The sign of Jonah

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Jonah was told by God to go to the men of Nineveh and warn them of the consequences of their wickedness; fearing their reaction, he fled to Tarshish, and on the way, in a great storm, he was thrown overboard and swallowed by a ‘great fish’. After three days in its belly, he was brought up alive, went to the city and did as God commanded. This, Jesus told his interlocutors, was the only ‘sign’ which an ‘evil and adulterous generation’ would be given: the three days and nights he spent in the tomb before the resurrection was the ‘sign’ that he was the chosen one, the Messiah. In our times, the tomb of Jonah, and its fate, might be taken as a different sort of sign. There is an excellent short piece here, with a video, and finding grim footage of severed heads and members of ISIS grinning, is, alas, easy enough.

That we should pray for the Christians of Mosul and Iraq is a given, as is the fact that we should give of what we have, if we can. Many years ago, in one of his best books, From the Holy Mountain, William Dalrymple wrote that the clock stood at five minutes to midnight for the Christians of the Middle East; the hour is now striking, and soon, as Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith writes in the Catholic Herald, ‘complete darkness’ will have fallen. Dalrymple himself describes the last decade as ‘catastrophic’ for the Christians of the Middle East. The triumph of ISIS and of Wahhabite Islam marks the end, as he points out, not just for the ancient Christians and Jewish communities of the region, but also (and perhaps much more harrowing for reader of the Guardian) of the hopes of an Ataturk secularism. Where I disagree with Dalrymple is in his view that things are reverting to the Ottoman millet system, where separate communities lived side by side, but with the Christians taking a subordinate role. This time the aim seems to be extermination of the Christians – or their identity.

The Ottomans did not, on the whole, blow up Christians shrines, indeed, when he caught a soldier trying to rip up part of the flooring of the Hagia Sophia, Suleiman the conqueror killed him. He saw himself as the ‘Sultan of Rum’ – that is ‘Rome’ – taking over the perquisites of the Empire. A highly cultured man himself, he was one of a number of Ottoman Sultans who made the fading and decaying old Christian capital the foremost city of the world. He and his kind had little, save religion, in common with the vandals who have blown up the tomb of Jonah.

No, the people most like these vandals are the Iconoclasts who, under Henry VIII and Cromwell, went through the churches of England defacing the monuments and burning statues of the Virgin Mary because they were idolatrous. It is bad enough that these fools so misunderstand Christianity that they think anyone worships a statue, and it is prideful arrogance in them that they insist on their interpretation when told it is nonsense; but to destroy works raised to honour the Lord is to dishonour Him. To destroy the beauty of holiness is a sure sign of something – and that is the sign of Jonah in this case. A religion that has in it so much of hatred, so much of evil and so much of anger, and which needs to destroy what it does not understand, is indeed of Satan.

Today, at noon, there is to be demonstration in London on behalf of the Christians of Iraq. I am sorry I cannot be there. Those who wish to donate might consider doing so to this site. ‘Aid to the Church in need’ is an excellent,campaigning charity. Whatever charity you choose, do give what you can, and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters. But make no mistake, even this evil and adulterous generation should be able to read these signs.

Priestcraft?

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Implicit in many of the criticisms made of the Roman Catholic Church is the charge of what used to be called ‘priestcraft’. It covers a variety of charges: clericalism (that is a church run by and in the interests of the priests in which the people play a subordinate part); an over-emphasis on tradition at the expense of Scripture; and an emphasis on the role of the priest. Some of this is natural development. In the West, from at least the time of the fall of the Roman Empire until relatively recently, levels of literacy were not high, and a literate elite tended to dominate not only the church, but secular life too; indeed, in the Middle Ages, as the careers of men like Becket and Wolsey showed, the Church could be an excellent avenue of advancement for young men from humble backgrounds. If you could not read the Bible, or Latin, then you were at a fatal disadvantage when it came to interpreting the former and speaking the latter.

The charge that the Church tried to keep control over the use of the Bible is true. Its critics urge bad motives, to do with a desire to control, and ignore the real motive, which was a desire to protect souls. Shakespeare once remarked that the Devil can quote Scripture, and, as regular readers here will know, it can be subject to a whole variety of interpretations. Arius quoted Scripture a great deal to justify his view that Jesus was the first-born of creation and not one with the Father. Should the Church have stood by and let a doctrine flourish which undermined the source of our salvation? One might add that the Arian crisis was mainly a phenomenon of the Eastern Mediterranean where popular levels of literacy were much higher than they were in Europe. The idea that the Church, as a Good Shepherd, should have let wolves roam amongst the sheep only has to be enunciated to see how wrong it is; you can call this priestcraft if you like, but it is actually good shepherds doing their job.

