by Frank Muller
This is the first of a number of missives which are a personal reflection regarding our recent trip to Egypt. It is primarily a personal journal of my own experiences, and this private dialogue is being shared with you all. Recognize like any personal journal this is not an academic undertaking nor is it directed at any other person than myself.
All of the thoughts though they may be expressed in the plural are actually my own condemnations of myself and my resolutions to become more Christlike.
Pray for me!
Our family recently traveled to Egypt for nearly two weeks and after a bit of time I would like to offer some reflections not so much on Egypt ironically but on ourselves and the nature of people generally.
Through God’s Grace I struggle to see all people as our Lord does though, I fail daily. Each person is infused with the divine image of our Creator and each person has the immutable right to be treated with dignity and with respect. The root cause of most dysfunction in any society is sin.
Sin breaks down and divides an individual within themselves and then metastasizes further dividing society into factions. This factionalism is driven by individual “private interpretation” whereby each individual determines what their own moral law is, their own personal selective application of that moral law and their own personal interpretation of “right worship”.
Each person tends to pull from certain authoritative writings (including Sacred Scripture and/or any book we find on Amazon) and then selectively choose and interpret these personal sources in our own biased way so that we can “believe”. I believe all human beings are in their own way seeking their Creator.
Thus, the following challenges arise:
1) Pride: this gets in the way of obedience as we seek our own judgement and demand of others their conversion to that personal belief.
2) Obedience: We do not want an intermediary between ourselves and God but rather a direct connection that allows us the freedom to choose the Church or organization (or none) that we like and that conforms to our own private belief system. We are not looking for Truth as much as we are looking for a place that basically believes what we do and expresses it in a way that is pleasing to ourselves
3) Bias: Bias uses exceptional events to form our own rules and ignore the preponderance of evidence that may contradict our belief or bias. Thus, an assumed Muslim who takes Jews hostage demanding the release of a terrorist is the exception that condemns unjustly all Muslims. And yet we may ignore the same logic if an assumed Christian does the same (think Tim McVeigh) or worse and yet we do not condemn Christianity. This flawed rationalization and demonization occurs across every culture and people because the root cause is the same sin.
What I found within Egypt are a people that in masse are seeking God in their own way (usually in accordance with what their parents taught them) and thus are trying to order their society in alignment with their view of revelation and the Creator.
A country of 100 million people, 85% of which are Sunni Muslims and approximately 15% of which are predominantly Catholic (either Coptic or Roman) Christians. Of the 85% that are Muslims (about 20% of that number are fundamentalist or evangelical Muslims). Islam itself has divided itself into two primary factions (Sunni and Shia) much like Christianity has divided into (Catholics and Protestants) and Judaism into (orthodox, conservative, reformed).
The same sin has crept into all these faith traditions, yet all three traditions are seeking the same God. I find that interesting. Further, Muslims like many Christians have now devolved into individual imam “pastor” selection and thus a Muslim chooses the mosque, the imam, and the books and podcasts that correspond with their implicit view of the world. If they don’t like their imam or don’t like their preaching style, they just change mosques (sounds familiar).
Thus, at its’ core, Islam is fragmenting within itself as the same sins that human beings carry always result in the same consequences. Anger, isolation, narcissism, labeling and judging, condemning, separating is now becoming part of the Muslim world just as the Christian world is chewing its’ culture and societies apart as the process of sin continues to metastasize.
The Muslim culture itself with its’ five times a day call to prayer is in my view something that is beautiful to witness no matter how wrong I view some of their interpretations of God’s revelation. It takes a few days to get used to the Muslim call to prayer but once the ear acclimates it is easy to hear the poetry and music of their call.
Like church bells ringing calling believers to the altar in the Catholic tradition (which I so miss in Europe and in the US as the diminishing call to right worship and prayer through the bells of public reckoning). How wonderful it is to see this piety and how much I how longed for Christendom to once again rightly order our priorities in daily life. Lesson learned that in even in a different belief system there are certainly mainly laudable attributes.
When I came home to share this experience of their culture and people, I was met in so many spoken and unspoken ways with reactions I did not expect. “Didn’t you fear for your life?”: I am not going to try and say that there are no problems in Egypt and that there are not great evils “sins” that occur there against both Christians and Muslims – of course there are. But I am struck at the pejorative use of the word “Muslim” and the almost instantaneous rejection of that anything good that could come from or even exist there.
In my heart, it reinforced the belief that the imprint of the Creator is in all human beings if we only we look for it. This is hard and yes there are many people who have closed off their hearts and minds to any real search for Truth. However, despite their errors or sins they are still due dignity and respect.
Most people we met on the streets and in the shops and the mosques treated us with that respect and dignity. The key to reconciliation in my mind is opening up to being changed by a daily search for Truth. When two people decide together to seek the Truth no matter the cost then two people can draw closer to it.
All Truth leads to the same place. It is when we are satisfied with our own comfortable truth that we stop the journey satisfied in our completeness and then over time wonder the “world” changes from our static and stale point of view.
Peace be with us all,