Assyrian Christians and genocide

Philip Jenkins also wrote at Aleteia that the slaughter of Assyrian Christians (I posted about them earlier today here) by Iraqi soldiers and civilian raiders in 1933 (see here and here for more detail) played a secondary role in the thought of Raphael Lemkin about genocide (the Armenian genocide played the primary role). Lemkin invented this word and called for the crime to be punishable by international authorities:

That paradox continued to trouble him until, in 1933, new massacres of Assyrian Christians in Iraq forced him to define his ideas still further. Using the case of the Assyrians, and of the Armenians before them, he argued for a new legal category to be called crimes of barbarity, primarily “acts of extermination directed against the ethnic, religious or social collectivities whatever the motive (political, religious, etc).” Such crimes, he argued, should be an offense against international law that demanded to be punished by a special court or tribunal.

In 1943, Lemkin coined a new word for this atrocious behavior—namely, “genocide.” For many years, he was the most vigorous and visible campaigner to secure global recognition for the new concept, and finally, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. However familiar the notion of genocide might be today, it originated at a specific (and quite recent) historical moment, and was largely formulated by one man, who must be remembered as one of the greatest humanitarian thinkers of the twentieth century.

Assyrian Christians and the Sayfo

Philip Jenkins wrote about the Assyrian Christians recently in The Christian Century:

The Assyrian Chris­tians of northern Iraq are among the people who have been massacred and kidnapped by ISIS militants in recent months. Such accounts are depressingly familiar to anyone who knows the region’s history. In fact, this year marks a grim centennial. Besides be­ing the centennial of the Ar­menian Genocide, it’s the centennial of the year that the Ottoman Turkish regime struck at other Christian minorities whom it suspected of being sympathetic to Russia. The Assyrians call 1915 Sayfo, the Year of the Sword.

Assyrian Christians had very deep roots in the region, and their churches use a Semitic language related to Jesus’ own Aramaic. In late antiquity, believers divided over the Person of Christ. The Monophysite branch evolved to become the modern-day Syrian Orthodox Church. Their Nestorian rivals formed the Church of the East, which remained a flourishing trans­continental institution through the Middle Ages.

See the rest of the article here.

UPDATE (5/26/15): Jenkins also wrote at Aleteia that the slaughter of Assyrian Christians by Iraqi soldiers and civilian raiders in 1933 (see here and here for more detail) played a secondary role in the thought of Raphael Lemkin about genocide (the Armenian genocide played the primary role). Lemkin invented this word and called for the crime to be punishable by international authorities:

That paradox continued to trouble him until, in 1933, new massacres of Assyrian Christians in Iraq forced him to define his ideas still further. Using the case of the Assyrians, and of the Armenians before them, he argued for a new legal category to be called crimes of barbarity, primarily “acts of extermination directed against the ethnic, religious or social collectivities whatever the motive (political, religious, etc).” Such crimes, he argued, should be an offense against international law that demanded to be punished by a special court or tribunal.

In 1943, Lemkin coined a new word for this atrocious behavior—namely, “genocide.” For many years, he was the most vigorous and visible campaigner to secure global recognition for the new concept, and finally, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. However familiar the notion of genocide might be today, it originated at a specific (and quite recent) historical moment, and was largely formulated by one man, who must be remembered as one of the greatest humanitarian thinkers of the twentieth century.

What Is The Future Of Religion? – A Worldwide Religious Awakening

Here’s how he begins, with a discussion of specific trends (both encouraging and disappointing) afterwards:

It is a very religious world, far more religious than it was 50 years ago. Gallup World Poll Surveys [link?] of more than a million people living in 163 nations show that:

— 81 percent claim to belong to an organized religious faith, and most of the rest report engaging in religious activities such as prayer or making offerings to the gods in various “folk religion” temples.

— 74 percent say religion is an important part of their daily lives.

— 50 percent report they have attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days.

