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Call for contributions: Synchroblog on Syrian civil war

A group of Christian bloggers are planning to have a synchroblog on the Syrian civil war and responses to it on Tuesday 17 September 2013. We invite others to join us in blogging on this topic on that day.

A synchroblog is when a group of bloggers decide to post articles on the same topic at about the same time, with links to each other’s posts, so that you can surf through the posts and get a variety of views on the topic. If you would like to see some past examples to see how it works, you can have a look at this synchroblog on Christian reponses to Halloween, or this one on Spiritual warfare or this one on Altered states of consciousness. Some of the links on some of the older ones may not work, because people sometimes close their blogs or move them, but it should be enough to give you an idea of what a synchroblog is and how it works.

 Saint Thecla (Mar Takla) monastery in the ancient Christian village of Ma'loula, Syria. This is a 1600 year old Orthodox Monastery home to 13 nuns and 27 orphan. It is also the oldest womens' monastery in the world in one of the last villages to speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. St. Thecla Monastery is being attacked by Al Qaeda rebels of the "Free Syrian Army"


Saint Thecla (Mar Takla) monastery in the ancient Christian village of Ma’loula, Syria. This is a 1600 year old Orthodox Monastery home to 13 nuns and 27 orphan. It is also the oldest womens’ monastery in the world in one of the last villages to speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. St. Thecla Monastery is being attacked by Al Qaeda rebels of the “Free Syrian Army”

The Syrian civil war has been going on for more than two years now. It started as protests against the authoritarian dictatorship of Bashar al Assad, which were brutally suppressed, and some of the protesters responded with counter violence. Since then people from other countries have joined in, not all of them with the interests of the Syrian people at heart. There are now various rebel groups with different interests, and some of them have attacked Christian churches and monasteries, and thousands of people have fled from their homes because of the fighting.

Now there is a threat of greater international involvement, as the US government wants to attack the government of Bashar al Assad over its alleged use of poison gas. There is a great deal of ignorance about Syrian Christianity in the USA, the country which wants to bomb Syria. Many Americans seem to believe that Syrian Christians are not Christian at all because they speak Arabic and address God as “Allah”.

There are many aspectsw of the conflict, and so many different ways of blogging about it. It would be good is some Syrian Christians could also join in the synchroblog. But because of the threat of the conflict expanding into an international one, we hope that many Christians from many different places will join in. Your blog post can focus on any aspects of it that concern you, from the heritage of Syrian Christians to the fate of refugees.

How to participate

  1. Write your blog post on the Syrian conflict and post it on Tuesday 17 September. I suggest that those in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand post it in the evening, those in west Asia, Europe and Africa post it at midday, and those in America (north & south) post it in the morning.
  2. As soon as you have posted, send information about the title & url of your post to me at shayes@dunelm.org.uk using the form below. I will compile a list of the posts as I receive them, and post the links on my contribution, and will also send them to other participants.
  3. Post the list of links at the end of your synchroblog post, so that when others have finished reading it, they can go on to one of the others.

Format for reporting your post

As soon as you have posted your contribution, copy the URL for your post from your browser and send it to me in an e-mail message in the following format

NA Poster’s name
BL Poster’s blog name
TI Title of your post
URL Url of your post
REL Your religious background
EM Your e-mail address

If you use that format — with the preceding tags in capital letters followed by a single space (resist any temptation to add colons!), and each piece of information on a separate line (it can word-wrap), I will be able to import it straight into a database without re-typing, and produce a report with the HTML code for the links which can then be appended to your post. I will post them on my contribution, and the easiest thing will be to copy and paste them from there. But I will also send it by e-mail to all the registered contributors (to the e-mail address you provide, so don’t munge it).

If you send it to me by e-mail at

shayes (at) dunelm.org.uk

A Dozen Bad Ideas for the 21st Century | Free Christian Press

Here is a list of of a dozen bad ideas for the 21st century, which I came across on a web site. Actually, I didn’t just come across them, a tweet on Twitter led me to them.