The English-speaking world has, since the 1530s, developed a different model of the priesthood. With the liturgy in the vernacular, and printed Bibles increasingly common, the priest has become more of a partner in the common enterprise; he (and now she) has a special role, both in terms of the Eucharist and of pastoral concern, but he is more or less first among equals. If he has tended to hold such a place in the local community, it has often been by the fact of birth (in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, younger sons were often found ‘livings’ from the family patrimony), or advantage of education: Newman, Keble and Pusey all showed how merit could win out.

The Roman Catholic Church, at least in this country, has been slower to follow suit. Where, as was the case in the century from the 1850s to the 1950s, many Catholics were Irish immigrants with little formal education and from peasant communities, the old models persisted for the same reason they had come into existence. The Catholic Bishops of England & Wales, a fine body of men, but not usually noted for their intellectual brilliance, have, as is the fashion of those of us of maturer years, not always adapted to changing circumstances, and remain, as they were in Newman’s day, suspicious of intellectual discussion. Vatican II accustomed them to a type of discourse attuned to the modern way of thinking, and they have grown used to it ways. There was, I thought, almost a collective intake of breath when Pope Benedict was elected, and a collective sigh of relief when he went. Pope Francis is an easier figure for them, he is, after all, one of them. A man who wants to do good things and not fuss too much about some of those tiresome bits of dogma and doctrine which, to such minds, gets in the way. But, they share, too, an old-fashioned view that the priest knows best by virtue of his formation.

This, I suspect, accounts for the unease many Catholics who take a serious interest in their faith feel. On the one hand you get an episcopate which talks of the need for dialogue with all and sundry, and then a bishop who can’t quite bring himself to admit he wanted a prominent orthodox blog to stop being published. That is rather sad. If the Bishop thought, as a good shepherd, that the blogger, an ordained deacon, was in the wrong, he should have provided, in the Spirit of Vatican II, some reasons; he should have been willing to enter into dialogue, a dialogue which, intellectually, should have had the possible outcome of the Bishop himself backing down. Instead, statements worthy of Alistair Campbell are issued, impressions linger in the air that something is wrong, and the caravanserai passes on.This sort of thing spreads the impression, which is no doubt incorrect, that the English & Welsh episcopate wants it both ways: the freedom to explore some of the, shall we say more adventurous, by ways of Vatican II, but also to retain the power to silence those with whom they disagree. If that impression is incorrect, Ecclestone Square might care to correct it not with words, by by actions. Words are cheap, which is why they are used so readily nowadays.

If that sort of thing is what is meant by ‘priestcraft’, then it clearly has not gone away. But one should not, in the natural urge to focus on individual cases of possible injustice, forget the large number of bishops and priests who do their best, in trying circumstances quite often, to lead their flocks through the hordes of ravening wolves. I remain, however, unconvinced, that the bishops have quite worked out how to work with the priesthood of the laity, which may be why some of the advocates of the latter have yet to work out how to work with the sacramental priesthood.

We can do magic?

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Amongst regular, and even irregular, readers of AATW, there tends to be unanimity on little; complaining about Bosco, however, is one of the exceptions. A recent comment from a new reader was to the effect that he seemed to be the worst sort of Protestant anti-Catholic bigot; there have even been times when it has been suggested that he is some sort of plant designed to make Protestantism look bad; but experience suggests he is sincere. His comments tend toward the repetition of ancent anti-Catholic propaganda of a familiar enough sort – pregnant nuns, altar boys, golden trinkets, worshipping statues and Mother Mary – nothing that anyone with more than a few moment’s experience of these things has not heard, and tired of, a million times. It amounts to little more than misunderstanding, misrepresentation and insults; nothing to write home about, and no drama either. But in a recent comment he wrote:

Its not that there are horrible people in the priestcraft, its that the religion demands its priests to be animals. Any religion that uses magic and graven images is going to have a wicked priesthood. You blame things on the individual clergy…I blame the wickedness of the religion.

