Very soon I will be reviewing The Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins. I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy this book. I was quite ignorant of many of his points about the history of Middle Eastern Christianity. The following excerpt and thoughts are about one facet of the book. This is in no way an anti-Islamic book. But it is a book that is realistic about Islam.
I admit to being confused about why anyone would be drawn to the books of Karen Armstrong, a writer who likes to emphasize the alleged commonalities between the world’s three monotheistic faiths. I admit I am criticizing books I have not read beyond a perusal in the bookstore. But the covers had enough on them to cause me to scoff in disbelief. I don’t prefer to waste my time on books I find unhelpful in any area of thinking I care about. And I care about religion.
Philip Jenkins has a beautiful book describing the lost treasure of Middle Eastern Christianity. Believe me: Middle Eastern Christianity has its warts. But when I share a review of Jenkins’ book, I think many of you will be surprised by the continued connection the Middle Eastern church had to its Jewish roots even in the late Middle Ages.
While in no way being an anti-Islamic book, The Lost History of Christianity does include a sharp critique of Karen Armstrong:
In reality, the story of religious change involves far more active persecution and massacre at the hands of Muslim authorities than would be suggested by modern believers in Islamic tolerance. Even in the most optimistic view, Armstrong’s reference to Christians possessing “full religious liberty” in Muslim Spain or elsewhere beggars belief.
On page 140, he notes that the very term genocide was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, commenting on the massacre of Assyrian Christians in Iraq by Muslim authorities. Hitler himself referred to the incident in a speech in 1939.
Jenkins points out that the last 100 years have been Islam’s most violent. In the last 100 years, Christians have ceased to exist in all but a few places in the Middle East, all due to Islamic massacres, conversions, and expulsions (I might note that the only injustice the world seems to decry is the expulsion of some Palestinians during the war for Israel’s independence).
In 1900, Christians represented 11% of the Middle Eastern population. Today they represent approximately zero. Consider, the U.S. is 2% Jewish and 4.5% Muslim. Yet how many Muslims and Jews do you see or know in the cities of America? Imagine if they all disappeared over the next few decades through slaughter or expulsion (may it never be and God forbid). Yet that would not compare to the violent change and elimination of 11% of the people of the Middle East.
Still, Jenkins points out that some conservative voices are being too alarmist in warning of Islamic law soon overtaking Europe. And Islam has had periods of relative tolerance. Perhaps Islam could return to a more tolerant mode.
But we should not be fooled. We should keep our eyes open. And liberal or conservative, we should decry Islamic violence and intolerance. But most of all, we should mourn the passing of a vibrant Christianity of the Middle East (I will say more about it in my coming review). The treasure that has been lost, the manuscripts that have been burned, and the knowledge forever destroyed about world history and religion are unrecoverable.