How the State Destroys Christianity

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Here is an intriguing BBC audio interview with William Dalrymple concerning his highly-acclaimed book, From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East. Dalrymple provides a historical travelogue around the Levant from Greece to Alexandria following the footsteps of a 6th century A.D. Byzantine Orthodox monk who wrote a travelogue through the region. He provides a contrast between the Christian domination of the region then and the marginalization of Eastern Christianity in its indigenous homeland today. Interestingly Dalrymple’s sympathies are quite “libertarian” in many ways. He points out how religious extremism and nationalism in the region have been poisonous for Levant Christians. This interview was recorded before the current disaster in Syria. Dalrymple comments on how Syria under Assad had provided the Levant Christians what was perhaps their last significant stronghold.  The current round of hostilities might bring the end of Levantine Christianity.

In the interview he goes into some of the history and points out that previously dominant forms of Islam which emphasized local peasant beliefs (often shared with local Christians) are being displaced by more puritanical and intolerant and (US underwritten) Saudi subsidized Wahabism. Dalrymple says that the new Islamic fundamentalism is a reaction to modern Western imperialism. Ultra-conservative Islamophobes need to learn that. He points out that the gross parochialism and willful ignorance of many Christians in the West of their religious roots and inherited traditions from the Near East has exasperated these misunderstandings, particularly on the great gulf between Eastern and Western Christianity – especially Western evangelical Protestantism, etc.

More specifically libertarian he points out that under the Ottomans the millet system gave the various religious minorities of the region a remarkable degree of self-government and tolerance.  The breakup of the Ottoman Empire and replacement by centralized nation states modeled on western pattern made the position of the minorities more precarious.

10:15 am on September 29, 2013