In the tel evangel world, the head honcho lives better than a king. I don’t say that they should live on the street. But they live lavish, beyond what a pastor of the flock should. That money was given to do gods work. jan and Paul Crouch toss it around like confetti. Ken Copeland has an airport at his house. But people get saved despite them. They do lift Christ up, but they themselves are corrupt. The CC doesn’t lift Christ up. It puts men in bondage of magic and a dependency on men in costumes. Its not Christ that saves, its the catholic church that saves. Its a magic act. Look at good brother Servus. You talk about a smart person who falls for nonsence. He thinks this scapular is gonna do something for him. People fall prey to CC magic and stray from the saving power of the risen Christ and put trust in trinkets. Really,you need to give it a think.

I can see some wondering what the rest is like if this is an improvement; there’e plenty here to feed their curiosity, but as this is a community which believes in discussion and debate, and as Bosco has finally made a point which he has not before, it seems right and proper to ‘give it a think’.

‘Magic’ is one of those words atheists tend to use to describe Christianity’s supernatural claims – after all, someone who healed the sick by a touch and who rose from the dead, surely those are ‘magical tricks’; if Bosco agrees, then he can certainly convict the Catholic Church of believing in ‘magic’. If, as I suspect is the case, he believes that miracles and the resurrection happened by the power of God, then he is at one with the Catholic Church and should think a bit further on this score.

Is it the case that some individuals can attribute miraculous powers to objects? Yes. But any Christian will tell you that the source of any miracle is God; is Bosco suggesting God cannot do miracles, or that the RCC is alone in believing that they can? Again, I doubt it, so, as he said to me, I do to him: ‘really, you need to give it a think.’

 

Rocks and Hard Places (2)

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The forms in which Islam makes its challenges to our society in the West are variations on an old theme. The old ways of tackling them are not likely to work – if Afghanistan and Iraq show anything at all, it is that violence is welcomed by radical Islamists; they truly see that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of growth. However strange many of us find the various Youtube clips (to which I have no intention of linking) of young men in Syria rallying others to their ranks, if we are wise, we will recognise they have an appeal to others whose mindset we fail to grasp, and we will wonder how that might be met; we might, if we are very wise, wonder why it exists. The other challenge to Christianity comes from the aggressive secularism which tends to dominate our media and political class. That is not to say that they will not, from time to time, pay lip service to the ‘importance’ of ‘faith’ to individuals; but it is to say they will insist it is kept out of public discourse. They fail to see that this, itself, is an ideological position. When people say, as some do, that this means we are back to a position analogous to that in which Christianity grew, they have a minor point, but miss a major difference. The minor point is the similarities in terms of promiscuity and spiritual relativism; the major difference is that this is a society which sees Christianity as having been tried, weighed in the balance and found wanting. One reason why secular polemicists major on the misdeeds of Christians in the past is to ‘prove’ that Christianity is, in Lord Ridley’s words, a ‘virus’ which needs to be ‘exterminated’. As our own Geoffrey Sales rather predicted someone would, Ridley (whom I have met) wants religion to be taken out of schools altogether; as a Tory peer he is presumably not of the opinion that the State should provide the money which would be needed to fill the holes in funding if all churches withdrew financial support for education in this country. The sort of lack of self-reflexivity mixed with arrogance which is typical of this type can be seen in his comment: “rationalists no longer expect to get rid of religion altogether by explaining life and matter: they aim only to tame it instead, and to protect children from it”.

It is reflective of some of the lesser minds who concentrate on science, that Ridley thinks in terms of religion as ‘explaining matter’; there’s little to be done with one who starts from there and claims a monopoly on being rational. But he reflects, with devastating accuracy, the mindset of which I have been writing here. Unencumbered by much in the way of actual knowledge of religion, emboldened to speak with ignorance by the fact that the people to whom he is speaking share it, Ridley peddles the old, broken, solutions for how to deal with Islam; he assumes that Western rationalism will win out. One has to have some level of admiration for someone who can so defy the experience of the last century. He sees Islam and Christianity as both need extirpation. He is a Cameron created ‘Tory Peer’. He says openly what many of his fellows say in private. Perhaps, like so many Cameron Conservatives, he desperately wishes to atone for his sins on that front – after all to be an ‘out’ Conservative is much more likely to see one criticised than to be openly gay – by aligning himself with liberal pieties elsewhere. If you want to know why the British Government has done (and said) nothing of significance about what is happening in Mosul, there is a short answer; it doesn’t really care.

To those of you who have followed me thus far, I apologise if you were expecting some answer to the dilemma in which Christianity finds itself; but I hope some attempt to outline the problem coherently might be a place to begin such an exercise.

