11/11/12

Two Cities - ‫اﻟﺷرق و اﻟﻐرب‬

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Summer 2012

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Two Faced
From the early light of the day, I feel something odd, a heavy burden pressing my heart.…

Two Cities
Duane Alexander Miller

In the year 410 the Goths, led by Alaric, sacked the city of Rome. Rome, which had been the heart of the Roman Empire until Constantine had turned the sleepy village of Byzantium into the splendid metropolis of Constantinople—which simply means the city of Constantine. Rome, whose emperors had sporadically persecuted the Christians for various reasons, many of them spurious.

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When Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire on 17 th December, 2010 in Sidi Bouzid –…

The Killer of Dreams

Rome, the city whose foundational mythology was when one brother killed another, and won the right to name the city after himself. Rome, the city to which all roads led. Rome, which the early Christians called Babylon and whore in their coded, apocalyptic messages. Rome had been sacked, and the new generation of pagans understood why: Rome had stooped to worship the deity of the Hebrews, and his chosen one, Jesus of Nazareth. Rome had abandoned the ancient cults which had secured her success and prosperity, and this destruction of Rome was the judgment of the gods on Rome. But the Christian faith had a defender. A Latin African named Augustine, who was by then bishop (head priest) over the city of Hippo Regio. He had spent time in the bustling cities of his day, like the glorious metropolises of Carthage, Milan, and Rome. Augustine took up his pen to refute the accusations of the pagans against his religion and his God. Augustine argued that there is a divine city, a heavenly city—the City of God. This is the city mentioned by David, king and prophet, when he wrote, “There is a river, the streams of which shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High” (Ps 46:4). But this is no earthly city. It is not Jerusalem—or at least the earthly Jerusalem that David had known (and which he had captured from the Jebusites). Nor was it Rome. For all its glory and pomp, its beauty and wealth and accomplishment and power, even Rome was not the City of God. Rome, Jerusalem, and indeed every city, state, country, or empire, was rather the City of Man— an earthly city. Augustine argued that the two cities—that of God and that of man—are not just contingent factors. They are rather the two key principles over-riding all of human history. And in arguing thus, he formulated what is perhaps the most influential (and controversial) theology of history in the history of humanity. He claimed that he had found the key religious principles that governed the flow of history and how God interacts with humans—not only as individuals, but as communities. The origin of the two cities was all the way back, ‘in the beginning’, with Cain and Abel. Abel, who in humility brought a pleasing sacrifice to his Creator, was the beginning of the City of God. Cain, who out of jealousy murdered his brother, and who in his perversity was not able to offer to his Creator a proper sacrifice—this was the beginning of the earthly city. Since Cain and Abel human history has been a contest between the two cities. The names of the kings and kingdoms may change, the names and places of God’s prophets and messengers may vary, the languages and customs of the tribes and nations may proliferate, but in the end there are only two cities. And the two cities have two founders. And two laws. The law of the earthly city is the love of self above all other things. The law of the City of God is none other than that which the Son of Mary announced when he quoted Moses the Law-giver: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your might.”

