My Great Good Friends,
I have nothing to offer in the kids-jobs-pets tradition of a Christmas letter. I would, however, like to note a secular aspect of Christianity which is often over looked. As hard as their fifth column and the boundlessly naive try to color the competition between ourselves and our enemies as between Christians and moslems (evoking our tolerance for spiritual diversity), I do not believe that is our current reality.
I do believe this epic struggle began before mohammad, or, the Christ. How far to look back? Did the phoenicians capturing the greek princess ‘ io’ precipitate the greeks taking of the levant princess (you guessed it) ‘europa’? Did that in turn give a justification in the cultural memory of the trojans to take the greek helen? I don’t know, and, I don’t care. What I do know is this conflict is the struggle between two world views: The eastern slavish devotion to ‘man-Gods’, exulting the communal, degrading the individual and built upon a foundation belief in determinism. Contrasted with the western notion of “render onto caesar…”, the value of the individual, and a foundation belief in free will. In the millenia since marathon and thermopylae, since alexander conquered from macedonia to the ganges, only the definitions have changed. East and west became increasingly difficult to define. Simple geography gave way to profound and indelible cultural distinctions between oriental and occidental, which in turn evolved into the perception of a religious conflict. Rather than plumb the epistemology of the respective theologies, I ask; what is western today? Would turkey or tokyo qualify? What is eastern today? Would manila or moscow qualify? It is this confusion alone which has cast the current conflict in terms of Christianity versus islam.
I’ve noticed may of you nodding off with eyes glazed over when I get on about ancient history, but I recently came across an interesting anecdote illuminating america’s own historical context in the struggle: Two american envoys in london report calling upon abd al-rahman, tripoli’s ambassador to britain, and being told “ it was written in the koran, that all nations who have not acknowledged it’s authority were sinners, that it is our right and duty to make war upon all we could find and make slaves of all we could take as prisoners, and every muslim who should be slain in this battle were sure to go to paradise.” the american diplomatic envoys were john adams and thomas jefferson.
Despite the seductive appeasement of the current administration, and the islamo-phobia accusation tactic of the defeatists, let us remember the forces of ignorance have encroached upon our western civilization before. As charles martel turned the tide in france at bordeaux in 732, and sultan mehmed iv was defeated at the gates of vienna on september 11, 1683 (maybe more than a coincidence was the date of our tragedy) our western notion of civilization will prevail. This is not mere enthusiasm. When the forces of a free society are, albeit reluctantly, turned on a theocracy, I give al-qaeda the same odds as darius or xerxes.
So, for those of you who celebrate Christmas as the birth of our savior, I wish you a blessed Christmas.
And, for those of you who don’t, reflect upon the birth of a man who changed history by giving voice to the revolutionary notion that each of us are of individual value. A notion embedded by his followers in an empire whose raison d et may have been to carry the ‘word’ from scotland to the sudan, from portugal to persia.
The son of God, or the ongoing inspiration of our western civilization, believe what you will. But be thankful he was born this day.