Rocks and hard places (1)

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Those who say that history repeats itself may have historians in mind when they do so, for it is certainly true of them; but history does not. As the ancients held, no man can step in the same stream twice. Some of the things which afflict the modern Church may well have parallels  with the past. So, Bishop Schneider can tell us we are in the fourth great crisis since the Arian dispute rent the Church, whilst not disagreeing, I would suggest we are in a unique one, and that it is shared by other Christians. There is nothing new, or unique, in the challenge from islam; but since the 1770s Europe has not felt it, worried about it, or made preparation to deal with it. The tide of conquest which began when Mohammed and his armies erupted from the desert in the middle of the seventh century, was finally stemmed in 1688 at the gates of Vienna, and since then has ebbed away. The abolition of the Caliphate in 1923 passed with little acknowledgement in the West, and any commotion in the Islamic world was ignored by most. Europe was in the ascendant, and in as far as ‘Mohammedanism’ was considered, it was generally looked upon in the West as a backward faith which, with the advance of education and civilisation, would fade from view; Ataturk assumed as much when he made Turkey secular republic and adopted non-Arabic script. A century on, we can see how ell that worked; in fact, that whole set of Orientalist assumptions now looks very poor prophecy. In part this is due to the ability of the Western world to destabilise its own civilisation with two world wars and the Cold War; in part to the effect of petro-dollars on the world’s economy and the Middle East; and in part, it is down to the fact that the one defining feature onto which inhabitants of that region could cling as a bulwark against Westernisation has been their religion. Islam has proved itself far more resilient in this respect than has Christianity. The novel feature for our times is one which does have some parallels with early Christianity, but they are not encouraging. We know that early Christianity’s spread was greatly helped by the presence in many Roman cities of Jewish communities, who proved the catalyst for the conversion of the Gentiles. The West has many Muslim communities which, even if they do not (at the moment) convert many Westerners, will continue to prove unassimilable. The challenge of Islam is internal and external.

Christianity cannot focus upon this challenge for two reasons: the first is that, committed as they are to ecumenical dialogue, the leaders of the churches do not have a language of apologetics with which to debate Muslim scholars; they fear, and surely correctly, that they might be accused of Islamophobia; they want, rightly, to coexist with another of the world’s great religions; unfortunately they lack the ability to deal with those sections of Islam who rejoice in Islamophobia because they see in it a sign of fear, and who do not want to coexist with any other religions because they believe that error has no rights. A relativist mindset finds itself at a disadvantage when trying to comprehend conservative Islam. If a resurgent Islam is part of the problem, Christianity has another – the society in the West in which it finds itself embedded. Here, too, there is something novel.

Faith and education

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Our friend cumlazaro has an excellent post on the ‘Trojan horse’ affair here. He reveals what a shoddy piece of work the Clarke report is. Assuming, no doubt correctly, that it could rely on popular dislike and distrust of Islam, it takes anecdotal evidence and its own presuppositions to reveal to an astonished world that Muslim schools tried to give an Islamic education to Muslim students; if we’re not careful they’ll be telling us next that Catholic schools try to give a Catholic education to their students. Perhaps some do, who knows? What is clear from this whole business is that anyone offering education which fails to fit within the confines of the prevailing ideology can expect to be stitched up by a report designed to give the impression that there is something wrong with having views which do not conform with those of our political elite.

Those with a good sense of humour might note that when the RCC had a monopoly on education, it was no more keen than our modern elite to give space for a variety of views: whenever one thinks one has the truth, one tends to be keen on insisting that it, and it alone warrants teaching; error, we are sometimes told, has no rights. This is not my view, and it has not been the view of Western society since the Enlightenment. Bosco’s view may be mad as a bag of frogs, but he has the right to hold them, and as long as Jessica tolerates them here, then here they will be; I respect her hugely for that, as I do for allowing me, and others, to be fairly abominably rude about her own church.

As a school-master of long standing, I always took the view that it is good for students to be exposed to views which they would not normally come across. This did not make me a libertarian: in my view pornography and such-like material have no place in a civilized society, and certainly not in school with minors; though I was always perfectly happy for our sixth form general studies class to discuss the issues involved and to question my views; what is the point of education which fails to encourage children to think?

Our friend cumlazaro’s piece should be read and savoured, for he skewers brilliantly the two-faced nature of the report; with zero evidence, Clarke says it cannot be the case that Muslim parents share the views of some of the Muslim governors; how can he know when he never asked them? Do not, if you are interested in faith-based education, ask for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee. Make no mistake, they came from the Muslims first because they were easy meat.

