Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Lost History of Christianity and How it Died

Excerpts from the book:

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia- and How it Died.

Author: Dr. Phil Jenkins.

Preface: Below are some valuable insights about how Christianity has declined under Muslim rule in the past and how it might do so in the future. In any given region, the Catholic Church cannot withstand the totalitarian threat of secular-liberalism or militant Islam without her members knowing their own history and how the Catholic Faith can be lost.

General Considerations: The Decline of Religions

• Dechristianization is one of the least studied aspects of Christian history…dying organizations rend not to produce records of their extinction.

• While religions might sicken and fade, they do not die of their own accord: they must be killed.

• The history of all the great world faiths proves that religions are highly resilient, and difficult to eradicate.

• Mark Twain remarked on how often the world had turned out for the burial of Roman Catholicism, only to find it postponed yet again.

• Christians might bemoan the persistence of church-state affiliations, but without such alliances there might today be no Christians left to experience those regrets.

• The strength of early and medieval Christianity was that it created a sanctified landscape in which Christian institutions were visible everywhere.

• Churches succeed when they reach broadly across sections of society and make their religion part of the ordinary lived reality of a diverse range of communities.

• Too little adaptation means irrelevance; too much leads to assimilation and, often, disappearance.

• Christians have systematically forgotten or ignored so very much of their history that it is scarcely surprising that they encounter only a deafening silence. Losing the ancient churches is one thing, but losing their memory and experience so utterly is a disaster scarcely less damaging. To break the silence, we need to recover those memories, to restore that history. To borrow the title of one of Charles Olson’s great poems: the chain of memory is resurrection.

Turkey: Once Christian, now Muslim

• In 1050, the region [i.e. Turkey where the seven churches addressed in Revelations 2] had 373 bishoprics, and the inhabitants were virtually all Christian, overwhelmingly member of the Orthodox Church. Four hundred years later, that Christian proportion had fallen to 10 to 15 percent of the population, and we can find just three bishops. According to one estimate, the number of Asian Christians fell, between 1200 and 1500, from 21 million to 3.4 million.

• Around the year 1000 AD Asia [i.e. Turkey was called Asia Minor] was still the leader of the Christian world in so far as numbers are concerned.

• Asia Minor [i.e. Turkey] remained thoroughly Christian through the Byzantine era, but matters changed rapidly after 1050.

• In 1304, Turkish forces obliterated the city of Ephesus, where Paul once confronted a mob chanting the glories of Artemis: all Christians were either killed or deported.

North Africa: Once Christian, now Muslim

• North Africa had five or six hundred bishoprics, while monasteries were a familiar part of the local social landscape.

• In short, the North-African church based in Carthage had at its height been one of the most powerful and influential in the whole of Christianity, yet very soon after the Muslims took Carthage in 698, that church vanished almost totally.

• At least for the first two centuries after the conquest, Egypt was still effectively a Christian society under a Muslim military elite. Laws reduced the number of churches while introducing a ferocious regime for monks.

• We know thousands of churches were still operating in Egypt in the eleventh century…

• The largest single factor for Christian decline was organized violence, whether in the form of massacre, expulsion or forced migration.

• Muslim regimes succeeded in creating societies with pressures of religious conformity.