GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
I’m always moved when I hear national anthems in other countries. Despite the challenges that people face, they always find things to love about their homeland. As a visitor to many other countries, I have been surprised at the depth of affection that people can have for their country when they live in the midst of violence, corruption, or great poverty—yet, they do. It is also interesting to see the worldview that the people of a nation have. In nations that rose out of the British Empire, there is often a Christian perspective. Take for example, this anthem from Kenya:
O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.
Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.
Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.
Christian values are so deeply assumed, that they don’t even have to be explicitly articulated. Notice the themes of creation, justice, peace, liberty, service, spendor, unity, glory, and thanksgiving. They are all Biblical themes. Thanks to great missionary energies toward Kenya, about 80% of the population self-identifies as Christian, many very actively.
Now compare this with the national anthem of Yemen:
Repeat, O World, my song.
Echo it over and over again.
Remember, through my joy, each martyr.
Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals.
Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals.
Clothe him with the shining mantles of our festivals.
Repeat, O World, my song.
In faith and love for Ummayad.
And my March will always be Arab.
And my heartbeat will remain Yemenite.
No foreigner shall ever dominate over Yemen.
The reference to Ummayad is a reference to the fourth Caliphate after Mohammed’s death. It stretched across North Africa from Morocco (and parts of Spain across Gibraltar) all the way east to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Notice the difference in worldview. In this Yemeni one, the dominant worldview is Muslim. The emphasis is on sectarianism, martyrdom, and Muslim festivals. Obviously, people living with the Islamic foundation have a very different trajectory.
Here is another example, the anthem for Pakistan:
Blessed be sacred land,
Happy be bounteous realm,
Symbol of high resolve,
Land of Pakistan.
Blessed be thou citadel of faith.
The Order of this Sacred Land
Is the might of the brotherhood of the people.
May the nation, the country, and the State
Shine in glory everlasting.
Blessed be the goal of our ambition.
This flag of the Crescent and the Star
Leads the way to progress and perfection,
Interpreter of our past, glory of our present,
Inspiration of our future,
Symbol of Almighty’s protection.
Obviously, the Islamic foundation is essential to their worldview, as it is in this one from Iran:
Upwards on the horizon rises the Eastern Sun
The light in the eyes of the believers in justice
The Month of Bahman is the brilliance of our faith.
Your message, O Imam, of independence, freedom, is imprinted on our souls
O Martyrs! Your clamours echo in the ears of time:
Enduring, continuing, and eternal,
The Islamic Republic of Iran
In particular, the assumption of faith being the foundation of the culture is clear with the specific reference to “the voice” that “the Imam” speaks into the nation. That assumption was clear from the time that the Shah of Iran was ousted and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from Paris and came into power. Now, the Ayatollah speaks with even more authority than does the President.
The reference to the Month of Bhaman, which begins in January and ends in February, is principally about the festival of Sadaq, sometimes rendered Sada. (Remember that both Arabic and Farsi have different alphabets, and there is not universal agreement on how to render Arabic and Farsi words in English letters.) Sadaq is a festival that involves a celebration of starting fires, with some reports speaking of people setting animals and birds on fire. Many people think that tying the feast to the end of winter resonates with creation and links to agriculture, and numerous references are made to the creation of humankind. Its name probably derives from the word Sad, which is the number 100. The feast day falls about the 100th day after the “start of winter,” and some believe that it began as a celebration of when the first two people’s progeny grew to number 100.
In the Iranian anthem, you can also see the emphasis on martyrs. That is not a great sign in dealing with the Iranian leadership’s conflict resolution style!
Moving back in the Christian direction, the anthem of Tanzania is an interesting one. Musically, it is reminiscent of European chamber orchestra style, with robust orchestration of woodwinds and brass. Lyrically, it demonstrates very African themes of invoking God’s blessing on leaders and people, but especially children. The opening lines in Swahili are reflective of the worldview that invokes God’s blessing: Mungu ibariki Afrika translates to “God Bless Africa.” Notice the emphasis not only on temporal freedom but on having an eternal perspective.
God Bless Africa
God Bless Africa.
Bless its leaders.
Let Wisdom Unity and
Peace be the shield of
Africa and its people.
Bless the children of Africa.
