil Wars within the Roman Empire
  • The Popes refused to help the Roman Empire unless the Orthodox Church submitted to the Papacy (see above, the fake Donation of Constantine)

Overall, it was a period of unrest and disintegration. In time, progress was made, the Reformation shook up the Western Church, and the Italian Renaissance blossomed. But it took time.

Unfortunately, Islam does not have the luxury of this amount of time to get its act together. Things are moving much faster today than in the 14th century, and our weaponry is far more deadly. The world is one global community now, and what affects one, affects all, almost instantly!

Theological Conservatism

New Testament manuscript at the Freer Collection in Washington DC. It contains the unique "Freer Logion" of Mark.

New Testament manuscript at the Freer Collection in Washington DC. It contains the unique “Freer Logion” of Mark.

Islam also faces a problem in allowing the Historical-Critical Method to be applied to the study of the Qur’an. In mainstream institutional Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform) and Christianity (Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Church of the East, the Catholic Communion, Anglicans and higher Church Protestants) all use the Historical-Critical Method, or Historical Criticism, to study their sacred texts, and in an analogous manner, their histories.

This method entails the use of all of the array of modern sciences and social sciences to understand the history, composition, context and meaning of Sacred Texts. It has yielded a great deal of excellent insight into the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as in the New Revised Standard Version, as well as the huge body of Deuterocanonical, Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical texts which exist in these traditions. Excellent collections and studies on these fascinating texts are widely available, such as The Other Bible, The Gnostic Bible, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Nag-Hammadi Library, The Restored New Testament, etc.

To this point, Islamic Scholarship, by and large, does not allow this kind of study of the Qur’an. Exactly why this is, is not entirely clear. Some critics such as Ibn Warraq, a former Muslim who is the founder and chair of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society (ISIS!) claim that this stems from some of the Qur’an actually being poorly understood or illegible, even in Arabic. (Ibn Warraq’s Pen Name taken for safety, is an homage to the 9th

The Qur'an

The Qur’an

century skeptical Muslim scholar Muhammad al Warraq.)

My own reflection is that this comes from the status of the Qur’an in Islam. From what I can tell, for Muslims, the Qur’an is not parallel to the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian New Testament. It is parallel to what Christians believe about the Person of Jesus Christ: it is the Word of God Incarnate. That is why only the original and only true Qur’an is in Arabic, and translations are not the real thing. That is why it appears to be normally essential to learn Arabic to be Muslim.

With this in mind, applying the Historical-Critical Method to Qur’an might appear to a Muslim to be like putting the Eucharist through laboratory testing, certainly something no Christian could abide.

benedict CARDINAL RATZINGERPope Benedict XIV, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in his letters critiquing certain Liberation Theologians’ use of sociological analysis (e.g. Marxist, Weberian) of Church structures, even said that the Church, as a Divine Institution, was not susceptible to that kind of scientific inquiry. He was wrong, of course, and even heretical. That would be like saying that if Jesus had had a bacterial infection, antibiotics would not have worked on Him. That means He is not fully Human: Heresy! But you can see how easy it is for religions to wrap themselves in this kind of self-protective invincible ignorance if even as brilliant a scholar as Ratzinger made this mistake.

I do not know how Islam is going to overcome this roadblock, but it must to progress. Its Scriptures, History, and Theology must be studied scientifically as well as practiced spiritually and mystically.

Lack of Central Authority

Another reason Islam is in a quandry in responding to ISIL is that the religion has no central authority. While there are Imams, Ayatollas and other scholars, nothing really corresponds to the authority structures in Christianity.

17th Century Novgorod Icon of the 7th Ecumenical Council (787).

17th Century Russian Icon of the 7th Ecumenical Council (787).

Modern Christians may sometimes chafe under Christianity’s authority structure, but it exists. For the Catholic Communion, it is of course well known that the Pope of Rome has immediate Universal jurisdiction over the whole Communion. Whether it should be that way or not is not at issue here. Authority is clear. An Ecumenical Council can also be called to debate and decide, but it must be confirmed by the Pope of Rome. All of the Catholic “Ecumenical Councils” from the 9th (Lateran I–1123) to Vatican II (1962-65) are considered by Eastern Orthodox as local Latin Councils only. They reject the Roman Catholic “8th Ecumenical Council”–Constantiople IV in 869-70 as heretical.