In very few nations do as many as five percent claim to be atheists, and only in China, Vietnam, and South Korea do they exceed 20 percent.

Furthermore, in every nook and cranny left by organized faiths, all manner of unconventional spiritual and mystical practices are booming. There are more occult healers than medical doctors in Russia, 38 percent of the French believe in astrology, 35 percent of the Swiss agree that “some fortune tellers really can foresee the future,” and nearly everyone in Japan is careful to have their new car blessed by a Shinto priest.

Hat tip: Alan Jacobs

Urbanization, Pentecostalism, and Islamism

Writing at The Christian Century, Philip Jenkins notes parallels between the rise of modern Pentecostalism and modern Islamism among urban newcomers.

On Pentecostalism:

Most have moved to new megacities in their own countries, but other former rural dwellers have journeyed to cities in the Global North. In the challenging situations they face in their new homes, migrants naturally gravitate to those religious groups that offer them the means of survival. They find there opportunities for fellowship and community, but also the basic necessities of welfare, education, and health that the state cannot provide. Commonly, it is the Pentecostal and charismatic churches that are best organized to supply these needs, and in turn they benefit most from the repeated infusions of the uprooted.

Social change means religious transformation. People abandon the old sacred landscapes they knew in their rural homes, with all their saints and shrines, and a sacred year marked by religious feasts and fasts. In the cities, they adopt a globalized form of modern faith, characterized by sophisticated modern media and advertising, including the most contemporary social media. They abandon their old languages and dialects, so that pastors hold their revival crusades in the global languages of modernity—English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

But whatever new believers have lost through cultural change, they feel that they have gained much. However poor in material things, they know in their hearts that they are following a pristine form of apostolic faith.

On Muslim immigrants in the West:

In books like Holy Ignorance, [Olivier] Roy relates global religious change to such mega­trends as mass migration, urbanization, and modernization. He stresses how deeply integrated Islam was in traditional societies like Morocco or Pakistan, where faith was tied to particular communities and clan structures, to shrines, saints, and sacred landscapes, and to a sacred calendar. All were severed with the migration to the West, creating an Islam that was suddenly and painfully deterritorialized….

In the Muslim case, the young respond by rejecting both the lost traditional culture and the new Western alternative. They turn instead to the apparent certainties of a universalized or globalized Islam, which in practice offers the sternest and most demanding standards of the Wahhabis or Salafists. In return, believers receive a vision of themselves as the heroes of a glorious historical narrative in which faith defeats the temporary and illusory triumph of disbelief and paganism.

I think that this also works for the appeal of socialism and popular nationalism to urban workers in 19th-century Europe, who also were recently uprooted from their rural communities and traditions. This isn’t something that I came up with on my own, but I don’t remember where I read it.

The appeal of membership in large-scale groups — the global umma for Muslims, the (German, French, etc.) nation for nationalists, the working class for workers — is all part of the movement in modern times away from local identities toward large-scale ideologies, states, identities, and movements. Of course, with independence movements in regions of different European countries and the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, we could be seeing the limits of that trend in the contemporary world.

World War I’s impact on world religion

Philip Jenkins’ new book on World War I’s religious dimensions, The Great and Holy War, sounds fascinating. In a post about how culture can change rapidly, he sums up the changes that he describes in the book:

The First World War’s impact on faith and faiths was immense. Reacting to the war’s horrors, thinkers of many shades rebelled against claims for human reason, culture and civilization, and sought new fundamental bases for religious authority – in Catholic terms, this would be a return to original sources, or ressourcement. In Protestant Christianity, we see this reaction in the work of Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, both directly inspired by their responses to the war. More broadly, we look at thinkers like Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Otto. In the same years, the war destroyed one ancient realm of Christianity – in the Middle East – and laid the foundations for a new Christian world, in Africa.

