The Reverend Andrew White, vicar of the Anglican church in Baghdad, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 this morning about the persecution of Christians in Iraq. Undoubtedly, appalling things are being done to these people – beheadings, torture, theft of their possessions – just because of what they believe. The Sunni Muslim militia doing the persecuting are routinely referred to in the UK media as ‘Islamists’ or ‘extremists’, in a vain PC attempt to distinguish and distance them from other of Mohammed’s followers. Whatever we call them though, men, women and children who follow a different long-dead prophet are suffering at their hands.
It is a sad fact that whichever religious group holds the reins of power, it persecutes those who hold different beliefs. History is replete with examples and because Christianity has, for most of the last 2000 years, held the whip hand, it is Christians – the church – that has invariably meted out the persecution. And still does.
There are Christians today who, in God’s name, think that atheists, women and homosexuals should be supressed, denied their rights, deported and even imprisoned. In the West, God’s gentle people (‘Christianists’? ‘Extremists’?) tend not to get their way, but in countries where Christianity still holds sway, they do. Christians persecute minorities, in Uganda, Nigeria, the Gambia, Cameroon and elsewhere, as they themselves are persecuted in predominantly Muslim countries. It’s all so terribly human, as they eagerly jettison the command to treat others as they themselves would like to be treated in favour of a ‘holiness’ that drives them to deprive their victims of life and liberty. Christians have been and are no better than the fanatics who turn on them when the boot is on the other foot.
Perhaps they don’t go in for beheadings quite so much these days, though there are still Christians who advocate stoning as a preferred method of purging society of sinners. Others take it upon themselves to campaign against the human rights of those they’ve taken a dislike to. Recently, the Family Foundation of Virginia announced a forty day fast that it thinks will impress God enough he’ll destroy same-sex marriage in the States. It’s a fast with a difference though – those taking part can eat during it: ‘We are asking the entire Body of Christ to join us for this fast,’ the group says. ‘Giving up physical food isn’t necessary – but feeding on the spiritual food provided is vital.’
I don’t know about you, but I always understood that fasting meant doing without food. A fast isn’t a fast otherwise.
This laughable nonsense beautifully encapsulates religious belief; take on the outer aspects of a faith, including its language and its rituals, and reinterpret them in whatever way suits you. That way, showing the love the saviour commands means treating others with contempt; fasting to get God to do what you want really means filling your belly; following Jesus means ignoring most of what he said and doing what you like.
It’s all so empty, so human, so meaningless – so very hypocritical. If only it weren’t quite so dangerous for those on the outside.