For Eastern and Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East, it is an Ecumenical Council that is the Supreme Authority in the Church. What in the West is labeled the Heresy of Conciliarism, in the East is simply good theology. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been an acknowledged Ecumenical Council since 381 (Church of the East), 431 (Oriental Orthodox), or 787 (Eastern Orthodox). Local Synods and Patriarchs have filled the void until a truly universal Ecumenical Council can take place again. Nonetheless, authority is clear.

Among the Anglicans, it is the Anglican Communion and its autonomous Provinces which provide the authority structure. In most Protestant Churches, there is some form of governing body. A few Churches only have local, or Congregational polity.

While Christians may and often do disagree among themselves, within each Christian body, especially for all of the largest groups, there are clear lines of authority. Today there are cross-denominational bodies such as the World Council of Churches, which, while they have no governing authority, at least promote communication across Church lines.

Progressive LGBT-friendly Muslim Prayers at a DC Mosque, led by women.

Progressive LGBT-friendly Muslim Prayers at a DC Mosque, led by women.

Not so for Islam. There is no one voice for Shi’as, Sunnis, or others, let alone a World Council of Islam. Who can authoritatively speak for the World’s 1.57 billion Muslims?

They must find a way around this. Some voices of reason and moderation must rise to represent the vast majority of Muslims who are just as peace-loving as anyone else. Some Muslim authority must rise to condemn ISIL, Wahabism, other extreme forms of Islam, and also “Muslim” dictators such as the Saudis and the Iranian Ayatollahs, and despots such as Assad, and to call for peaceful reform, creatively engaging the modern world.

Jaroslav Pelikan

Jaroslav Pelikan

Again, Islam must grow up faster than Judaism and Christianity had the luxury of doing. For all our good. Fundamentalism of any kind is the enemy of Humanity, and of genuine spirituality. As my old Professor Jaroslav Pelikan at Yale put it:

“Tradition is the Living Faith of the Dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

He was so right! Islamic Fundamentalism, Biblical Fundamentalism, Papal Fundamentalism, any Fundamentalism is inimical to good sense, and good religion. See: Defenders of God, The Battle for God, When Religion Becomes Evil, When Religion becomes Lethal.

Fear as the Cesspool where Sin Grows

The early Orthodox authors taught that the swamp or cesspool of the Fear of Death is the horrendous place where Sin grows. As we know, all true religion and spirituality is aimed at freeing us from the Fear of Death, so that we can progress spiritually, mystically and societally.

φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον, ὅτι ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει, ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. — I John 4:18

stop-scaring-me

I understand that the Muslims within many Islamic Countries, are rightly fearful of their dictatorial and despotic leaders. They feel powerless. But the example of the Muslim Spring should demonstrate clearly that they are not. Struggle to overcome the shackles that bind you. The rest of the world must support these efforts at liberation.

I also understand that Muslims living around the world in non-Muslim lands are fearful. Fearful of persecution by others, of discrimination, and of oppression from the increasingly radicalized among them.

This fear must be cast out. Peace-loving Imams, Mullahs and laity must denounce radical Islam every time it is preached, loudly and strongly. In response, the rest of us must support and protect them. Anti-Muslim sentiment in our nations only drives peace-loving Muslims into the arms of the radicals, thinking that they have no other refuge. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, et al. must support every righteous denunciation of radicalism by moderate Muslims.

(In like manner, I would love to see Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Bishops loudly denouncing Christian Fundamentalism. A few inverted candles stamped out against the Fundamentalists would be a welcome site.)

Finally, the world no longer has time to allow the Israeli-Palestinian struggle to keep creating an excuse for Islamic radicalism. A safe and secure Israel and a safe and secure Independent Palestinian State must lead the way to social, democratic, religious and economic cooperation and progress in the Region. Israel and Palestine, fix this now, and rest of the world: make this happen.