 

 

 

 

Of Trojans and their horse

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Our press here in the UK has been exercised for some time by the issue of ‘Trojan Horse’ schools. The accusation has been that some schools in Muslim areas of Birmingham have been taken over by Muslim extremists who have been pushing a ‘hardline Muslim agenda’ on the children being educated there. To read some of the coverage, one might imagine that they were running classes in bomb-making and workshops on jihad, with optional modules in how to blow yourself up. I’ve refrained from commenting too closely on this until the report commissioned by the Government was out, and amidst the acres of newsprint it has not spawned, we see the words: ‘There has been no evidence of direct radicalization or violent extremism.’ What’s that? Yes, despite the best efforts of our alarmist chums in the press, it would seem that the worst that has happened is that: ‘there there is a clear account in the report of people in positions of influence in these schools, with a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, who have not promoted fundamental British values and who have failed to challenge the extremist views of others.’ And, we are told:

‘The existence of a common ideological stance among key linked individuals in this enquiry, the taking of control of governing bodies and the implementation of conservative religious practices in the schools where these individuals have influence, means that there can be no doubt that what has happened has been driven by a desire to instil a particular style of religious ethos into these state non-faith schools.’

Now then, I can see why our secularist friends might be jumping up and down, after all the only ‘common ideological stance’ allowed is the one approved by them – a relativist, secularist, extremely liberal agenda, designed to instil a particular style of leftist ethos into our schools; quite why those of us with a religious faith should share the secularist concerns, or underwrite their agenda, is a puzzle to me. Yes, no doubt some individual teachers went ‘too far’ in expressions of support for jihadis, but as a former school-master, pardon me if I do not raise even one cheer for the idea that these teachers should be sacked wihtout appeal. I am just guessing here, but I suspect that a teacher who promoted a pro-abortion agenda and advocated same-sex education lessons for young children, would not find herself sacked. Yet again, I fear, we see a government which professes to be in some sense liberal and conservative, pursue measures which are neither; this is the usual stuff from the Left – if we don’t approve of you, we shall shut you up and deprive you of your income.

We’re told there will be a ‘raft of reforms’. Where do they get these phrases from? This ‘raft’ looks like a refit job: inspections and more oversight; it looks to me as though the Labour-controlled council there has been doing neither. No doubt paralysed by its own politically correct dogma, the Council has let things drift, or, as it puts it:

‘The new council’s political leadership has admitted, in hindsight, it put community cohesion before rooting out the problems in some schools, including systematic bullying of teachers resisting attempts to narrow the culture and curriculum of state schools.’

So, if I read all this aright, having cocked it up, the Leftist establishment in our schools now intends to use its own errors to try to derail the Government’s ‘academy’ programme, which frees up schools from the dead hand of local authorities, and is going to argue against faith schools. Before anyone gets blinded by Islamophobia, it is worth noting these things. If we are being told that there is only one ethos allowed in our schools and that no one must upset the little darlings by questioning received views, then the Left comes a little closer to controlling the minds of children.

Am I defending wrong behaviour by individual teachers? No. Am I defending the right of teachers and governing bodies to propagate views of which I disapprove? You bet, it is called free speech, and this country is losing the idea of it.

 

Stop the world!

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Any readers of my posts and comments will be aware that I am not on the ‘progressive’ wing of anything. The whole idea of ‘progress’ is a secular construct. Mankind is sunk in sin and its consequences, and the only way of progressing beyond this is to repent and embrace Christ and walk in His way; save for that, the rest is an illusion. In all eras mankind tends towards what is sinful, and no sooner does one generation condemn the sins of another,, as over ‘civil rights’, than it commits itself to fresh sins, in the case of our generation, mass infanticide aka abortion. There is no ‘progress’. But one can, I think, take this too far.

‘ecumenism’ is a topic which comes up fairly frequently here. Jessica is in favour of it, quiavideruntoculi thinks it of the devil, and the rest of us fall somewhere between. On the whole I’d rather Christians were talking to each other with respect than chucking stones at each other; take it from one who spent part of his youth in Belfast, the opposite of ecumenism is much worse. Those who think that there is ever going to be some sort of great coming together in one church this side of the Last Days are optimists, and I’m in favour of being nice to those whose hopes are bound to be disappointed. It tenmds to be those who downplay dogma who are the keenest ecumaniacs, and for them, it is easy enough; if we all agree on being nice, then we can all hold hands, sing Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, and get on. I’m all in favour of nice and of getting on; but I think it easier and safer when we all know the limits.

