By Frank Gelli, guest blogger
A rabbi, a priest and imam meet together...No, this isn’t a joke. It is Ahlulibrahim, the Family of Abraham. A programme on the pan-Arab TV Al Mustaqillah – the Independent. Actually, the Family has not met in years. Why not? I worried about that the other night. A dream followed, in which I interrogated producer Dr Mohammed Al Hamdi. ‘ The Family will gather again soon, Frank,’ he said. Call it magic, synchronicity, amazing coincidence or whatever – next morning Mohammed summoned us on the programme again. Next week, every night, from Monday to Friday, rabbi, priest and imam shall hotly debate religion in politics. Dynamite, man! We are going to set the world on fire – well, that’s this turbulent priest’s aim, anyway.
The challenge of political Islam. Some dreary radio boffin mouthing that line ad nauseam bored me stiff. You see, ‘political Islam’ is a tautology. Prophet Muhammad’s faith community at Medina was intrinsically a political unit. Its members ‘associated with one another in the whole of their lives’. Peruse, pray, read W. Montgomery Watt’s enlightening Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman. Of course, it is old hat. The challenge that grabs the priest is another: can there be a political Christianity, too?
Pavlov’s dogs. I imagine them slobbering. The famous experiment, dig it? The cruel Russian psychologist who trained the poor beasts to salivate at the mere ringing of a bell, even when there was no food to be eaten. Similarly, the dull-witted will start blabbering about ‘Caesar and God’. ‘Religion and politics are two distinct, separate realms’, they gravely assert. The twain shall never meet. Sigh... All back to a much misunderstood episode in St Mark’s Gospel (Ch.12:13-15). ‘Rabbi, is it lawful to pay the tribute to Caesar, or not?’, Pharisees and Herod’s stooges demanded of Jesus. In Roman-occupied Palestine it was a devious, malevolent, trick question. Has Jesus answered ‘yes’, his enemies – amongst them narrow Jewish nationalists and anti-Roman fanatics – would have branded him a Quisling, a collaborator, an impious Jew. But a ‘no’ would have travestied him as a trouble maker, a terrorists’ friend, and the Romans would have arrested him. Either way, Jesus was going to lose. But the Messiah’s celestially astute ‘Give unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s’ escaped through the horns of the dilemma. The hypocrites – Al Mounafiqun - were confounded. Served them right. Fools! You can’t outwit the Son of God, can you?
Ched Myers’ useful politico-theological Binding the Strong Man observes that in the story:
Politics of course entails the use of coercion, force. Justified violence, sometimes. Did not Jesus reject that, some petulant young shaver queried? Yes, he did. ‘Put your sword back into the scabbard; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ (Matthew 27:52), he warned a follower. The reason was not pacifism but obedience to the divine plan for man’s redemption. Jesus’ sacrifice was metaphysically necessary. Had he wanted, however, God ‘will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels’. Huh! Just think on that. Twelve angelic cohorts. Angels! Not the pretty, plump, chicken-winged putti painted by Raphael but terrifying fiery figures from the supernal world. Awesome manifestations, like the Gabriel who brings the Qur’an and the Michael who routs the dragon in the Book of Revelation. Lord of the Rings type of battles would be a schoolgirl’s play compared with an angelic slaughter.
Those were the supernatural forces Jesus could have invoked, any time. He chose not to, back then. But he still could, anytime. Hence, righteous force is sometimes necessary, this side of the Fall.
‘Father Frank, you gone gaga? What’s this apocalyptic stuff about angels? Fundamentalism, obscurantism, superstition!’ I hear voices protesting. But if Muslims proclaim belief in angels, Christians and Jews did so before them. Do you expect the priest to fall short of his monotheistic mates? No way. Anyhow, Jesus said it, therefore it is true.
Besides, I have got the Pope on my side. (Wallahi! That will set the cat among the pigeons!) In a recent homily about the Middle East the Holy Father invokes Revelation, chapter 12. The heavenly woman ‘clothed with the sun, sitting on the moon, crowned with twelve stars’. She gives birth to a male child ‘who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron’. The dragon seeks to devour the child but war breaks out in Heaven, with Michael and his angels fighting the dragon. Look it up, dear reader. Hot, revolutionary stuff indeed. All the religious rebels and the madmen through history have appealed to Revelation. Worries you? But when the world seems to have gone mad, the madmen are now the sane ones, perhaps.
The Pope does not beat about the bush. He speaks of the great powers of today, the false divinities, the secular ideologies that dominate our world and impose themselves by force. The anonymous capitals that enslave man, the merchants of death that are the drug peddlers, the foes of the family, of marriage, of life...huh! That gestures in the right direction, methinks. Benedict and I are on the same wavelength. Brilliant.
Still, ‘My kingship is not of this world’, Jesus told Pilate. Was he saying that God is not political? Not at all. He was affirming his divine credentials. Pilate merely represented an earthly ruler but Jesus was from Heaven and Heaven was the basis for his authority. Now, the earthly must be subject to the heavenly. Plain as a pikestaff. Therefore politics must serve God. So Christianity is essentially political, like Islam.
Watch the priest’s bolshevising remarks on the 19th October, 7.30pm on Al Mustaqillah TV. Earthly rulers will tremble!