131024-ouch-gop-establishment-turns-on-ted-cruz… And American Right Wing politicians like the worse-than-useless Ted Cruz, just shut up. You have nothing to contribute. Let the adults work things out.

… And…America and Iran, make up and co-operate. Our peoples actually have much in common than what divides us. Bury the hatchet, we’ve got a world to improve together.

There’s no more time for this foolishness. We have work to do.

Do Jews, Christians and Muslims Pray to the Same God?

From L) German Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Israeli Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin and German-Turkish Imam Kadir Sanci hold three bricks as they pose for photographers in the vacant lot where they hope to build a multifaith prayer building, in Berlin June 3, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JOHN MACDOUGALL)

From L) German Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Israeli Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin and German-Turkish Imam Kadir Sanci hold three bricks as they pose for photographers in the vacant lot where they hope to build a multifaith prayer building, in Berlin June 3, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JOHN MACDOUGALL)

A few years ago, I was the recipient of an email thread that eventually got to the question as to whether the three Abrahamic Faiths worshiped the same God. Unfortunately, a couple of know-it-all Roman Catholics on the thread loudly protested “NO!” According to them, since Jews and Muslims have a faulty theology of God, only Christians (and I’m pretty sure they really meant only their own group) truly worshipped the real God. The God of the Jews and Muslims was a false God, because they did not understand God properly.

I quit that thread, thoroughly disgusted. What hubris! The very idea that humans can properly define the source of all-that-is, the source of the entire Multiverse and anything else, is incredibly ludicrous. In Arabic, الله‎ Allāh is just the word for God. Arab Christians use the same word:

No theology worth its salt ever claims that it can define God. There is only God, there can only be God. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

Footnote to All Prayers

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, muttering Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

The real Isis

The real Isis

When Jews, Christians and Muslims Pray to God, it is the One God to Whom they pray. When Buddhists pray, there is only One No-Thing-Ness (God) to receive that prayer. When an ancient Egyptian prayed to Isis, or a modern Hindu prays to Ganesha, they are praying to aspects of the One Divine Force (God), and they acknowledge this. When an animist prays to the spirit of the forest, she is praying to an aspect of the Divine. No matter what our human conceptions of the Divine are, they do not change the Divine Itself.

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone –Deuteronomy 6:4–Judaism
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا اللهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ اللهِ • (lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāhu muḥammadun rasūlu llāhi)
There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God. — Islam

All is Atman, which is Brahman — Hinduism
सर्वम् हि एतद् ब्रह्म अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म सः अयम् आत्मा चतुस पात्
sarvam hi etad brahma ayam ātmā brahm sah ayam ātmā chatus paat
All indeed is this Brahman; He is Atman; He has four quarters. — Mandukya Upanishad, verse 2.

Christ the Teacher

Russian Icon of Christ the Teacher

λέγει αὐτῷ Ἰησοῦς Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή· οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα εἰ μὴ δι’ ἐμοῦ.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. — John 14:6, Christianity.

This last needs to be explained. It means that as a manifestation of the Logos, the Christ is the self-expression of God. So too the Torah, the Qur’an, and the many ways God reaches out in all world spiritual paths. These Divine Self-revelations are the way we are empowered to return to our source–the Divine, and realize our Divinity (Theosis).

Three side notes:

1. When the wicked (such as ISIL) “pray” there is still only one God to hear them, but their prayers are so perverted by “the faith that the demons have” that there is little use. When one prays for evil things, it only hurts the one praying. Nevertheless, we must pray for their conversion to right-thinking.

σὺ πιστεύεις ὅτι εἷς ἐστιν ὁ Θεός; καλῶς ποιεῖς· καὶ τὰ δαιμόνια πιστεύουσιν καὶ φρίσσουσιν.
You believe that God is one? You do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. — James 2:19

If someone is so foolish as to “pray” to some depraved archetype such as Satan, that is about as smart as asking your local wise guy for a favor. Good luck.