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Two Cities

In the year 410 the Goths, led by Alaric, sacked the city of Rome.…

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11/11/12

Two Cities - ‫اﻟﺷرق و اﻟﻐرب‬

might.” When man loves God above all, then everything else falls into place. He is able to love himself correctly—he will take care of his body and mind. He is able to love his family then as well, in the right measure. If a man loves his wife more than he loves his Lord, then that love will become corrupted, twisted, and spoiled. The quality of love is that if God is not loved above all, then all other loves must rot away. And so Augustine can give us this advice: “Love God, and do as you please.” Now the City of Man and the City of God can work together for good. Sometimes they may have interests in common. One can see examples of this all over the world where there are religious hospitals and schools. Healing the sick and educating children seem to be the sort of thing that even the City of Man would desire. From the point of view of the earthly city, education leads to superior industry, which leads to power and wealth for the state. The City of Man does not have the same motive as the City of God, but it appears that in this area they can indeed work together. The City of God sees the uneducated and reasons thus: God has made man with intelligence, it is his desire that we use this intelligence, for in doing so we are doing what our Creator has made us to do. Therefore, education in itself is made into a form of worship: It is a sign of respect to the Creator, because it honors his creation. The two cities have two motives, and two different goals in mind. So yes, the two cities can indeed work together. But more often than not, the earthly city will become jealous and angry—it loves itself, and in loving itself it becomes gluttonous and greedy. It wants power, and always more power. There is never enough power. In these circumstances the earthly city will oppress the City of God, maybe it will be a subtle form of oppression, or maybe it will be outright violent persecution. But in these situations the City of God, which alone of the two is eternal, and whose victory is assured at the end of days, must humbly understand the nature of its power. For the earthly city power is being able to force people to do what it wants them to do. In the City of God power is a hidden thing, an obscure and veiled thing. Power in the City of God reveals itself when the earthly city worships itself, and coerces the City of God, and indeed, coerces its own subjects to do what they do not desire, or to not do what they desire. When the City of God allows for the world to see how empty and vain the power of the earthly city is—that is when God is triumphant. That is when the lie has been exposed. The lie is that the good have power, and that the powerful are good. In the Gospel, Jesus goes to the cross of his own will. He does not desire it—for who could desire that sort of torture and humiliation? But it is in the resurrection that God vindicates his anointed one. The earthly city—embodied in the Roman Empire and Hebrew court of religious experts—kills God’s chosen one. They have the power they want. They have won—or at least it appeared to them so. That is how the earthly city works. And the earthly city usually believes in God—there is no question about that. The earthly city often thinks it is doing the will of God, it is helping God, and because it has power, God must like it! God? God is not so simple and easy to manipulate. His law is love, and love is demonstrated in pain and suffering and compassion. His law is not power. He showed his power in the Flood, in the days of Noah. All of humanity, we read in the Torah, was destroyed, except for the house of Noah. That was power. But it was empty—even after such a stern warning did the people obey God? Did they love him? Power cannot force love. But in great love, in suffering for others, power is demonstrated. The Flood was God’s way of showing that power is not the same as goodness, mercy, or compassion. Members of the earthly city have devised multiple strategies over the centuries to silence or eliminate the City of God. One of the most brilliant strategies is to say that, in the end, the earthly city can become the City of God. Think of how beautiful the idea is. Our own broken communities and societies and countries can become perfect, divine, and righteous. We can use the earthly law —the love of self/power—to lead to the heavenly law—the love of God above all else. According to this way of thinking, we can use power to bring about the City of God, we can force people to obey. Augustine (and Messiah) responds: You may be able to force people to obey, but you can never force them to love. And in the end, this is the question. What does our Creator desire from us? To hear and obey? If our Creator only desires obedience, then power is indeed the most important thing. But if God desires our love, then no amount of power can force it. He would have to show his compassion and mercy and gentleness. He would have to show love, and, in the words of Mother Theresa, “The only way to learn humility, is by being humiliated.” Or as the great poet TS Eliot wrote, “Humility alone is endless.” Could God humiliate himself? Even if he could, would he do it? Christians and Muslims agree: Allahu Akbar. Who are we to say what God

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11/11/12

Two Cities - ‫اﻟﺷرق و اﻟﻐرب‬

he could, would he do it? Christians and Muslims agree: Allahu Akbar. Who are we to say what God cannot do? And what if God, in inviting people to citizenship in his City, determined that he desired to announce this invitation through the greatest sign of love (and thus, of humiliation)? Egyptians—both Christians and Muslims—must consider these matters. If Augustine is right, then there is no such thing as a truly just state. Egypt will not be, and can never be, just. The earthly city—and all governments tend towards this city—has a law that makes this impossible. Augustine insists that the human predicament, which is the source of the evil law of the earthly city, is not ignorance. Augustine believes that even if people are fully educated about the standards and rules of God they will not obey them. This is the truest nature of corruption—tahriif. Not the corruption of some ancient text, but that we—Jews, Christians, Muslims—have what we understand God’s law to be in the Torah, the Gospel, and the shari’a, but we do not follow it perfectly. Corruption is not centered in a text, it is centered in our hearts and minds, when we know the will of God and do not obey. There is something wrong with humanity, something very deep and perverse, as if our DNA itself had the disobedience of Adam our father weaved into it. Because of this there is no such thing as dual-citizenship, and it is totally impossible that the earthly city ever become the City of God. Augustine’s ideas provoke some important questions: Can force be used to enjoin religious obedience? How should citizens of the City of God react when the two cities are in opposition to each other? How can citizens of the City of God remain true to their law when they enjoy the power of the state? Are citizens of the City of God free to disobey the laws of the earthly city when they are not in accordance with God’s will, which is their own law? Is flight from persecution a legitimate reaction to the opposition of the earthly city? How can the City of God extend an invitation to others to pledge their allegiance to God’s anointed one—which is how one gains citizenship in that City? What is the future of Egypt? According to Augustine, there is no hope for the earthly city, but the City of God, if it is true to its law, can demonstrate that humble, veiled power that it has because of its law and its Lord. And through that hidden power it can survive and even thrive and grow, as the citizens of the earthly city understand the Law and turn to God’s eternal city, and away from its own self-love and love of power. But it is hard to turn from beautiful idols. Duane Alexander Miller is a teacher of history and religion. His father’s family is from the United States and his mother’s is from Colombia. He is married with a son and two daughters. He studied philosophy and religious studies in America and the Arabic language in Jordan. He is specialized in Eastern Christian history and the study of religious conversion. He can be reached by email at: a_miller_tnma@hotmail.com.

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