A Heritage of Beliefs
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  • Post published:13/05/2021
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A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs and knowledge slowly accumulated over the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic. So says Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.

This year is the 700th anniversary of the first edition of the King James Bible which has had such a civilizing influence on the history of the English-speaking world. Many writers have been inspired by it and many of its phrases have become common currency in our language. This edition was intended to bridge the gap between Protestant reformers and conservative Catholics. The KJV (King James Version) is part of our heritage, and even though many of us are not practicing Christians we have an architectural, literary, artistic, social, and musical heritage handed down to us by Christianity in Europe and certainly carried over to all those parts of the world where we settled as immigrants, very often driven by our interpretations of the bible.

marsaba

As I discovered on a trip to Syria a few years back, Christian churches were built in the East as far back as 292 AD, as exemplified by Dura Europos on the banks of the Euphrates, and Palmyra (312 AD) which features four Christian churches, one recently discovered in 2008. Each Christian sect (Nestorians, Assyrians, Copts, Maronites, Armenians) lived side by side with other religions in reasonable peace, in Palmyra, Damascus, Aleppo and the Middle East. These churches are part of our world heritage or, as the French say, Notre Patrimoine.The monestary in Maalula

Unfortunately, great parts of the French Christian Patrimoine were deliberately destroyed during the French Revolution. Cathedrals and churches were used as people’s meeting houses, and even our local cathedral did not escape having the Revolutionary Tricolour painted above its portal. Many cathedrals were stripped of their treasuries – the golden chalices and bejeweled crucifixes, smaller churches were desecrated — or just destroyed.

Although Britain has a larger remaining heritage of medieval churches than France, new reformation protestant brooms swept them clean to the extent of painting over the colourful frescoes. However, most of England’s cathedrals with their architectural traceries, stained glass windows and majestic naves are intact, although more than 800 monasteries were destroyed by Henry VIII who, in sore need of treasure to replenish his coffers, dissolved the monastic orders, destroyed the monasteries (more than 800 of them) and threw out all the monks and nuns. Tintern Abbey’s grandiose ruins are the results of his spoilage.

Since the end of the Second World War, more heritage-destroying conflicts have broken out in yet more merciless fashion between the Abrahamic religions. Examples of this destruction occurred during Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the brutal reaction of the Maronite Christians towards the Palestinian Christians and, more recently, the bombing of Christian churches in Alexandria, Egypt and Baghdad, Iraq.

The Armenian Christians in Turkey were all but wiped out after the First World War (Ein Wardo) and still suffer persecution today under the pretense that they are helping the Kurds. The Algerians have all but wiped out the Christians in their land: their latest effort some 14 years ago was to kidnap and kill by beheading the seven old Trappist monks of Tiberhine. The documents relating to this are still under a “For Your Eyes Only” embargo although President Sarkozy of France is trying to get these top secret documents opened up because the perpetrators of this brutal killing are still un-named.

Copts coming out of church, Cairo

This event has provoked many enraged articles in the French press and a film about this massacre, called Des Hommes et Des Dieux which won plaudits at Cannes. The Coptic quarter in Cairo, Egypt is under permanent army guard. The Syrian Christians in Aleppo have their own quarter and so far have escaped total destruction but they are now only 10 percent of the population instead of the 30 percent they represented in the 1900s. Iraq and Iran still persecute their Christian communities to this day. Why is this happening?

After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, there was little trade between the Christian West and the Muslim East. The West, in its desire to continue trading in silks and spices with the East, now that the Silk Road was lost to them, set out to find other routes, discovered America and became rich. The refusal of the Ottoman Muslims to trade with the West throughout centuries has left their populations relatively poor – too poor for them to cope with their garbage which litters the streets and railway lines out of towns, too poor to educate the greater part of their male populations who have no jobs and are currently rioting at the rising cost of foods in their countries.

I wonder if it is partly their realisation of the economic imbalances existing between East and West (and now too between North and South) rather than a desire to Islamicize the world, that is provoking reactions to the few Christians who remain in Muslim lands. It was after all the centre of Western wealth which was attacked when the Twin Towers went down.

In our eagerness to spread the culture of gentle Jesus, we often trampled on the sensibilities of the people whose lands we occupied. In these more enlightened times, we have come to regret it and even issued apologies. We have gone beyond the reforming King James Bible by admitting women to certain priesthoods and recognizing gay relationships. Learning to recognize the different facets of humankind, we are becoming more liberal, but I am wondering if turning the other cheek and looking the other way is the wrong approach.

maalula-mar-takla-monastery-church-c-phool

The world was shocked by the Taliban destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan – a World Heritage Site — but remains unmoved by the plight of the Christians in the East and ignores the rape of innocent underage Christian girls in Great Britain, Holland and Australia who are groomed and abused by Muslim gangs. The newspaper accounts are heartrending and deeply shocking. It is a quiet extermination of souls, silent and vicious, which, for fear of appearing racist, the authorities brushed under the carpet. “What happened to [this girl] is a model of the calculated, predatory process that has initially flattered, then ensnared and finally wrecked, the lives of hundreds of British girls in recent years,” The Times reported on Saturday January 15 2011.

Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom had inspired.” Had he not been assassinated, he would surely have been heartbroken to see how little his culture, inherited from all those European refugees who make up the majority of the American population, is respected today. This may be another facet of an incipient World War Three. Some consider it Jihad.


Photo Credits

Marsaba Monastery, East of Bethlehem – www.sacred-destinations.com

Maalula – Mar Takla Church Syria www.sacred-destinations.com

Copts Coming Out of Church, Ephesus © Julia Mclean

Tintern www.sacred-destinations.com


Maalula Monastery  www.sacred-destinations.com


Recent Julia McLean Articles:

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  • The Herd Instinct
  • Luke Skywalker and the Desert Fox – Part Two
  • The Desert Fox – Part One
  • Kingdom of the Fungi: Part Two

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