Friday, January 8, 2010

History: A Few High Points

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Dear Mr. Evans:

So you don't foresee a time, thirty or forty years from now, when St. Peter's Basilica is turned into a mosque, and the Michelangelo frescoes are painted over? And the remaining white Westerners are too deracinated to care, or resist?



No, I definitely do not. If churches are turned into McDonald's Restaurants it will be because Christians no longer care. Looking at all the empty pews today, that may be a possibility. People are not perfect, but if one compares Christians and Muslims they, Muslims, have a better record than Christians. We can look at history:

About three hundred years after Christ (313), Constantine converted to Christianity and established Constantinople on the Bosporus where the ancient Greek city of Byzantium had stood for millennia. Constantinople was the centre of Christianity and the Roman Empire. The city of Rome, and Italy, were rivals for leadership of Christianity and trade. Constantinople was very rich because everything coming from the east (China and India where they had all the good stuff) went through the Bosporus on its way to Italy and the rest of Europe.

About six hundred years after Christ (610), Mohammad established Islam.

There was a mass conversion to Islam across the world: the Middle East and North Africa. Islam was then adopted across Asia in the demise of the Mongol Empire, on the Indian subcontinent with the Mogul conquest, down to IndoChina and on to Brunei at the edge of the Pacific. In Anatolia, Muslims had been at war for centuries with Constantinople (then called the Byzantine Empire). The Roman Catholic Church broke away from the Orthodox Catholic Church about 1,000 years ago (1054) and claimed to be to the true Christian church. Shortly after the schism, the Emperor in Constantinople asked his brother Christians in Rome to help the Byzantine Empire with its enemy, the Muslims. The Crusades were the answer.

The Crusades lasted for several centuries. The Christians, generally speaking, were bloodthirsty maniacs who showed no mercy. The Muslims, generally speaking, were their opposites. A few highlights:

In the First Crusade, when the Frankish Crusaders first took Jerusalem (1066), they were met with fierce resistance by Muslims and Jews. After the Crusaders had won, they slaughtered everyone inside, every man woman and child. No one was spared. Richard Cour de Lion, led the Norman war machine on the Third Crusade (1190). He was joined by the German king, Barbarosa. We should remember that the northern Europeans were among the last converts to Christianity, which may explain why they were so far away from peace, the message of Jesus. Maybe not. In the Fourth Crusade, the Doge (Duke) of Venice, that nice old Christian man, agreed to rent ships to take the Crusaders to the Holy Land. To pay for their passage, the Doge had the Crusaders make a little side trip to Constantinople so they could sack the city (1204). Yes, indeedy. Venice became a really rich city after that. Much of the treasure in museums in Venice today was stolen from Constantinople then. The Ninth Crusade was the last Medieval Crusade. It ended in 1272.

"Saladin was a great Muslim leader. His real name was Salah al-Din Yusuf. He united and lead the Muslim world and in 1187, he recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims after defeating the [Crusader] King of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin near the Lake of Galilee. When his soldiers entered the city of Jerusalem, they were not allowed to kill civilians, rob people or damage the city. The more successful Saladin was, the more he was seen by the Muslims as being their natural leader." Saladin was a Kurd.

When the Ottomans finally defeated the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the city was not sacked — despite over eight hundred years of war with the Christians. The Aya Sophia, which had been the largest church in Christendom, was converted to a mosque. The Sultan instructed his architects to cover the beautiful frescos in such a way that they would not be damaged. Today, over 500 years later, the Aya Sophia is being restored as a museum and the coverings are being removed to reveal the original treasures. People in the Ottoman Empire lived together for 600 years, Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, Orthodox Catholics, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Druze, and Jews. Things changed when the Ottoman Empire was destroyed by Great Britain after World War One (1918). Somehow, ancient hatreds flared up after the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003. Had people there been quietly waiting for centuries for an opportunity to get at each other? What was true in Mesopotamia was true also in the European side of the Ottoman Empire. Somehow peaceful relations that had lasted for centuries erupted into bloody sectarian violence in the former Yugoslavia (1992-95). This is the story also in Palestine and Lebanon throughout the 20th century. Things were better for everyone who had lived in the Ottoman Empire.

Today, the Orthodox Catholic Church is headquartered where it has been for almost two thousand years, in Constantinople, which has been called "Istanbul" since 1453. In India, where the Mogul Empire controlled the subcontinent for hundreds of years, most people are still Hindus and India has more Muslims than Pakistan. The Reformation was founded upon ancient Greek and Roman learning that survived because it was adopted and protected by Muslims — who also adopted and protected the Jews.

At the other end of the Mediterranean at the time of the Fall of Constantinople, The kingdoms of Castile and Aragon united with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. They drove the Moors out of Iberia in 1492. They stole all the property of anyone who didn't convert to Christianity and Isabella inaugurated the Spanish Inquisition to expose "Conversos" who were Jews who had only pretended to convert. Isabella knew who they were. They were her relatives! Yes, Indeedy. Christians? In 1492, you may remember, Columbus (who was an Italian from Genoa) sailed the ocean blue. Columbus was followed by the Conquistadores and the Roman Catholic Church. The world-wide Spanish Empire was established. Gold and silver from the New World was looted and sent to Spain. Indigenous people were conquered, slaughtered or enslaved. Yes, indeedy.


The Spanish Empire started to fade around the time of the Spanish Armada debacle in 1588 and the British Empire started its rise as the world hegemond with the explorations in 1497 of John Cabot (another Italian navigator). But Great Britain, so-named by James I in 1601, had been a power to be reckoned with since The Norman Conquest in 1066. Great Britain was the top dog for much of the millennium. British supremacy only came to an end in 1945 when the British Empire was subsumed by the U.S. Empire where power would be safe inside a continental fortress with a really big moat, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

So there you have it: A summary that includes most of the high points in the last two thousand years. Christians today should be aware of what Christians have done in the past. They should ask the question, "What did this misbehavior have to do with the gospel?" No, we were not "defending ourselves." What did Jesus teach about "defence" in any case?

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