In 1997, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad poisoned Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in broad daylight on the streets of Amman, Jordan. The little-known Palestinian figure slipped into a coma, but not before the Mossad agents’ escape was bungled, a car chase ensued, and Jordanian troops were called in to surround the suspected Israeli embassy. King Hussein of Jordan was furious, and the episode quickly spiraled into a diplomatic crisis, as Mishal’s condition deteriorated under the influence of the mysterious poison. The Middle East feared the worst, but a series of high-stakes negotiations, brokered by Bill Clinton himself, led to the Israelis handing over the antidote – saving Mishal and setting the stage for his phenomenal political ascendancy.
– frontispiece, KILL KHALID, Paul McGeough, The New Press, New York, 2009
For the vast majority of human beings, the most scary thing about our existence is the reality of our mortality. In other words, at some point we are all going to die. And, no one has yet returned from beyond the grave to tell us what is on the other side.
This is where religious belief entered the picture. Human beings overall began to believe that death was not the end, that there was some kind of life after death. The concept of heaven, which is a life of happiness after death, and the concept of hell, a life of suffering after death, became fundamental parts of the major religions. The largest religions on planet earth are Christianity and Islam, and they both feature a belief in life after death.
In the societies where Christianity and Islam are powerful, children are taught in schools that if they behave righteously, they will inherit the kingdom of heaven, and if they live lives of sin, then they will be punished in the afterlife. Christianity and Islam both have holy books, the Bible and the Qu’ran, respectively, which provide guidelines with respect to what is righteous and what is sinful. In Christian and Muslim nations, then, children attend schools where they are instructed by teachers who are acceptable to their parents insofar as their beliefs, as contained in the school curriculum, are concerned.
In European societies during the second millennium, secular authority, which is to say, the State, and religious authority, which is to say, the Church, were as one. In fact, during the so-called Middle Ages in Europe, many kings told their subjects that they were ruling by “divine right,” that is to say, they were chosen by God to be kings and God was looking favorably upon their rule. This was saying to their subjects, in effect, that if they rebelled against their king in any way, then they were rebelling against God.
God became an almighty concept because it was God who decided if you entered heaven or were sent to hell after you died. Because human beings were afraid to die, they were afraid of God. There were some cynical human beings, such as evil kings, who exploited this fear in order to take advantage of the masses of the people.
But there were times in European history when kings and pretenders/contenders who wanted to be kings, fought against each other. Both warring sides would claim divine favor, and in real time this presented the prelates of the Church with a political problem: sometimes they were forced to choose sides. If they chose the wrong side, that is, the losing side, that could mean jail or death for them. In preaching the Word of God on earth, the clergy were claiming to have a hand in the decisions where eternity was concerned, but there were kings who were more concerned about the continuation of their rule on earth than about a favorable eternal judgment.
Even as the State, in the form of kings and their courts, would become corrupt because of excessive power, so did the Church, which was so closely allied with the State in the various countries of Europe. Even as there were bloody wars fought between kings and domestic pretenders/contenders, there were bloody wars fought between kings of different countries in Europe, and all the principals were all the while claiming to be Christians.
A great division in the Holy Roman Catholic Church began in Europe with the original Martin Luther, a German priest, in the early sixteenth century, almost five hundred years ago, and after the dust settled, Italy, Spain, and Portugal remained Catholic, while England, Germany, France, Holland and the Scandinavian countries became what is called “Protestant.” They all remained Christians, however, and they all fought against each other while claiming that God was on their side.
There came a time in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when many of the European countries began to sail out into Africa, Asia and America, and their explorers, sailors, and soldiers were blessed by their Christian Churches and sponsored by their kings and queens. They went out upon the high seas in the name of Jesus Christ, and they inflicted horrors upon the peoples of Africa, Asia, and America. The fact that their military and naval violence was superior and enabled the Christian Europeans to conquer Africa, Asia, and America, seemed to suggest that the God of the Christian Europeans was the most powerful God, and great numbers of native peoples in Africa, Asia, and America, became Christians. In a sense, this amounted to accepting their fate.
In the case of Belize, where most of us are descended from native Americans and Africans brought here as slaves from West Africa, the vast majority of us became Christians, and we sent our children to be taught by Christian teachers in Christian schools. More than six decades ago, nevertheless, we Belizeans decided to free ourselves of British colonial control, which we apparently succeeded in doing in 1981, but our children continued to attend Christian schools where they were taught by Christian teachers.
There were important things about our African and Maya ancestors which were deliberately ignored by the schools which taught our children. Constitutionally, Belizeans had become independent, but educationally, we remained colonial, subservient, and ignorant.
Today, even as we speak, Christian Belize is being claimed by Christian Guatemala. Whose side would you say God is on? Interestingly enough, Israel is openly on the side of the Guatemalans. Our problem in Belize is that many Christian Belizeans are so committed to the Holy Bible, it being the case that it was written by Jews who considered themselves the “chosen people of God,” that such Christian Belizeans find it impossible not to support everything that is Israeli in the modern reality. This means that there are Christian Belizeans who are supporting people who are supporting people who claim Belize. Such Christian Belizeans have gotten themselves, we submit, into a suicidal trap.
This is very, very sad.