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A tale of two leaders

Date

In a spooky, dare I say, godly coincidence, two of the world's important religions obtained new leaders in the past fortnight. What makes the coincidence seem so like divine providence is that both leaders started their vocational life not fired by the sacred but as industrialists.

The Coptic Church is now led by Pope Tawadros (Theodore) II, who ran a pharmaceutical factory until he saw the light. Former oil industry executive Justin Welby, meanwhile, was selected to be enthroned in March as the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Communion.

Both had late onset religious conversions

The Coptic Church, a small, ancient and complex church, has about 14 million members in the Egypt. Emerging from the remnants of the Roman Empire, the Copts are a form of Oriental Orthodoxy, although there are smaller evangelical and Catholic varieties. They make up about 15 per cent of the Egyptian population, but have been under attack since the 1960s.

In a quaint tradition, the candidates for pope are shortlisted and an anointed child pulls a name out of a hat on the basis that the child is guided by God.

But God doesn't appear to care too much about the Copts. Human Rights Watch has observed increasing sectarian violence, with killings, fire bombings and forced abduction/conversions. This is the dangerous world that Pope Theodore II has entered.

What does the world do about such groups that are under relentless attack?

I have a very soft spot for the Copts. Their striking costumes, sublime architecture, venerable history and antediluvian rituals makes it a "proper" religion.

When I visited the purported site of the crucifixion on Calvary in Jerusalem, now enshrouded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Copts were, and remain, part of the management committee that run the place. They were welcoming and did not seem to care a jot that we had never heard of the Coptic Church before.

So I look at the terrifying uncertainty facing the Egyptian Copts with foreboding.

What does Pope Theodore II do? Of course, I and others of a secular disposition would cheerfully jump ship. I would embrace Islam quicker than you could say Muhammad. The anecdotal evidence, however, seems to be that a faith under attack inspires stronger belief within the bosom of the oppressed.

American Copts appear to have been involved in the satirical video, Innocence of Muslims, that caused global rioting. This has attracted the death sentence in absentia in Cairo.

The most awful answer to religious or ethnic wars is to contemplate mass migration. The Greeks and Turks swapped 2 million people after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22.

Mass immigration has been used to solve some global problems arising from clashes of faith. In 1947, the creation of Pakistan led to the immigration of millions of Muslims to the new state and a two-way traffic in Hindus and Sikhs out of there. Mass migration is an appalling admission of a failure of tolerance.

The Coptic tradition seems very bound up with its home in Egypt. Its pope is also explicitly the Patriarch of Alexandria on the Mediterranean, so population exchange is unthinkable. The world has hitherto been unable to secure life for the Copts in Egypt.

The Arab Spring, despite promising so much, has apparently made things more uncertain. There are hopes harboured within some in the government for the imposition of Sharia law. As an atheist, I do feel companionship with the Copts as secularists have been oppressed as well. Pope Theodore faces some nasty and unstable times.

For our second religious appointee, the soon to be enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury, life will be less traumatic but still tricky.

Like British Prime Minister David Cameron, Welby is Eton and Oxbridge educated; it's reassuring to know that nothing much changes in the Tory and Anglican worlds. Those born to rule seem to do so.

But modern Anglicanism is now vastly different from the cloistered halls of Eton and Oxbridge. It is heterogenous, with many different strains from Evangelical Anglicans in NSW, Anglo-Catholic reactionaries, Christian Humanists, reforming Episcopalians in the States and tourist-driven choral centres in the extraordinary English cathedrals. It is a broad, colourful and divided church of about 80 millions souls.

Archbishop Welby will have quite a task.

Its major growth centre is Africa, where Christianity is in a bloody struggle for control with Islam. Why do these two stories sound so familiar? Pommy Anglicans and Egyptian Copts could not be more distinct, but they are both enmeshed in blood-spattered stoushes with Islam.

The second-largest Anglican communion in the world is the Nigerian one, with about 19 million adherents. The Muslim Boko Haram group has slaughtered Anglicans in northern Nigeria.

But the main issue for the future archbishop may not be a fight with Islam but the fight within. African martyrs for the denomination give steel to the spine of a faith growing listless in the West. The battle-hardened synods of Africa tend to a muscular fundamentalism. The Africans largely oppose some gentle reform ideas, such as in the US where Episcopalian Anglicans embrace the inclusion of gays and women vicars.

This is a stuttering reform movement because, like Catholicism, institutional rules militate against change. A two-thirds majority is needed for change, so the reactionary tail in the House of Laity can wag the dog. Thus last week, notwithstanding that a large majority of the English synod supported the unexceptional idea that women be permitted to serve as bishops, the notion was defeated by a few conservative parishioners.

Schism is threatened because the growth areas resist change on issues to do with homosexuality and women priests, and reformers in the West become impatient for change. The Nigerian primate, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, rails against the inclusion of women and gays. This fight between Africa and the rest is a game-changer. It was too much for Archbishop Rowan Williams, who retires from the field defeated, with the seeds of schism well sown. His successor could reap the bitter harvest.

What is your view?

  • What advice would you offer Patriarch Theodore II and Archbishop Welby?
  • Should the godless care about the fate of the Copts, or do we say their tussle with Islam is just another example of the irrationality of belief?
  • Should the godless advocate population exchange if the Copt situation deteriorates in the aftermath of the Arab Spring?
  • What about Justin Welby? How will he stop Anglican schism?
  • How do you manage a lumbering global organisation that is divided and incapable of change?

