Exactly how many Christians are there in your town? In the West Bank they know.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014
One of the funnier sort of moments I enjoyed in Palestine was when I met Arab Christians who would tell me about when many Western tourists would come and ask them when they converted to Christianity to which they would smartly reply "Oh about 2000 years ago when Jesus did mission work in the area."

See, sometimes our worldview shapes how we see events happening in other parts of the world.

Youth in Jenin sharing their stories
I had the opportunity to meet with different religious leaders while I was in Israel/West Bank, and one of the paradigm shifting concepts I heard repeatedly was that there were no non-religious people in the Middle East. Everyone had some religious approach to life, often that was handed down to them by previous generations. You were either Jew, Christian, or Muslim.

From a secular society perspective where I come from in Canada, that was a stunning sort of thing.  That everyone had a mark on their papers telling what religious flavour they were. This was why religious leaders were able to tell me exactly how many muslims there were in their town, or how many christians there were in this or that location.

There were no atheists or agnostics, at least officially anyway. Though within their own characterizations there must be those who are more or less faithful. So this religiosity was tied into their culture and history and family name.
Muslim shop owner who helped us out.
When I asked what would happen to a convert to Christianity from a Muslim family the answer was quick and clear. "They would be killed." Usually by the family. When we asked about converts from christianity the answer was much less violent. Admittedly that question was asked of an Anglican priest.

There were those who had made conversion choices who would continue to live as cultural Muslims as long as it wouldn't mean they would have to renounce their following Jesus Christ. They were known as secret believers and they exist, quietly. But for many today, being a Muslim or Jew or Christian for that matter is not a matter of the heart or faith but a matter of the culture and family they were born into. You don't just turn away from that and head in another direction after your family has been known differently for thousands of years.

This difference was interesting to note.

It comes into play when the Jews want to be recognized as a State and the Arab nations surrounding don't want to give in to that requirement to peace.  Partly in that mix is the question asking does Israel wish to be recognized as a full, secular nation state, or are they asking to be recognized as a religious, Jewish state? The subtleties of these arguments can easily be lost on us Westerners as the Arab neighbours react strongly to the idea.
Palestinian Kids

In the mean time local neighbours, Muslims and Christians, and in parts of Israel, Jews, live with each other as they have for thousands of years. They get along for the most part and care for one another. Their kids play together in the streets and they both hide when the tensions turn violent. Then they check up on each other and watch out for one another. In that way they create amazingly warm communities where good neighbours make good neighbourhoods.

Now if only the politicians and the extremists on all sides, could figure that out.


  1. This makes me want to ask whether having a 'cultural faith' is good, bad or indifferent. My natural inclination is that it's very bad - it creates tribal groups whose identity is in something outside of themselves and defined by rules that are manipulated by others. Worse is the anguish required when changing groups, when one is held in place by fear instead of convistion. And I see that as an issue whether people culturally identify as Muslims of Church or England etc. At the same time, I can see how it might build a culture that respects a certain set of values instead of everyone just doing whatever they find feeds their senses.

    And you're right about the subtlety being lost on us. Having said that, atheism certainly has taken on some aspects of a religion, and secularism is breeding its own distinct culture, with intense pressure to prevent people leaving its clutches, and a determined resistance against freedoms to pursue other faiths. So maybe not so different in some ways, suggesting people are possibly very similar where ever they go.

    Last night I spent about 90min watching your videos, then researching The Holy Sepulchre, The Garden Tomb etc. Interesting, on so many levels. Thanks for the stimulation.

  2. I suppose there is culture in our western churches as well. A culture of what we do or do not eat, drink sing, see, dance, our language etc. My gut says that culture gets in the way of real faith happening, and that we can see we have the culture and so we must be faith filled people. It makes it more difficult to help people move towards the real goal, which for us is Christ.

    Culture then confuses people and they think they are believers when they may only be using the right language or not eating and drinking the wrong things.

    Of course then there is Paul trying to use the culture to reach the people...

    Sometimes I feel like I don't have enough time on this earth to explore all the areas of study that I'd like to have a go at.

  3. Hey, I've just invented a new word - "convistion".


  4. But seriously. I keep reading stuff like this at the moment, about looking like the real thing without any significance deeper than wearing the right clothes.


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