On the whole I agree that they are not good ideas. Looking at them, I can’t see any one of them that I think is a good idea, and, more important, I can’t see any one of them that I would think of as a true idea.

I’ve met people who believe some of those things, and and who regard some, at least of those propositions as good ideas, but what is it about those ideas that make the author of the list say that they are so bad?

  1. The belief that all religions are the same.
  2. The belief that religion is irrelevant as a cause of anything.
  3. The belief that we all worship the same God.
  4. The belief that one can justify anything from any sacred text.
  5. The belief that the Christian Reformation was a progressive movement.
  6. The belief that dispelling ignorance will increase positive regard for the other.
  7. The belief that everyone is good and decent, and if you just make a sincere effort to get to know another person, you will always come to respect them.
  8. The belief that putting something in context will always produce a more innocuous interpretation.
  9. The belief that extremism is the problem, and moderation the solution.
  10. The belief that the West is always guilty.
  11. Two wrongs make a right reasoning.
  12. Belief in progress: everything will always get better in the end.

It seems a very bland list, and they are the kind of things that might be believed by bland and innocuous people, and they don’t seem worth making a fuss about.

Until you put them in context.

Then they take on a whole new meaning.

As the the author says, one of the bad beliefs is:

The belief that putting something in context will always produce a more innocuous interpretation. This is not true. Attending properly to context can make a text even more offensive than it would otherwise have been. Conversely, if you take something out of context you may regard it more positively than you ought to.

So let’s put it in context:

A Dozen Bad Ideas for the 21st Century | Free Christian Press:

Here is a list of false beliefs and modes of thought which make it hard for people in the West to come to terms with the challenge of Islam today. If you are deeply attached to any of these ideas or ways of thinking, you will have difficulty accepting the truth about Islam’s teachings and their impact.

And when you put it in context the whole thing is an anti-Islamic rant, and the impression one gets is that for the author the only good ideas for the 21st century are:

  1. To promote as much hostility as possible between Christians and Muslims.
  2. If you meet a Muslim on the road, kill him.

Actually one group that would probably agree that the author’s 12 points, or at least 11 of them, are very bad ideas are Wahhabi Muslims. They would disagree with the notion that the West is always wrong, because they would see the other 11 points as characteristic of the West, and therefore exemplifying everything that they see wrong with the West.

Let’s reword the opening statement, but substituting Christianity for Islam:

Here is a list of false beliefs and modes of thought which make it hard for people in the West to come to terms with the challenge of Christianity today. If you are deeply attached to any of these ideas or ways of thinking, you will have difficulty accepting the truth about Christianity’s teachings and their impact.

Isn’t that equally true?

And shouldn’t Christian theologians be more concerned with positively promoting the Christian faith rather than promoting the religion of anti-Islam?

As it is, the whole piece is so perverse that it smacks of perversity even to attack its perversions.

Christian and liberal?

In a recent comment on this blog Mark Richardson of Australia expressed the view that Christianity and liberalism were incompatible: Notes from underground: Clarissa’s Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals:

I’m a little surprised that you are both an orthodox deacon and someone who appears to identify with liberalism.

Liberalism is the replacement philosophy for Christianity. It is founded on the idea that the good in life is to be a self-creating, autonomous individual.

What matters to a liberal is that we are ‘liberated’ from impediments to choosing as we will. Therefore, the sexual revolution is thought of as a good thing by liberals as it liberated individuals from an older Christian morality.

The liberal concept of freedom, in other words, is incompatible with the Christian concept of freedom.

I recently read the biography of Peter Brown, the former leader of the former Liberal Party of South Africa, and reviewed it on my other blog here.

Reading Peter Brown’s biography prompted some reflection on just what it was that made me get off the fence of a theoretical political neutrality and actually become a card-carrying Liberal. Though I had been sympathetic towards the Liberal Party since the age of 12 (when it had been founded) and urged my mother to vote for them when I was too young to vote myself, I thought that it was better, as a Christian, not to actually join a political party, but to maintain a certain critical distance from all of them (as I do now).

