It’s a paradoxical fact of mass Islamisation that the supporters of what used to be called Arab socialism, improperly renamed Arab nationalism at the end of the Cold War, have never been as steeped in Christian culture as they are today. Similarly, unlike the decades that followed the Levantine Nahda, this influence is no longer suffered, but chosen. Similarly, the Christian specificity of the Arab world, which is to say that it has never known any Protestantism, is beginning to be asserted by this new generation of Arab nationalists, who are openly hostile to Protestants, something to which previous generations were previously indifferent or ignorant.
While the Lutheran and Calvinist churches have been more or less spared this enmity, the Anglo-American churches, particularly those of the Radical Reformation, have not escaped it. There are two main reasons for this aversion: firstly, and this also concerns the Lutherans and Calvinists, the importance given to the Scriptures to the detriment of the living word of Christ, which may bring to mind the scripturalism of the Muslim extremists, now mortal enemies of the Arab nationalists, to which is added a messianic tendency which supported the creation of the State of Israel and has never ceased to campaign in favour of America’s unconditional support for the Hebrew state, today threatening the efforts for peace and normalisation.
Protestants’ extremist reverence for the Bible – which is why Roman Catholics refer to them pejoratively as Biblicists – is seen by some as a denial of the spirit and meaning of Christianity, which is said to be based on the incarnation of the Logos, the living word of God that is Christ, is seen by Arabs on all sides and by Eastern Christians as a Judaization of Christianity, because it is no longer content to read the Old Testament in the light of Christ and the Gospels, but would like to rehabilitate the Old Covenant in God’s Christian plan.
In this sense, Protestants and Jews are synonymous in the Arab world, just as Jews and Freemasons were, until recently, in the minds of many Catholics.
So if there is no talk of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy in the Arab world, it is because they prefer to talk about Judeo-Protestant (American) banks, ignoring in the process the (bygone) anti-Semitic tradition of Protestant banks and the (also bygone) segregationism of the American banking system, from which Catholics have suffered no less than Jews.
This ignorance is perhaps due to the fact that American Protestant anti-Semitism, which was far less virulent than European anti-Semitism, did not prevent the formation, even before the creation of the State of Israel, of an objective alliance between certain Jewish and Protestant groups, for whom anti-Semitism was not, to use Gambetta’s expression on the subject of secularism, an “export product”. These Protestant groups which claim to be Zionist (and which belong for the most part to the evangelical sects, as defined by the Catholic Church) have their roots in the messianic tendency of certain schools stemming from the radical Reformation, which the Anglican, Calvinist and Lutheran Churches have constantly condemned, in an obvious, albeit sincere, attempt to differentiate themselves (since there is a recent Palestinian Lutheran Church).
However evangelical Zionism is not the most decisive factor in the new hostility of Arab nationalists against Protestantism. Rather, it is a choice, of the Catholic Church, which has moreover been translated at a geopolitical level by the Abu Dhabi Joint Declaration, a historic document which seals the recent alliance between Al-Azhar, the Holy See and the United Arab Emirates, which is the only stronghold of the reformist current of Arab nationalism and which has renamed its great mosque “Mary Mother of Jesus”.
This election is the result of unprecedented axiological affinities with the (Roman) Catholic Church. Affinities also shared with the Orthodox Churches, whose Greek Fathers are no less appreciated than the Latin Fathers. In fact, the original Church of the Arabs was Hellenic: the Ghassanids were Greek Orthodox, before supporting the advent of the Jacobite Church.
But how did the Catholic vocation of reformed Arab nationalism give rise to the enmity it enjoys today against Protestantism? It is mainly because of the secret war waged by American evangelicalism against the Catholic Church, which threatens the latter on every continent, including the current Pope’s continent, Latin America, which was thought to be irredeemably Catholic, as well as because of the unexpected and extremely dangerous penetration of evangelicalism within the Church, via neo-conservative movements, sometimes charismatic, which admire its success and see in it a reason to imitate its model, even though it is based on a simplifying theology, centred on the Bible, to the detriment of the long and complex exegetical tradition bequeathed by the Fathers of the Church. Some people even speak of evangelical Catholicism, such as the researcher Georges Weigel, who himself belongs to this movement, to which Donald Trump’s most recent Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is also linked. In this religious geopolitical context, where some see American evangelicalism as the greatest threat to the Catholic Church, Arab nationalists are not fooled and want to play their part in defending the Church, which has become the main, if not the only, catalyst for Arab reformism.
This hostility, now declared against evangelicalism, has been generalised against all Protestant churches, under the influence of Catholicism and a certain French diplomatic milieu, to which the elites of Arab nationalism, Francophiles and Sorbonnards, have always been close, but also and above all because of the absolute and unanimous aversion in these circles to all scripturalism, traumatised as they were by the damage done by Muslim literalism, which no Aufklärung had prevented from becoming rampant, nor which no previous Latinisation had softened.
Added to this, it should not be forgotten, is the Calvinist answer to the question of grace and predestination, which seems to them all the more horrible because it sounds similar to the Muslim doctrine of predetermination, even though it is, in truth, very far removed from it: the former concerns only the hereafter, while the latter also and above all concerns the here below.
It should not be forgotten that our nationalists are no less liberal than they are socialists: they love freedom!
Initially axiological and doctrinally inspiring the reformist current of Arab socialism, the influence of Catholic ideas has recently extended to theology. On the Syrian television channel Al Ekhbariya, Professor Firas al-Sawwah declared that the Sharia was “something bad and useless” and that “we Muslims should do as the Christians do, who have no Sharia”, which is “nothing more than an inheritance of Jewish law”.
When Michel Aflak wrote, in response to Muslim clerics, that it was Arab socialism that would save Islam, was he already thinking what Firas al-Sawwah explained, who no longer hesitates to oppose Christianity to the legalism and orthopraxy of Judaism and Islam, and is very close to seeing it as a (providential) catalyst for Arab reformism, if I may use the expression of the Jewish-American writer Fred Uhlman, speaking of the Jews in Germany in his autobiographical novel Reunion? It has to be said that the role of the lungs that Aflaki doctrine attributes to Christians in the Arab national and socialist project goes in this direction.
Subjects other than the Sharia, particularly and above all theodicy, prompt reformist thinkers to look to Catholic and Orthodox doctrines: free will, divine foreknowledge, the uniqueness of God and His Word, grace… Here, Romanised Berber or Punic authors such as Saint Augustine (free-will, divine foreknowledge, grace for those who would not make a Calvinist reading of them…. ) or Cyprian of Carthage (the uniqueness of God and His Word…) but also the Greek and Syrian fathers, whom the Arab reformers are rediscovering in a desire for internal inclusiveness and reconnection with the pre-Islamic past, are proving useful.
However, it is not a question of using non-reformed Christian arguments to propose new answers to questions that have also arisen in Islam, but of comparing non-reformed Christianity with the dominant Asharite Islam to shed light on the causes of the Muslim collapse and the mainsprings of Western Modernity.
Nor is it a question of converting, but of calling for Islam to be endowed with the same general springs (beliefs in human freedom and autonomy and religion of the living Word, not of a definitive book), which enabled unreformed Christianity to gain access to Modernity, which then spread to the Protestant world, as a last legacy of its past Catholicity. But also to take up the cause of the Catholic Church, the non-exclusive matrix of European Humanism, in the secret war being waged against it and others by dangerous American Evangelicalism.
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