403 comments

  • Dick - I'll number them
    1. I'd suggest to the Archbishop to maybe try at least agnosticism (but not to Pope Theodore - not really going to help the Copts being oppressed) - to Pope Theodore, I'd suggest trying to publicise any oppression of his people to ensure the rest of the world just doesn't forget them
    2. Yes, I don't really care what belief people have (I don't really get a lot of the beliefs, but if you have all of the options given to you. all of the evidence of each & choose any of them, go for it, just don't treat others any differently for not having your faith, don't force people to follow, not follow) - If any group is treated poorly, we all should be concerned, do what we can. Encourage our gov (now it has one of the smaller chairs on the security council) to try & get freedom of & from religion part of the reasons for any sanctions etc of all nations
    3. Yes
    4. Probably won't - we have people wanting to be equal opportunity when it comes to the females in becoming priests versus traditionalists (see various splits of the christian churches over many issues over centuries, protestants from the catholics, methodists from the CofE/Anglicans, insert any others you care to go with)
    5 & 6. Probably poorly, but you woulnd't wish that job on anyone - I do wonder if there was any accuracy in the old Yes Prime Minister when they had to recommend a new Archbishop & not going for a christian as that was the last thing you needed in the role (I'm sure it's not accurate, but the thought still raises a smile)

    Commenter
    paully
    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 11:41AM
    • Thanks Paully, I think that I mainly agree with you.

      Dick

      Commenter
      Dick Gross
      Location
      St Kilda
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 3:17PM
  • Dick: "In a spooky, dare I say, godly coincidence, two of the world's important religions obtained new leaders in the past fortnight."

    I wasn't aware that Copts and Anglicans were different religions.

    Commenter
    bigbird
    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 12:35PM
    • Yes Big Bird - right again. Perhaps substitute the word "denomination".

      Tricky Dickie

      Commenter
      Dick Gross
      Location
      St Kilda
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 3:19PM
    • Are you sure they aren't different religions with different gods there tweety?

      After all, from what you've already told us Monotheism is false
      http://mickopedia.org/mickify.py?topic=monotheism

      And Airy has convinced me that Polytheism is out
      http://mickopedia.org/mickify.py?topic=Polytheism

      But if its one of these, this could easily be a whole bunch of magical entities having a punch up.
      http://mickopedia.org/mickify.py?topic=Henotheism
      http://mickopedia.org/mickify.py?topic=Monolatrism

      It appears we are starting to add a little bit of sense to the whole "categorise religion thing" now!

      What a team huh? You'n'me!
      I think everyone will agree that we make Starsky and Hutch look distinctly low rent

      Commenter
      zed - in his big flying head
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 2:54PM
  • What is your view?

    “What advice would you offer Patriarch Theodore II and Archbishop Welby?”

    Atheism.

    “Should the godless care about the fate of the Copts, or do we say their tussle with Islam is just another example of the irrationality of belief?”

    Even as an example of the irrationality of belief we should still care about them as fellow human beings.

    “Should the godless advocate population exchange if the Copt situation deteriorates in the aftermath of the Arab Spring?”

    No. Forced relocations rarely work out well. Actually, I can’t think of one that didn’t cause some problems sooner or later. And if they chose to move then they’d better have their documents and not come by boat or there’ll be hell to pay.

    “What about Justin Welby? How will he stop Anglican schism?”

    I don’t particularly care. Some sort of hot glue gun?

    “How do you manage a lumbering global organisation that is divided and incapable of change?”

    Easiest way is to find a common foe, one both sides can hate. Ah sweet hatred, nothing else has united humanity so quickly and so easily as the need to come together and kick the crap out of a third party. Of course if you defeat the third party too quickly you’ll just go back to the original squabble.

    “Will Welby fail as the estimable Rowan Williams appears to have?”

    Hard to say without know what Welby wants to achieve. Also, does he have a hot glue gun?

    “I would embrace Islam quicker than you could say Muhammad.”

    Oh Dick, really? You don’t stop bullies by giving in to them. At least tell me you’d sneak some ham and beer and generally be a really bad Muslim. Passive resistance would be better than none.

    Commenter
    Mathew
    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 12:38PM
    • “Should the godless care about the fate of the Copts, or do we say their tussle with Islam is just another example of the irrationality of belief?”

      Mathew: "Even as an example of the irrationality of belief we should still care about them as fellow human beings."

      I recall in another thread you seemed quite happy to cheer on Chinese persecution of Christians. What's changed?

      Commenter
      bigbird
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 3:48PM
    • Bigbird

      "I recall in another thread you seemed quite happy to cheer on Chinese persecution of Christians."

      Well, there's persecution and then there's persecution.
      One is an invading foreign relion and philosophy the other is native.
      One group cries "persecution" everytime it gets told "no" and the other risks bing murdered in the street. So yeah, I make fun of one group and show concern for the other.

      "What's changed?"

      Only your understanding of my thinking.

      Commenter
      Mathew
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 4:38PM
    • Mathew: "Well, there's persecution and then there's persecution.
      One is an invading foreign relion and philosophy the other is native."

      So because Coptic Christianity has been in Egypt longer, it's "real" persecution? Weird logic.

      Foreign missionaries were expelled in 1948, and Christianity has been a native religion in China ever since.

      Mathew: "One group cries "persecution" every time it gets told "no" and the other risks bing murdered in the street."

      You really should educate yourself about persecution in China sometime. Your ignorance is quite alarming.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3993857.stm

      People are still imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith in China.

      Mathew: "So yeah, I make fun of one group and show concern for the other."

      Making fun of people being tortured, imprisoned or murdered is sick. That's what you are doing whether you realise it or not.

      Commenter
      bigbird
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 5:45PM
    • Never thought I'd agree with bigbird about anything - but his point about China is correct Mathew.

      Commenter
      MalcolmS
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 8:38PM

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