(The Latin in the headline is there not solely for flavor, but also in reference to the phrase commonly said by Crusaders, especially after the declaration of the first crusade. “Deus Vult,” or “God Wills It,” was a very popular saying, and it was said in Latin due to the prevalence of Latin in the Catholic church at the time).
Twenty-one Coptic Christians were executed by Islamic extremists recently. Religious violence seems to be reaching another height. A growing movement denounces religion in general, pointing to the constant wars caused by religious differences. The Crusades, the Jihad, the Thirty Years Wars, the Spanish Inquisition, and countless other examples as proof that religious conflict inevitably leads to war. Meanwhile they ignore the plethora of successful religious movements which have happened with no real violence. Perhaps, the selection of Coptic Christians as the next target of these killings was fate’s way of reminding us of this.
Coptic Christians, according to many, trace their heritage back to the Council of Chalcedon, a religious council which took place in what is now Istanbul. (It was neither Constantinople nor Byzantium at the time). The meeting was concerning the long-debated topic of whether Jesus Christ was a created being, and in that discussion, whether he had two separate natures, human apart from divine, or whether he was a combination of human and divine, or whether he was simultaneously human and divine. While these discussions of Miaphysitism and Monophysitism are fascinating, the real reason historians care about this Council is because of the separate churches spawned from it. Orthodox Christians would claim this an important building of tension between themselves and the Catholics, but, ultimately, its people like the Coptic Church that can claim this was their birth. They refused to accept the theological arguments posed by the Council of Chalcedon. Would it come? Would war between the Christians of Europe and Asia and those of Africa come? But, this is history, not mystery. There was no war, the Coptic Christians did not acknowledge the rulings of the Council, but they simply left. They had their own separate church, centered around the Patriarch of Alexandria.
But, now we live in the world of Islamic extremism. It is a sad thing, really. People talk of how these crimes are a perversion of the Muslim faith, and I am willing to accept that. But where is the Council of Cairo? Until the Muslims are willing to have a theological discussion, and rule that ISIS and related activities are not supportable by their scripture, can one really separate the Sunni Muslims who kill from the Sunni Muslims who are peaceful? If there really has been a perversion of the faith, then the statements of anathematization should be all over the world. The best clerics of the Islamic faith ought to be having the largest theological debate of the century. If they rule that this violence is an integral and acceptable part of the Sunni faith, the world will be able to deal with the problem appropriately, and any discrimination against Sunni Muslims on account of encouraging violence will have to be accepted as true. And, any Muslims unhappy with the ruling of the council can no doubt begin their own reformed branches, separating them from the religion which has openly endorsed violence. If the Council were to happen and yield a ruling that the killing of infidels is unacceptable, and that these people are all heretics, it would be easy for the Muslims uninterested in killings to separate from the violent ones. Imams across the world could drive the new ‘heretics’ out of their mosques. It would become simple to tell the violent churches from the peaceful ones.
So, as the killings continue, I charge you, and I charge the theologians of Islam. Your task must be to reform the Sunni faith, or at least clarify what is and what is not acceptable. This problem can be settled peacefully, take it from the Christians of Egypt, take it from the 21 who have just been killed. If the Muslims of the world want to clear their names of these deaths, they are completely able to. They just have to get their clerics and religious leaders to pick a side. I’m not well versed in the study of Islam, so I will not suggest an outcome to the council, but either way, the longer this discussion is avoided, the more confusion there will be, more will be wrongfully hated, and more will be killed.
As a note: The Council of Chalcedon can be read about at Wikipedia, as can most of the theological concepts mentioned here. If any of that sounded more interesting than boring, please consider a career in religion. We could use a few good theologians.