2. Many Christians, Buddhists and some Muslims “pray” to Saints. Here “pray” means something different. In the traditions that have Saints and Angels, we “pray” to them to intercede for us with God. Here is the etymology of “pray” from Wiktionary:

From Middle English preien, from Anglo-Norman preier, from Old French preier, proier, (French prier), from Late Latin precāre, from Latin precārī, present active infinitive of precor, from prex, precis, “a prayer, a request”; akin to Sanskrit prach “to ask”, Old English frignan, fricgan, German fragen, Dutch vragen. From Proto-Indo-European *preḱ-, *perḱ- (“to ask, woo”).

Mother of God "Znameniye" (Sign), Russian icon from first quarter of 18th Century.

Mother of God “Znameniye” (Sign), Russian icon from first quarter of 18th Century.

It’s the same as asking another person to “Pray for you.” It’s just that the Saint or Angel is presumably more highly placed. We used to say “I prithee help me,” in Shakespearean English, short for “I pray thee, help me.”

Roman Catholics, of course always organized, have classified it in this way:

  • λατρεία (latreía, “worship”) can only be given to God, the Holy Trinity.
  • Hyperdūlīa, ὑπέρ (hupér, “above”) + dulia δουλεία (douleía, “slavery”) is due to the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). It is sometimes termed Hyper-Veneration.
  • δουλεία (douleía, “slavery”), veneration may be paid to the Saints (and Angels).

3. Ancestor Worship. Many ancient and modern peoples practice Ancestor “worship.” This is really the same as asking them to intercede for us.

Conclusions

I hope it is clear that I truly pray for the best for Islam. They must progress and mature rapidly, and the rest of us must support them in the ways I’ve outlined. It will not be easy. As a world, we have issues of the environment, poverty, disease, gender inequality, discrimination, reigning in the power of the Corporations and the Billionaires, and a world economic system that is thoroughly unjust and must be rebuilt from the bottom up, among others. We have to curb the aggression of Putin and ISIL. We have to help China realize that democracy is its future, not totalitarianism.

We need all hands on deck for our Planet to survive.

Thank you for listening.

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Who are the Yazidis and the Iraqi Christians?

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61qSNoU5dTLTo many, the unfolding atrocities committed against the Yazidi and Christian minorities in Iraq and Syria have brought to light two groups they know little about. Let us also not forget the massacres of Shi’a Muslims by the fanatical and evil ISIL forces, but due to the decades of strife in the Middle East, Shi’a Muslims are well known to the Western Public at large.

Before the ISIL atrocities began in Iraq, I had been reading a novel by one of my favorite authors, Javier Sierra, from Spain. The novel, The Lost Angel is his third to be translated into English, after The Secret Supper (about the real story behind Da Vinci’s art) and The Lady in Blue (about the documented astral projection of a 17th Century Nun). I highly recommend all three, and his other novels if you read Spanish. He takes an investigative journalist’s approach to mysterious situations, and weaves a very interesting tale. His work is what Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons (laughably terrible!) and The Da Vinci Code (OK) should have been with better research.

In The Lost Angel, the Yazidis are major players, so I did some research about this group I had heard about, but didn’t know about in detail.

Who are the Yazidis?

The Yazidis, who speak Kurdish and sometimes Arabic, follow a very ancient religion, partially derived from Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian faith which was well established by the 6th Century BCE. Yazdânism is used today to denote several associated religions/cultures in the area: Yazidi, Yâresân, and Chinarism/Ishikism (Ishik Alevism).  The Yazidi and their associated faiths were the dominant religions of the Zagros Mountains in Iran and Iraq until the Islamization of the region in the 10th Century. Any of these are targets of the blood-thirsty ISIL forces.

Over the centuries, the Yazidis took in concepts and practices from Judaism, Christianity (in both their Orthodox and Gnostic variations) and Islam, and is today a syncretistic monotheistic faith. In turn, there may have been Yazidis influences on Sufi Muslim Spirituality.

Melek_tausi

Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel

It’s Cosmology is actually older than Zoroastrianism, and posits One God who created the cosmos, and entrusted the world’s operation to a Heptad of Angels known as Heft Sirr, The Seven Mysteries. The leader of the Heptad is Melek Taus (Tawûsê Melek), the Peacock Angel, who is the central figure in the Yazidi religion.