Judaism was transformed by the war, which for the first time made the Zionist dream feasible. At the same time, the widespread sense of national betrayal – of failed participation in the ultimate apocalyptic struggle – powerfully motivated the Anti-Semitism that flourished from the 1920s onwards. Neither of the two greatest events in modern Jewish history – the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel – would have been possible without the First World War, and its religious underpinnings.

Finally, the war’s outcome was critical to the modern history of Islam. The end of the Caliphate left the world’s Muslims in quest of alternatives, of a return to fundamental sources of religious authority. All the various solutions that we know in the Islamic world – from state secularism to radical Islamism – have their roots in the First World War and its immediate aftermath.

So the war sparked huge changes, and we are still living with the consequences. It marked a global religious revolution.

Studying the densely packed events of the Great War, it is often easy to forget just what a shockingly brief span of time they covered: just four years for formal hostilities, with several more years of chaos immediately following—but still less than a decade in all. And yet, as we have seen, the world changed totally in this time. Although Norman Stone was speaking chiefly of military and political trends, we readily echo his observation that “in four years, the world went from 1870 to 1940.” In religious terms, we might prefer to set the dates still wider apart—perhaps from 1850 to 1950.

I posted once before on Jenkins’ summary of the dark mood in Europe before World War I.

Protestants and politics in five Latin American countries

Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin AmericaEvangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America by Paul Freston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Essays by different authors focused on evangelical political activity in five different countries: Mexico, Guatemala (the Latin American country with the highest percentage of evangelicals), Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil. The most interesting essays were the ones on Brazil and Mexico. A couple of takeaways:

-There has been a trend of more Pentecostal involvement in Brazil and Mexico in politics recently after a period with little involvement.

-There are evangelicals that belong to denominations as well as the well-known Pentecostal groups.

-Evangelicals have gotten involved in many different parties, and sometimes there have been evangelical parties or political groups.

I wish that I had a better historical and cultural framework in which to fit the information in the book. I may go back to it to absorb some of the details better.

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Peter Berger on “the denominational imperative”

A news story on “atheist mega-churches” prompted sociologist Peter Berger to argue that the American religious landscape shapes all movements into denominations:

However, there is a more important aspect to the aforementioned phenomenon: Every community of value, religious or otherwise, becomes a denomination in America. Atheists, as they want public recognition, begin to exhibit the characteristics of a religious denomination: They form national organizations, they hold conferences, they establish local branches (“churches”, in common parlance) which hold Sunday morning services—and they want to have atheist chaplains in universities and the military. As good Americans, they litigate to protect their constitutional rights. And they smile while they are doing all these things.

As far as I know, the term “denomination” is an innovation of American English. In classical sociology of religion, in the early 20th-entury writings of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch, religious institutions were described as coming in two types: the “church”, a large body open to the society into which an individual is born, and the ”sect”, a smaller group set aside from the society which an individual chooses to join. The historian Richard Niebuhr, in 1929, published a book that has become a classic, The Social Sources of Denominationalism. It is a very rich account of religious history, but among many other contributions, Niebuhr argued that America has produced a third type of religious institutions—thedenomination—which has some qualities derived from both the Weber-Troeltsch types: It is a large body not isolated from society, but it is also a voluntary association which individuals chose to join. It can also be described as a church which, in fact if not theologically, accepts the right of other churches to exist. This distinctive institution, I would propose, is the result of a social and a political fact. The denomination is an institutional formation seeking to adapt to pluralism—the largely peaceful coexistence of diverse religious communities in the same society. The denomination is protected in a pluralist situation by the political and legal guarantee of religious freedom. Pluralism is the product of powerful forces of modernity—urbanization, migration, mass literacy and education; it can exist without religious freedom, but the latter clearly enhances it. While Niebuhr was right in seeing the denomination as primarily an American invention, it has now become globalized—because pluralism has become a global fact. The worldwide explosion of Pentecostalism, which I mentioned before, is a prime example of global pluralism—ever splitting off into an exuberant variety of groupings.