I did have a brief flirtation with the Progressive Party soon after it was founded, when a friend invited me to a meeting and I was carried away by the rhetoric of their leader, Jan Steytler. I even attended their founding congress as an observer, where they adopted their policy of a qualified franchise, which basically meant giving votes to the rich and educated, regardless of colour, rather than the current Nationalist policy of votes for whites only. I had some misgivings about that. While I was still at school I had read a novel by Neville Shute, In the wet, in which he had described a system of multiple voting. It made sense to me at the time. It gave everyone a say in running the country, but avoided the main weakness (as it seemed) of democracy — counting heads with no regard for what is in them. I tried to advocate this idea at the Progressive party congress, but no one was interested, so I lost interest in the Progressives.

When I went to the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg in 1963 I actually met some real live liberals, and attended some of their meetings (as opposed to just reading their election pamphlets and other literature, which was the only contact I had had previously). The Liberals advocated “one man one vote”. I thought it better than the Progressive qualified franchise, but still thought that a multiple voting system would be better.

What finally made me join was a combination of three factors that convinced me that the Liberal Party policy of one-man, one vote was right. The first of these was my theological studies at the university. The second was the people I met at rural branches of the Liberal Party, and the third was attending Evensong at St Alphege’s Anglican Church in Scottsville. Theology, political activism and worship. My theological studies convinced me that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, no one is qualified to hold political power over another, and certainly neither education nor wealth (the basis of the Progressive qualified franchise) qualified one to do so. Neither did race (the basis of the Nationalist whites-only franchise).

The peasants who belonged to the Liberal Party in the rural areas were, most of them, under threat of ethnic cleansing since they lived in “black spots”, and without votes they were simply political footballs of Nationalist ideology, and most of them would not have qualified to vote under the Progressive Party policy. And those who devised the evil and unjust policy of apartheid would all have qualified to vote, but their wealth and education did nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent them from promulgating evil and unjust laws. Some of the Nat legislators had PhDs. It was the poor and oppressed who had some moral sense, and a better grasp of political reality.

So though I could truthfully say that I had been a Liberal Party sympathiser from the age of 12, when I first saw a banner announcing the formation of the party, it was not until another 12 years had passed, at the age of 24, that I saw the need to become fully committed as a party member.

And the kind of thinking that led me to that conclusion has been very well expressed by G.K. Chesterton, when he said,

I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

And it was such things that convinced me that the racist elitism of the Nationalists and the economic elitism of the Progressives was not for me, and so I became a Liberal.

Of course not all members of the Liberal Party were Christians. There were Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well. There were atheists and agnostics. They all had their own reasons for joining, and supporting liberal principles and policies like the the rule of law and civil rights and being opposed to authoritarian government and apartheid and ethnic cleansing. I cannot speak for the others, but I can say what led me, as a Christian, to join the Liberal Party.

So I hope that answers Mark Richardson’s question.

I also disagree with almost every one of Mark’s contentions about the nature of liberalism and what constitutes liberalism. I am a political liberal, not a theological, economic or philosophical liberal. And as a political liberal I see the freedom advocated by liberalism as being quite limited. It is limited to freedom from being oppressed by other men. It has nothing to do with being freed from morality, because part of morality, or at least Christian morality (as I see it) is that we should not oppress others. As our Lord Jesus Christ said “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets” Matt 7:12. Anyone who wants to be freed from that aspect of morality is not a liberal but a fascist. Unless you want to be detained without trial yourself, then, don’t detain others without trial — and that applies equally to John Vorster Square, Lubyanka, and Guantanamo Bay.

For more, see here.

"We are not leaving"

I’ve blogged here and elsewhere about one of the most salient features of the Bush-Blair legacy being the hastening of the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, the region where Christianity began.