Here is an excellent summary of the Yazidi Creation Story from Wikipedia:

They believe that God first created Tawûsê Melek from his own illumination (Ronahî) and the other six archangels were created later. God ordered Tawûsê Melek not to bow to other beings. Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring him dust (Ax) from the Earth (Erd) and build the body of Adam. Then God gave life to Adam from his own breath and instructed all archangels to bow to Adam. The archangels obeyed except for Tawûsê Melek. In answer to God, Tawûsê Melek replied, “How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust.” Then God praised him and made him the leader of all angels and his deputy on the Earth.

Unfortunately for the Yazidis, this sounds like this narrative from the Quran:

It is We Who created you and gave you shape; then We bade the angels prostrate to Adam, and they prostrate; not so Iblis; He refused to be of those who prostrate. (Allah) said: “What prevented thee from prostrating when I commanded thee?” He said: “I am better than he: Thou didst create me from fire, and him from clay.” —Quran, sura 7 (Al-A’rafayat 11-12.

He (Iblis) said: “Give me respite till the day they are raised up.” (Allah) said: “Be thou among those who have respite.” He said: “Because thou hast thrown me out of the way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy straight way: Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt thou find, in most of them, gratitude (for thy mercies).”

(Allah) said: “Get out from this, disgraced and expelled. If any of them follow thee,- Hell will I fill with you all. —Quran sura 7 (Al-Aʻraf), ayah 14-18

“As for My servants, no authority shalt thou have over them:” Enough is thy Lord for a Disposer of affairs. —Quran, sura 17 (Al-Isra), ayah 65

After this, Iblis (a Jinn), was known as “Shaytan” (Arabic: شيطان‎), cognate to the Hebrew Ha-Satan or Satan (“the accuser,” or “the adversary”).

Due to the similarity of the two narratives, Muslims and Christians have historically often identified Yazidi’s Peacock Angel with their own Satan, and have therefore traditionally regarded the Yazidis as “Devil Worshippers.” This is not only offensive to Yazidis, but is also clearly untrue.

Post-Card by Sarrafian brothers of Beirut of a group of Yezidis of Jabal [mountain] of Sinjar at the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Yezidi Kurds started settling in the mountain beginning in the 13th. century following the severe persecution by the Zengid Atabeg of Mosul, Badr al-Din Lulu. and later by the frequent Ottoman campaigns against the Sheikhan Yezidis north of Mosul. The mountain was a strong hold of the Nestorian Christians, who's Diocese ceased to exist after the 17th. century. The first of many campaigns by the Ottoman Turks, against the Yezidis of the Mountain, called by the Turks "THE SACLI DAGH", the mountain of the "HAIRY ONE'S", was carried by Melek Ahmad Pasha, the Vali of Diyarbekir [ 1640], the second by the Ottoman Firari Mustapha, the last occupation was in 1918, and directed against Hamu Sharu, the Sheikh of the Fuqara Yezidis, who refused to hand in the Christians refugees who sought shelter in the mountain from S.E.Turkey.

“Post-Card by Sarrafian brothers of Beirut of a group of Yezidis of Jabal [mountain] of Sinjar at the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Yezidi Kurds started settling in the mountain beginning in the 13th century following the severe persecution by the Zengid Atabeg of Mosul, Badr al-Din Lulu. and later by the frequent Ottoman campaigns against the Sheikhan Yezidis north of Mosul. The mountain was a strong hold of the Nestorian Christians, whose Diocese ceased to exist after the 17th. century. The first of many campaigns by the Ottoman Turks, against the Yezidis of the Mountain was carried by Melek Ahmad Pasha, the Vali of Diyarbekir [1640], the second by the Ottoman Firari Mustapha, the last occupation was in 1918, and directed against Hamu Sharu, the Sheikh of the Fuqara Yezidis, who refused to hand in the Christians refugees who sought shelter in the mountain from S.E.Turkey.” — Wikimedia Commons

Under the despotic and cruel rule of the Ottoman Turks, there were no fewer than 72 massacres of Yezidis in today’s Syria and Iraq during the 18th-19th centuries. Gradually, the world has been discovering the truth of this ancient faith:

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the Yezidis, and a lot of contradictory information. But I was drawn to this aspect of their beliefs: Yezidis don’t have a Satan. Malak Ta’us, an archangel, God’s favorite, was not thrown out of heaven the way Satan was. Instead, he descended, saw the suffering and pain of the world, and cried. His tears, thousands of years’ worth, fell on the fires of hell, extinguishing them. If there is evil in the world, it does not come from a fallen angel or from the fires of hell. The evil in this world is man-made. Nevertheless, humans can, like Malak Ta’us, live in this world but still be good. — Tony Lagouranis in Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey through Iraq. 

