Sunday, June 18, 2017

Egypt: A Spiritual Harbor?

http://www.virtueonline.org/egypt-we-cant-keep-insatiable-desire-copts-have-bible

This is an interview of an Egyptian Evangelical explaining Egypt's political, social, and church environment. Contrary to myth, and despite the turbulence of Arab Spring and the US' support to eject Mubarak, Egypt has become calm. al Sisi is not a military dictator, but a widely popular leader who stabilizes Egyptian life. Again, contrary to establishment narratives, al Sisi did not overturn the "democratic" Morsi, but represented a popular revolt against the Muslim Brotherhood from seizing the reigns. Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood had a solid base of popular support, especially among rural Muslims. But it was dependent upon Qatari money and the Obama administration's attempt to reshuffle the Middle East through a corruption of the Arab Spring. Against American ignorance, politics is in fact complicated. There is a race for zone control between the Saudis and the Iranians, with the US playing puppet master.

The American ideal of democracy is mostly a fiction, and used as a disingenuous tool to hypocritically sermonize and morally justify horrendous action. Most people across the globe, even peasants, appreciate geo-political realities, even if in crudely pragmatic, even Machiavellian ways. They may or may not like it, but most appreciate it's a fact. But being in America is to be subjected to hypnotyzing propaganda of the worst kind. Many Americans really believe we're different, and not because we've mastered the game of neo-imperial global politics. If America is exceptional, it's because we're like the Mongol Horde, we bring unprecedented power to bear upon the world in deeply oppressing, humiliating ways. But at least Ghengis Khan never had to convince the Mongols that they were conquering the Chinese for their own good!

The piece comes off a bit flowery, but it does represent a reality Christians ought to consider. The point and purpose of the state is to restrain evil, and Sisi is doing that. Even though he may be an evil man, he represents what Christians should actually hope for. It's not romantic, there's not deep infatuation or loyalty, but there is a sense of respect and honor paid to one who allows, even unwittingly and against his direct intention, for the Church to grow and perhaps flourish. Like Assad before, many Christians support Sisi because he is trying to keep the peace and allow for an open society. Granted, conversion may officially be illegal for Muslims, but this is not the point. The existence of this antagonistic law has the indirect benefit of reminding Christians that the state is not their hope, nor is it machinery to take over.

For these reasons, Egypt is a much safer space, spiritually speaking, than the United States and even much of Europe. While Egypt was predominantly Christian in the later period of the Roman Empire, before the Muslim Arab conquests in the 7th century, it is a legacy that is no longer operating upon the imagination of the Coptic people. There is no sense where nationalism and state control can seep into the Church without a trace. A sense of antithesis exists. While Christians like the author and others like him may enjoy the benefits of living in Egypt and value the policies of the al Sisi government, they do not become a part of the Church's liturgy. There is no equivalent to "God Save the Queen" or "God Bless America" belted in the churches. The threat of erecting the golden calves of nationalism and statecraft in the Church retains a foreignness which one is pressed to find in America. No one bats an eye when American flags decorate churches in a near cultic fashion.

There are many benefits to the formal pluralism of America, at least on paper, but like Brave New World, they are useless. That is to say, no one is putting a gun to anyone's head to buy into the Establishment, love the Empire, murder for our way of life, and include national mythos in the civic religion that is represented throughout both so-called theologically liberal and conservative churches a like. Everyone embraces the system rather willingly, even if ignorantly. Falwell and Niehbuhr, the Southern Baptists and the United Methodists, neo-Social Gospel SJWs and the Moral Majority, they hate each other, but share the same common ideology. The benefits become corrupting. No one forces churches to function as corporations, at least not directly, but a little carrot-and-stick with tax breaks, and churchs start behaving like little corporate entities, with managed stock portfolios, pension plans, and a corporate leadership structure. These things become corrupting because whatever financial benefits become a means to get people to buy into the program. Like a Trojan Horse, the church becomes infected with a virus and is rewritten to become a satellite of the civic religion, even if unconsciously. These benefits become harder to let go of.

It's in this way the interviewee is correct to say that Sisi is more friendly to churches than Western governments. He leaves them alone and covers them under the umbrella of a comprehensive national policy.

In addition, the mixed historical legacy of Egypt is helpful for a growing sense of Church unity. I'm not sure about his numbers for "denominations", but there is some truth. While the Oriental Orthodox church remains committed to its interpretation of the Alexandrian theology of Athanasius and Cyril, opened a split which has kept the Egyptian church from the delusions of comprehensive catholicity. Byzantine orthodoxy remains present, along with churches established by British and French missionaries.  This is fertile space to work together. I don't know enough to weigh in on the interviewee's statement about the Copts being a Bible loving and thirsting church, but it's good news to hear if it's true. It also clears ground for theological conversation and dialog. I hope this is not towards milquetoast ecumenism, but towards healing of wounds through cooperation and mutual recognition, in fasting and in prayer, where real theological discussion may occur.

May God bless the churches of Egypt with growth, both numerically and spiritually. May the Lord Christ give the home of such saints and teachers as Origen, Athanasius, Didymus, and Cyril a revival. Amen.

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