Now Notes from a Common-place Book: “We are not leaving” points to two significant articles on this topic by Robert Fisk, one of the Western journalists who probably knows most about the region:

Robert Fisk is a columnist and commentator for The Independent. He has been based in Beirut for many years, and his writing on the region is some of the most perceptive available to Western readers. I consider Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation to be essential reading. Two of his recent columns address the worsening Christian position: Exodus: The Changing Map of the Middle East and Only Justice Can Bring Peace to this Benighted Region. A few excerpts, below:

“Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing – sometimes frightened – Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost Biblical proportions. Almost half of Iraq’s Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991, most of them after the 2004 invasion – a weird tribute to the self-proclaimed Christian faith of the two Bush presidents who went to war with Iraq – and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 per cent of the population. More than half of Lebanon’s Christians now live outside their country. Once a majority, the nation’s one and a half million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 per cent of the Lebanese. Egypt’s Coptic Christians – there are at most around eight million – now represent less than 10 per cent of the population.”

Scott Cairns: Lost Christian Language for Repairing the Person

Technical theological jargon may seem boring to many people, but here is an excellent article saying how much we lose by not understanding or using these terms. Scott Cairns: Lost Christian Language for Repairing the Person:

Among a good many advantages our predecessors in the early Church could claim was a more nearly adequate vocabulary. For instance, they were in possession of a number of words that indicated a number of amazing truths. Nous, kardia, nepsis and theosis were among those words that helped to keep the young Body focused on the task at hand, the task of healing our shared array of rifts — rifts within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and, most keenly, between a Holy God and a race of creatures that had broken off communion.

Three of those words — nous, nepsis and theosis — have been all but lost to our contemporary conversation, and the deep significance of another, kardia, which is to say ‘heart,’ has been sorely diminished. With these onetime commonplace words enhancing their spiritual conversations, our predecessors were better able to give their attentions to the profound complexity and the vertiginous promise of the human person, another treasure neglected over the centuries.

These are the vocabulary of Christian psychotherapy, which differs considerably from the world’s understanding of that discipline.

The Bush-Blair legacy

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” So wrote Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, and so it has proved with the evil unleashed by George Bush and Tony Blair, which continues long after they have left office.

The City and the World: The continuing tragedy of Iraq’s Christians.:

Another survivor of yesterday’s siege told the BBC that ‘I do not think I and other Christians can stay in Iraq any longer,’ while a young Christian from Northern Iraq (which is ostensibly much safer than Baghdad) told the New York Times, ‘There is no future for us here.’ Accounts like the one given above make for difficult reading, but they remain only a small part of the larger tragedy of Iraq’s ancient Christian churches, which have suffered from continual violence, persecution, and dispersion since the fall of Saddam Hussein. My greatest fear at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was that Bush administration war policy would play a direct role in destroying one of the oldest Christian communities in the world; over the past seven years, it has become increasingly clear that those fears are being realized.

Hat-tip to Kyrie eleison | A vow of conversation.

Mission accomplished

A lot of people mocked George Bush when he proclaimed “mission accomplished” after the US invasion of Iraq.

Well, perhaps it was a bit premature, but time is proving him right, as these reports show.

Robert Fisk: Exodus. The changing map of the Middle East:

Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing – sometimes frightened – Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost Biblical proportions. Almost half of Iraq’s Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991, most of them after the 2004 invasion – a weird tribute to the self-proclaimed Christian faith of the two Bush presidents who went to war with Iraq – and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 per cent of the population. More than half of Lebanon’s Christians now live outside their country. Once a majority, the nation’s one and a half million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 per cent of the Lebanese. Egypt’s Coptic Christians – there are at most around eight million – now represent less than 10 per cent of the population.

The invasion was calculated to destroy Christian communities and to make sure that radical Islamists had more say in the running of the country, and that is being achieved.

Tariq Aziz: villain or victim? – Opinion – Al Jazeera English:

So what really lies behind the decision by Iraq’s high tribunal to pass a death sentence on Tariq Aziz, long serving Iraqi foreign minister and number two to Saddam Hussein? The decision has caused shock waves around the World, largely because the sentence has the feel of vengeance to it. The Iraqi High Tribunal took what must be a highly unusual step in effectively rescinding the earlier judgments against him. For Tariq Aziz’s twenty seven year sentence has effectively been reduced to a matter of months by his death sentence. Aziz has now been found guilty of “the persecution of Islamic parties”, whose leaders were assassinated, imprisoned or forced into exile.