(Tony is one of the service-people who have openly admitted the horrors of Abu Grhaib and his own participation, and is harshly critical of his superiors and politicians who order this torture. He is an accomplished linguist, having studied Ancient Greek at the Humanities College, St. John’s College, Santa Fe NM, and Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey CA.)

Estimates of the size of the Yazidi population vary widely, from 70,000 to 500,000, mainly in Syria (Sinjar) and Iraq (Ninevah Province). I recommend learning more about the Yezidi Community here. We cannot allow this ancient people to perish.

Syrian Christians:

All Saints of Antioch, including Peter and Paul, bottom center, founders of the Church there.

All Saints of Antioch, including Peter and Paul, bottom center, founders of the Church there.

It is to be remembered that Christianity is 600 years older than Islam, and Roman Syria was an important part of the Christian world. One of the most important Sees was Antioch:

καὶ εὑρὼν ἤγαγεν εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν. ἐγένετο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐνιαυτὸν ὅλον συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ διδάξαι ὄχλον ἱκανόν, χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς.

… and when he (Barnabas) had found him (Saul), he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” Acts 11:26

Peter was the first Bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) of Antioch, before he was martyred in Rome. Over the centuries, divisions within Christianity caused there to be more than one Patriarch of Antioch. At present there are five (from Wikipedia–and the list is accurate, as I was myself ordained in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch in 1987 when I was a Jesuit.):

 

 

 

  • Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Alexandria, and Jerusalem of the Greek Melkites. Gregory III is the leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with the Catholic Church and uses the Byzantine liturgy. His see is based in Damascus.
  • Ignatius Joseph III Yonan, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East of the Syrians. Ignace Joseph III is the leader of the Syrian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with Catholic Church’s Holy See at the Vatican and uses the Eastern Antiochene liturgy. The see is based in Beirut, Lebanon.
  • Bechara Boutros Rahi, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Levant. The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full communion with the Catholic Church and uses the Maronite (Western Antiochene) liturgy. His see is based in Bkerké, Lebanon.
  • John X of Antioch was elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East on December 17, 2012. John X is the leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and thus is one of the major hierarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His see is based in Damascus and uses the Byzantine liturgy.
  • Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Ignatius Aphrem II Karim is the Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, which is part of the Oriental Orthodox communion and uses the Eastern Antiochene liturgy. His see is based in Damascus.

As you can see, it would be a major disaster for world Christianity if Damascus or Lebanon would fall to ISIL. About 10% of Syria is Christian, including the Armenian Oriental Orthodox Christians there, as well as Chaldean Catholics, and members of the Church of the East.

Without going into too many details, let me quickly sketch the real structure of world Christianity, largely unknown to the western public.

The Traditions of Christianity. © 2014 Steven A. Armstrong

The Traditions of Christianity. © 2014 Steven A. Armstrong

Pt 2...Syriac Tradition. © 2014 Steven A. Armstrong

Pt 2…Syriac Tradition. © 2014 Steven A. Armstrong

 

There are five great “Traditions” of Christianity:

Eastern:

1. Byzantine

2. Alexandrian

3. Antiochian/Syriac (Eastern and Western)

4. Armenian

Western:

5. Latin/Roman

All mainline institutional Christians descend from one of these Traditions. (Originally, the Western European Churches were independent, like the Orthodox Churches are today, but gradually came under Roman Catholic rule.)