Roman Catholics believe, as I think do the Orthodox, in a sacramental priesthood which they root in the history of the church. There is no doubt that it can be found there. As to whether it fulfils what Jesus wanted for his followers, there is plenty of doubt, because those of us who take a different view do not simply disregard history, we disagree with those who say that the course it took was the only one possible. There’s not, in my long experience, anything to be done about this, and prolonged arguing actually makes things worse, with both sides ending up frustrated and resorting to antique instruments of warfare. Best just accept there is a vast difference here and leave it to God to tell us who, if any, was right. Best to accept that both sides have reasons and, once having tested them, leave it be. Outside of a world in which the State is going to persecute you for believing what your conscience tells you (and that worked really well for centuries, as we see – not), it is better to live and let live; those who wish to persecute should leave things to God – or don’t they trust him to know better than they do? I guess if you know better than the Pope, knowing better than God is the next step on the road of self-willed pridefulness?

So, I like to talk to my fellow Christians, and I do them the courtesy of respecting their belief, ask only the same of them,, and where we agree, splendid, and where we don’t, let’s leave it. If there were any easy answers to these things, we’d have them by now, and the fudge offered by the ecumaniacs is sweet, but rots the spiritual teeth.

What can we do?

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One response to events in Mosul and Iraq is to demand that ‘something should be done’; the difficulty is that the activities of the Western world in this region are a large part of the reason for the problem; when in a hole the best thing is to stop digging.

The geopolitics of the second Iraq war were always troubling. The first Iraq war had a clear motive, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and a clear aim, the liberation of Kuwait; neither of these things were try of its successor. It was clear that the removal of Saddam would lead to the destabilisation of Iraq, and the one victor from that would be Iran; quite why anyone thought otherwise is a puzzle. A cold, hard look at where were are now points up three allies, none of them sympatico: Russia, Syria and Iran. They have one thing in common with us – they fear Shia Islam in the Wahhabite form practiced and propagated by Saudi Arabia. But the times, and our stomachs, are not attuned to the strong meat this would be. A public revolted at Russian behaviour in the Ukraine would not readily see past that to a more Realpolitik view of the world; but the alternatives are so thin on the ground as to be invisible.

Our friend Quiavideruntoculi blames the last few Popes for having a dialogue with Islam. With all respect due to the Papacy, there is nothing it could have done to prevent this situation. Indeed, in many ways, it is Western interventions across the last century which have made what was never a good situation worse. For all its many faults, the Ottoman Empire provided an environment in which the Christians could coexist with Muslims, as they did for centuries. It was not equal coexistence, and in the Ottoman heartlands, it led to the virtual extinction of Christianity across five hundred years; there were massacres, such as those which occurred in Bulgaria in 1876, and there was the Armenian genocide in 1915; and, of course, Christians were second-class subjects. But, with all of those drawbacks, things were better than than they are now. Christians have been in Mosul since at least the sixth century; there are none left.

I have listened to the BBC here, and have heard nothing of any of this; neither have I heard our Government or the American Government complain. Thinking in purely secular ways produces no answer to the current situation in the Middle East. What is going on there is, broadly speaking, a Sunni-Shia struggle, and we should be looking to organise help from those Shias who see ISIS as the spearhead of a Sunni assault aimed predominantly at them. That means working with Iran. It also means working with the Power which sees Sunni Islam as a threat to Orthodox Christians – Putin’s Russia. It means thinking about the world in a way which our leaders have not done since the Thirty Years’ War. Yes, it is revolting to deal with Putin who is an ex-KGB thug; but it is that or see Christianity exterminated from the region, and millions of Christians suffer. If our leaders cannot compute in this way, they need to learn how to do so. The ISIS forces have dealt speedily with the well-equipped and expensively-trained forces of the Iraqi government, and in the present political climate, no Western Government is going to put good money in after bad, and even if they did, the West can’t stay there for ever – and the Sunnis will; so there has to be a smarter way of dealing with this. The one think which links the grouping needed here is religion. It isn’t that we think Islam is the same as Christianity, it is that we recognise that there is a breach in Islam through which we can create a coalition which will defeat ISIS. If we forget everything we knew about the Cold War, it will help. There’s no use seeing Putin as the KGB thug he is. If we think that the West can do anything in this region without Iran and Russia on side, then we are dreaming. Whatever Putin’s motives (and it is safe to assume they are of the lowest) he takes Orthodoxy seriously in political terms, and historically, the Christians in this region have looked to Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Should we be following Putin and seeing religion as a political tool? Well, it is better than the alternative.

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