The history of religion is marked with odes, fables, and myths recalling the overthrow of one pantheon of deities and rise of another. Sometimes, these changes in cosmic order are commemorated in ritual in an effort to establish or maintain a common sociological bond of myth and cultus. So it was the ascendancy of the new god Marduk over the old deity Tiamat was celebrated in the Enuma Elish. In Egyptology, it is now a common theory that the god Set is probably a surviving deity of pre-dynastic Egypt, whose association with the old divine order made him a dark god in the new pantheon. These are but two examples. In the history of religion, gods come and go and the societal cultus eventually shifts in reflection of the epochal change, with a few survivors of the old religion.
This week, the near complete disestablishment of Christianity in Mosul by ISIS (and the strange irony should be well apparent) has brought home the point that the last vestiges of some of the oldest churches are being erased from there land of origin. The cycle of history of religion continues.
There are a multitude of reasons we can argue for the depletion of Christianity in the Middle East. There are many root cause analyses we could perform in the hope of finding the ultimate source for its desolation. However, the most immediate analysis is probably the most relevant and in that analysis, in some areas of the Middle East, Islam has become fanatically radicalized. As part of its pursuit to shore up a new social order (in regions that were profoundly destabilized by a history of disastrous Western policy), a religious movement pursues the absolute eradication of the remnants of the older cultus in the effort to shore up the societal integrity of the new social order. Christianity reached the region before Islam. Its cultural foot print, though diminished, is still a reminder that there was a time when Islam was not, and for a group attempting to establish a new Islamic social order (given that none of its adherents likely have any memory of the last caliphate), the reminder of an older religion and an older society is terrifying. Christ is, practically speaking, the dark god for Islam, the forbidden deity of a cultus that somehow survived the transition of from the Christian to the Muslim age, the transitus of aeons.
How the West will interpret this event is uncertain. Outside of Christianity, there is little thought given to it. While Christians see this as a loss, the secular world is unlikely to give it much regard. Plainly, Christianity, if practiced with integrity, challenges every assumption of post-modern Western society. Perhaps, indeed, that is the only regard the West will give the recent events in ISIS controlled Iraq. On some level, these events, depressing as they are due to the loss of a very ancient church, demonstrate the limits of the Western vision of the world, a primal push back against a worldview the West has exported steadily in its most current version since the conclusion of World War II. As much as the events are redolent of ethnic conflicts in the region, they carry with them the mark of resistance to the westernization of the region. The West, plainly, cannot get too overwrought over the disintegration of Christianity in the region. To do so would only serve to create a nagging conscious quietly casting doubt upon the development of secularism in the culture. Although, if there is even a shred of Christianity left in the underlying base of the culture, perhaps some long dormant spirit will be awakened.
Ultimately, the analysis is somewhat superfluous. A very real event has happened or is close to happening. An ancient Church, with a liturgy and customs and spirituality of venerable antiquity, is being pushed towards eradication and very real people is watching its world being dissolved. One can only hope that all these events are not without some greater meaning.