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Today, there are four Communions of ancient Christians which reflects the schisms that Christianity has endured, and one later group:

1. Catholic Communion of Churches (1 Western: Roman Catholic; 21 Eastern: Byzantine, Chaldean, Coptic, Malabar, etc.)

2. Eastern Orthodox Communion of Churches (15 Churches: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, etc.)

3. Oriental Orthodox Communion of Churches (6 Churches: Armenian, Coptic, etc.)

4. Church of the East (2 Churches: Chaldean Christians and Assyrian Church of India)

5. The Western Christians who broke from Rome protesting the abuses in the Church are the Anglicans and the many Protestant Churches.

As you can see, the current Communions of Churches cross Tradition boundaries, except The Eastern Orthodox who are all Byzantine, and the Church of the East, who are all East Antiochian).

There are many other groups of Christians, but these are the “Institutional” Churches.”

Christianity forms a significant minority in the Middle East.

Chaldean Christians in Baghdad

Chaldean Christians in Baghdad

Christians in Iraq:

In 1987, it was estimated that there were about 1.4 million Christians in Iraq or 8% of the population. Today, there are probably 450,000-200,000, and with flight from the ISIL butchers, every day fewer.

The majority are ethnically Assyrian, and worship in the East Syriac Tradition in several variants:

Others are of the Byzantine Tradition, and are mostly Arabs:

Others are ethnically Armenian and worship in the Armenian Tradition:

And the Western Christians of the Roman / Latin Tradition, mostly Arabs:

Today, there are no Christians in Mosul, the first time in the history of Iraq. Large communities of the Chaldean Christians live in the Detroit MI and Turlock CA areas, and in the UK. Others have fled to Jordan, Syria, and Iran.

Christianity was brought to what is today Iraq and Iran, part of the ancient Persian Empire, by Apostles Thomas (of the 12) and Addai (Thaddaeus–of the 70), and his pupils Aggagi and Mari.

Christianity in Syria

Christians also have a very important place in Syrian Society. Syria was once part of the heartland of the Roman Empire. As we have seen, three Christian Patriarchal Churches have their headquarters in Damascus (Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Antiochian Eastern Orthodox Church, Syriac Orthodox Church). About 10% of Syrians are Christians:

  • Antiochian Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox)
  • Melkite Greek-Catholic (Eastern Catholic)
  • Syriac Orthodox (Oriental Orthodox)
  • Armenian Apostolic (Oriental Orthodox)
  • Latin Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Syrian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics and Maronites (Catholic Communion)
  • Anglicans and Protestants

A Tragic Exodus

The Middle East was once a very multi-cultural society, with the older communities of Jews and Christians, and the newer Muslims in every major city, each playing a vibrant part of civil society. Now, certain forces within Islam seek to create a monocultural landscape to the detriment of all.

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Recently, a top level conference, In Defense of Christians (major delegates seen above), was held in Washington, D.C. It’s conclusion was that “Defending Christians cannot only be about Christians… It must be about promoting good — the common good — and defending all people, Christian and non-Christian alike,” as the NCR reports. “We have to fight extremism together,” said Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II. “Living together should be conceived by Muslims and Christians alike as a divine vision and plan.”

Unfortunately, this major and important event only reached Mainstream American Media because of idiotic Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s stupid blunder and cry-baby reaction. In speaking to the meeting, Cruz said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.” As the audience contained Lebanese and Palestinian Christians, and others, the conference loudly booed him. He stalked off, saying, “If you do not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

Of course, Cruz is an imbecile. Unfortunately he is a powerful and dangerous imbecile. As Fr. Michael La Civita, of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said, as reported by NCR: “Ted Cruz’s only crusade, Ted Cruz’s only interest, is Ted Cruz.”

Naturally, ultimately Jews, Christians and Muslims must all learn to live in Peace, and Israel will have a vital role in this. My old teacher, Melkite Archbishop Joseph Raya had been Archbishop of Galilee and experienced good relations with the Israeli government. But that conference was not the occasion to push Cruz’s self-serving point. He doesn’t care about Israel or Middle-Eastern Christians. He is just promoting himself.

As you might imagine, the knee-jerk right-wing press have praised Cruz for his bêtise. (French: Foolishness, stupidity. Literally bête [beast] + ise.)

So, let’s pray and work to defend the religious liberties of all people in the Middle East, and work to maintain its multicultural character, so important in our history.

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant