Islamism has more or less put paid to the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria which date back to the earliest years of the faith. Priests, including an archbishop, have been murdered. Christians have been beheaded in public for refusing to renounce their faith. Muslim converts to Christianity are hounded to death. Crucifixion is practiced. Muslim mobs regularly burn out churches, in Pakistan sometimes while the congregation is inside. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood once attacked 50 Coptic churches at the same time. Hundreds of thousands have fled abroad from persecution, never to return.
Almost as depressing as this victimization is the response to it in the West. The fate of these Middle East Christians is hardly reported in the media. If it is reported, then a faint sneer is detectable — these people don’t fit in because they are too devotional, in a word simple-minded, so they must mend their ways. Besides, Europe is post-Christian, far too sophisticated to think that religion has anything worthwhile to offer. The former Archbishop of Canterbury promoted sharia in Britain, the Muslim legal order that would put an end to the Anglicanism he is supposed to head. The former pope was obliged to retract and apologize for pointing out that Islam gives priority to faith over reason, an obvious truth. “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war” was once the first line of a popular Victorian hymn. I couldn’t resist writing a parody, “Backwards Christian soldiers, slinking from the war.”
For centuries, the character of Christian nations was formed and maintained by church architecture, stained glass, missals and poems like The Song of Roland, icons and frescoes, and statues and depictions of biblical motifs that even the greatest sculptors and painters concentrated on. Without such common belief and purpose, art in this secular age is reduced to “doing your thing.” Very few people have a thing worth doing, which is why the bogus, the ugly, and especially the transgressional have become modern standards.
According to Shakespeare, time and the hour runs through the roughest day, and now is time for remembering David Jones, unfortunately no relation of mine — he lived from 1895 to 1974. Christianity for him is the basis of civilization, not the message the man in the street usually hears. He’s always had a reputation as the author of In Parenthesis, a long and beautiful poem based on his experience of serving as a soldier in the front line in the First World War. An artist, he didn’t like to sell his work but left 900 of his pictures to the National Museum of Wales. Quite outside fashion and dealers and promotions, he explains in a book called Epoch and Artist that true art gives meaning to life and thus is a form of worship. Suddenly, fortuitously, two exhibitions of his work are now current in Britain, a new book has just been written about him, admiring articles are published, and The Spectator approvingly applied the word “saintly” to him. It might not seem much, but it may be enough to counter those who think that death is better than life, and act on the inhumanity of it.