Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Power, Faith and Fantasy

I am currently reading Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present--and I would have been finished by now if I hadn't been side-tracked into John Ash's excellent A Byzantine Journey (which is, by the way, a worthy companion to Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain). Anyway, Israeli author Michael Oren chronicles American involvement in the region from the earliest days of the Republic. The book is balanced, to a fault, and written in a breezy, narrative style. Oren is an accomplished storyteller.

Perhaps the most intriguing part, for me, is Oren's depiction of Protestant missionary efforts, beginning in the 1820s. Somewhat surprisingly, they advocated a return of the Jewish people to Palestine from the very beginning. Of course, Christian support for Zionism really gained traction after WWII, but the basic premise had long been in place. On the other hand, they were puzzled by the existence of the 1800-year old Christian community. The Catholics, Orthodox, Melkite Catholics, Oriental Orthodox, etc. were seen as barely Christian, at best, and ripe prospects for proselytization. So, our meddlesomeness in the region has a long history.

Sad to say, American ignorance of anything predating the Reformation continues apace. I was recently reading the church bulletin of a large Protestant church. The minister (a friend of mine) is well-educated and highly intelligent--and someone whose opinion I respect. He has been in Israel recently and his on-going reports are carried in this church's bulletins. Visiting Bethlehem, he is surprised to discover that there are 15,000 Arab Christians in the city, behind the newly constructed Israeli wall. And he admits that he had been ignorant of their existence prior to the trip.

Until recent years there had been more, of course. Lots more. Even a casual reader of this blog knows this to be a special interest of mine. Middle Eastern Christians have been caught in the vise for over 1300 years now. Our politicians and preachers often seem blithely unaware of the effect we have on their ever-diminishing prospects. Even with the best of intentions, our uninformed policies and Protestant presuppositions and sensibilities often do nothing more than tighten the screws.

For more about the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, check out Robert Spencer's article, here.

1 comment:

Jared Cramer said...

I saw the author when he was interviewed on the Daily Show and made a mental note to check the book out. Thanks for your review, I'm going to have to see if our library carries it.