Christian Priests Brawl at Jesus’ Birthplace

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has now seen its annual brawl between Armenian and Eastern Orthodox priests, who are jointly responsible for its administration. Police of the Palestine Authority broke it up but made no arrests because the pugilists are “men of God.”

Somehow you get a sense that Jesus of Nazareth would not have approved of his own followers coming to fisticuffs over his birthplace. Wasn’t there something about turning the other cheek? Wouldn’t the Christian thing to do be to abandon one’s claims to the physical site and devote oneself to the spiritual meaning of it?

Aljazeera English has video

Such scuffles at the Church of the Nativity between priests of the churches that administer it are common.

Indeed, such conflicts have sometimes spiraled out of control and contributed to the outbreak of major wars. Thus, [pdf] we can read in this article by Raymond Cohen about how struggles between the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox church over their position in administering this church, and that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem contributed to the outbreak of the Crimean War. Russia backed the prerogatives of the Eastern Orthodox or Greek Orthodox church, while France supported the Roman Catholic claims. The Ottoman sultan, who then ruled Jerusalem, was caught between the two.

So, at least no war has broken out in this round of conflict. Maybe it is an argument for the secularization of Europe. I think the spiritual life has great value, but when you get to the point in your religious attachments where you are beating people up over your claims to an old building, you’re no longer talking about spirituality, and a sane secularism would be far preferable.

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10 Responses

  1. Professor, you are talking here about that most fundamental of all things, Identity. Which is sacramentally espoused to the notion that “my group (or the few in it who Truly Understand The Truth, a smaller and different doctrinal kettle of fish) is Right with G_d, and therefore Ought To Rule.” (And besides, those benighted Armenians/Orthodoxys wear THE WRONG HATS!)

    Ain’t no friggin’ way that a squishy secularism, the antithesis and anathema to Revealed Dogmas, will ever trump the stirring flood of mostly androgenous juices (women, notably, also produce sufficient quantities of testosterone and adrenalin to overcome the former feminist myth that letting women run things would Make Everything Better) that fire up the Anti-Otherism that animates so much human behavior.

    And as the almost 7 billion of us flounder in a rising unknown sea of lost identity, where the patina of Apparent Legitimacy that coated everything that we assumed provides order and meta-stability gets washed clear, so we can see (if we choose to) the ugly reality, the jaws of Moloch that lie beneath, the clever and most selfish among us will do an Aaron, and hammer out new idols for the insatiable, the heedless, the negligent, the unconscious among us to worship and follow, and direct the procession of.

    Tribes with flags, we are, and every game is really a variation on the oldest — Capture the Flag. The antithesis of the Golden Rule. Blessed, and otiose, are the peacemakers…

  2. As I remember, when the great Salah-Eddin took Jerusalem from the Europeans, he was petitioned by both the Orthodox and the Roman patriarchs to give that one and that alone the keys to the Holy Sepulchre. Salah-Eddin, wise man, thought for a while and then gave the keys to the head of a Muslim family whose name I forget but whose descendents still hold those keys. The holder of the keys allows both sides to use the church fairly. Perhaps the Palestinian Authority should do something along those lines.

    • Was at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in April/May. There is also a third sect of Christianity involved with that church; none trust each other with the key and the Israeli police have the key now. It is an odd and sad arrangement.

  3. Lest we forget that priests are people too, does this not support the central claim of Christianity that all men are sinners in need of salvation? I think Eastern Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholics would all agree that ordination does not confer perfection, or sainthood. One would hope that a priest would model Christ better than a layman, but even Christ, in anger, drove the money-changers out of the Temple with a whip…

  4. Thanks for the reminder, Professor. Even as a follower of Jesus, it makes me thankful that our founding fathers understood this inherent weakness in both humans and in religion and opted for a secular government. I think Forrest Gump’s mother said it another way, “Stupid is, as Stupid does.”

  5. I’m a Christian, and my Bible makes it as obvious as Juan says it is. When so-called spiritual leaders blow off stuff they say they believe that is as obvious as Juan points out, the problem isn’t imperfection. Any imperfect barfly you could pluck out at random knows better than this.

    There is no excuse for so-called spiritual leaders that can’t keep from sexually abusing or sadistically beating little boys, or spiritual pretenders like those described here fighting over an old building. If the emperor has no clothes, it’s not a lack of fashion sense, when anyone else in the kingdom knows at least to cover his private parts. When something is so depraved or godless that only religious people are capable of it, let’s look a little deeper than general human imperfection.

    • Peter, applause.

      But good luck getting any significant number of people, our fellow humans, to adhere in any significant way to what the Sacred Texts (and commentaries thereon) of all those various religions instruct us are supposed to be the best of human behaviors and spiritual intent. Or even to sign on to the parts of the collected testimony that are about love and kindness and honor and truth, rather than the hard, mean, patriarchal parts full of judgment and putting-to-the-sword and how to cleanse yourself of all kinds of defilement and uncleanness, as in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, even stuff that flies in the face of the Ten Commandments.

      Ain’t gonna happen.

      And what you get is what “followers of Jesus,” and followers of various other subsequently-transmogrified Truly Good People (or mythical and instructive constructs) who become the prophets and messiahs and saints of one religion or another, come up with to make it all okay to do that stuff with little boys and girls, to kill or dominate “others” who are busily trying to kill or dominate them, with the same “divine blessing” in their heads and blackness in their hearts. And toss it off with a dollop of Universal Grace and Forgiveness, and a Reaganesque “There you go again” chaser. And a conviction, born of selective parsing and repetition, that “God wants you to be rich. Rich! If only you plant that $100 seed gift right now, operators are waiting for you to answer God’s call…”

  6. Sure, Jesus said to turn the other cheek–but he only said to do it once. As you said, this happens every year. If we don’t stand up for our rights and fight back, they’ll keep on taking advantage until they own the whole church.

    • Speaking of cheeks, one might hope that Zla’od had his tongue planted in one of his when he wrote this paragraph. My recollection of the Bible, refreshed by a quick look at Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29, fails to support the writer’s notion that “evil persons” and “anyone” only get one unavenged slap on the cheek.

      If not tongue-in-cheek, might I offer it as one more exhibit in the long-running trial of humanity for the growing crime of being a failed, dead-end species, on its way to defacing a whole planet in the name of tribal cul-de-sac-ism and self-indulgent consumption?

      What “rights” are at issue here, in this slapstick annual ritual? Please explain…

  7. Perhaps the authorities should insider a Solomonian approach and threaten to tear the structure down if they can’t behave!?

    BTW, Jesus also said (paraphrasing): believe in my daddy or we will send you to hell (that we created). — So, really, the hate, and “for or against me” bullshit started early, yes? It apparently helps explain a lot of divisiveness in the world.

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