Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt: What Next?

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a foreign land. This is an Ethiopian Coptic Icon of the flight into Egypt. Ethiopian Icons, and Ethiopian Christianity, are a topic in their own right, but I shall save it for another time. They were evangelized by the ancient Egyptian Church. I dwell on the sorrow and resignation in the face of Mary, and the weariness of Joseph.

Today the Egyptian "protest" officially became a "Revolution." That excites the American imagination: the people triumphing over tyranny. It is a kind of national myth (which does not hold up to examination--American independence was a unique political and cultural event, but that too is a story for another day).
What is really happening in Egypt? The military have basically staged a coup in order to restore stability to the country. With the eyes of the world upon them, the military will probably manage a transition to some sort of parliamentary democracy in which, increasingly, the controlling faction will be the well organized and politically astute faction that calls itself the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps under other names, they will enter the political mainstream with promises of a new Egypt. It will have many modern, secular elements. Perhaps the economy will thrive. But the sharia law will find its way into a society that already approves of many of its elements. This kind of subtle Islamicisation is in process already in Turkey, where the dome of Hagia Sophia still waits to have its cross restored after 600 years.
The Coptic Christians will be increasingly alienated and marginalized. Evangelization, already effectively restricted by the culture, will be forbidden by law as well: in sharia, the penalty for conversion from Islam to Christianity is death. In Afghanistan--another experiment in Islamic democracy--a man has been sentenced to execution for conversion, and Catholic and other Christian churches and communities live secret lives.
An alternative culture is arising. It is a culture that is anti-Western for many good reasons. It offers a proposal for human existence that is strong and purposeful. It is full of the idealism that attracts youth. It has deep roots in history. And it is willing to appropriate the technological tools (and weapons) of the West, even as it rejects Western enlightenment skepticism. It appeals to the roots of the human heart, the religious sense: it offers a proposal for the meaning of life. Western secularism, for all its glitter, does not have the power to prevail against the rise of the New Islam.
Islam has many beautiful elements, and many, many Muslims are good people. But Islam is exclusive: as the only true religion, it sees itself as destined to rule the world. It is true that Christianity is also exclusive, and claims to be the only true religion. But Islam is a system, and its means of propagation is power. Christianity is a person, and its means of propagation are relationship, freedom, and love. Islam is a religion of coercion (many Muslims do not live it this way, but that is the secret of God working in their hearts). Christianity is about communion and love. Yes, Christians have tried to coerce in the past, but these efforts have resulted in failure.
The West must rediscover its Christian roots, its Christian soul, or it will whither and die in spirit even as it conquers the world with its technologically enhanced decadence and all its gadgets. The New Islam will rise. They will have children. They will thrive on the earth.
But who will teach them to love? How will they ever learn about Jesus Christ?
It is time for the West to discover anew the Man without whom it has no identity and nothing to offer the human heart.
The West must discover Jesus Christ once again, its foundation and its source of renewal. Only thus can it speak to the forces that are rising in the lands where Jesus once laid his head.