Now I don’t think harrassing leaders of Islamic parties (or anyone else) is a good policy, but nor do I think that the assassination, imprisonment or sending into exile of Christians is a good thing either, and that is one of the chief “accomplishments” of George Bush’s mission. Replacing one evil regime with another is really not a useful exercise.

Tariq Aziz: villain or victim?:

Tariq Aziz is of course a Chaldean Christian, who along with the Assyrian Christians, have suffered terribly since the War, with more than half of their number now living in exile. Being the only Christian in a secular Ba’athist dictatorship was a factor apparently exploited by Saddam, with veiled threats being made periodically to Aziz’s family. I remember being in Iraq and hearing that Aziz feared Saddam, and that he was only too aware of the fragility of his family’s safety. Which is not to excuse Aziz for “following orders”, but it may go some way to explain why Aziz stayed in Baghdad even when it was obvious to him, if not Saddam, that America and Britain were deadly serious about invading.

The destruction of Christian communities in the Middle East surely cannot be described as an unintended consequence of the invasion. It was both forseeable and foreseen, and therefore must have been intended. It is an integral part of the Bush-Blair legacy. It is said that one should not ascribe to malice what can be explained by ignorance and stupidity, but the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth cannot have been that stupid…. can they?

Recent news and trending topics

Here’s a concise summary of what has absorbed the news and the blogosphere recently.


Hat-tip to BANAR DESIGNS.

Synchroblogging Is Back

A synchroblog is when a group of bloggers wrote about the same general topic on the same day, and post links to each other’s posts, so that people can easily surf from post to post and see the same general topic from different points of view.

The theme of September’s synchroblog is Christians and the immigration issue and you can read more about it on Synchroblogging Is Back | Grace Rules Weblog:

CHRISTIANS AND THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE – 9/8/2010 (second Wednesday of the month) As Congress debates how to handle illegal immigrants already within U.S. borders and how to more effectively handle hopeful immigrants in the future, Christians will need to consider what it means to love these new neighbors in our midst.

Please email your name, name of blog, title of post and link to: Sonja Andrews at synchroblog@gmail.com by close of business CST on 9/7/2010 if you would like to be included in this synchroblog.

Please ignore the US-centric blurb, and feel free to write about it even if you don’t live in the USA and don’t want to emigrate there.

Oh yes, and there is still time to participate, as the synchroblog is to be on 8 September, and you need to send in the details of your post by Tuesday 7 September (and not 9 July!)

PamBG’s Blog: Christian Economic Life – Post 1: Foundation

Pam BC has just started an interesting series of posts on Christianity and economics. I’ve read the first two, and it looks very promising indeed. PamBG’s Blog: Christian Economic Life – Post 1: Foundation:

I’m going to try a thought-experiment here. I want to think about what an economy run on Christian principles might look like. And this is quite literally a ‘thought experiment’. At the moment, I have no idea of what I intend to write in the future, but I want simply to think out loud, building on ideas step by step.

So here are some initial thoughts for a foundation:

1) Christian thinking on economics should begin with Christian and biblical principles, not with economic principles.

2) That being said, it seems to me that a good principle for a Christian thought experiment on our economic life would be: honor God and love your neighbor. (There are actually a number of principles that the bible expresses on economic life that a lot of us might not like; forbidding the giving or receiving of debt is one of these.)

3) As I think and write, I will try to separate ‘What works’ from ‘What should be’. I will recognize that ‘What should be’ doesn’t always work well. In separating the two principles, I intend to avoid what seems to me to be a usual problem in Christian economic thinking: ‘That operational method doesn’t work, therefore it is unjust’.

That is a very good start, and I recommend that people who are interested in the topic read the whole series.

If one is really going to discuss such things properly, however, blog comments are rather inadequate. It is the kind of thing worth discussing in the Christianity and society forum.

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And you can see my take on it at Notes from underground: The Invisible Hand.

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