God Bless Tanzania.
Grant eternal Freedom and Unity
To its sons and daughters.
God Bless Tanzania and its People.
Bless the children of Tanzania.
Anthems and Worldviews
The point of looking at these different anthems is that a nation’s worldview has a dramatic impact on how it is shaped and how decisions are made. The foundations of Western nations, which were laid on Christian principles, are being superseded by other assumptions that have crept in to “guide” discourse and decision-making. One of the most dangerous is the liberal assumption that motives are more important than results. For example, the laudable initiative of “The Great Society” in the United States intended to wipe out poverty. Instead, it has created generations of people who are dependent on government subsidies. Today, both the percentage and the number of those dependent on government subsidies have risen. The Great Society did not deliver on its promise. Its framers, however, are still viewed as visionary leaders simply because their motives were noble.
Obviously, many people are in circumstances of crisis that need help, which no reasonable person would deny. The problem is how issues are addressed over the long term. While subsistence has been achieved with public assistance, dependence has also been ossified. Disadvantage or disaster may well be the entrée for assistance, but when assistance becomes permanent, initiative and dignity are the casualties. It is fascinating to me that the period of time during which the initiation of “The Great Society” took place was precisely when government initiatives in the U.S. were pressing to remove prayer from education and the public discourse in general! Without a healthy Biblical worldview, leaders embraced only a portion of the Biblical message, embracing short-term intervention without considering potential unintended consequences. Even worse, once the program demonstrated its flawed origins, no corrections were made to the basic assumptions because the intentions were considered to be noble.
At the heart of the chaos that has resulted is the fact that the presumptions of our country’s world-view have changed, but that change was made thoughtlessly. There was insistence on removing Christian motivations, but there was not insistence on maintaining other Biblical values such as accountability. As a result, a double-barrelled problem exists that results from not only the removal of the original Biblical foundation of the nation but its replacement with the shifting sand of relativism.
Two Current Critical Issues
Part of the problem is that many people are easily wooed by emphases on immediate returns, with little critical thought given to long-term consequences. Two areas with which we are currently wrestling across the globe concern human sexuality and radical Islam. Attempts are made every day to address those issues apart from Biblical truth. All those attempts fail precisely because they excise Biblical faith rather than exercise it.
Sexuality and Love
Granting that many Christians have addressed human sexuality with less than kindly words and attitudes, popular contemporary solutions refuse to address any consequences associated with the short-term present desires and feelings of those who have same-sex attractions or those who engage in heterosexual behaviors outside marriage. Even rising statistics or medical data about the devastating consequences of sexual license are denounced as hateful. Further, where societal standards are changed to embrace and affirm same-sex behaviors, practically no conversation occurs about how it is actually working or what the consequences are. In fact, Robert Riley’s book, Making Gay OK observes that although those engaging in same-sex behaviors number less than two percent of the North American population, their numbers account for approximately 60 percent of the cases of HIV/AIDS. Likewise, an emergency room physician told me recently that he has catalogued more than 100 diseases and conditions arising from same-sex behavior that have “devastating consequences.” (His words.) Is it really loving others to affirm behaviors that are proving so lethal?
We must not ignore that people have psychological and spiritual dimensions. Sexual intimacy engages those spheres as well as the physical one. We need to do a better job of communicating how God’s wisdom brings blessing. For those who experience strong same-sex attraction, profligate living is not the only option. Although many of them have psychological issues that are exacerbated by a rejection from people in society, the lack of stability of same-sex relationships needs to be addressed. Not only are these relationships problematic medically but terrible other physical and spiritual consequences result from infidelity (the incidence of which is dramatically higher than that which occurs in heterosexual marriage), and the number of sexual partners among those active in same-sex behaviors is vastly higher than with other groups. It is hard to imagine any positive consequences from those data. Indeed, it is simply not loving others to encourage sexual behavior with many partners.
Worldviews: Islam vs. Christianity
Although it is an entirely different issue, the same concern exists for working out how we can deal with radical Islam. It is a fantasy to think that those who engage in burning people in cages or beheading children are actually, deep down, motivated by the same values that motivate us. In some cases, it is an hysterical behavior born out of wounds, perceived injustices (some undoubtedly genuine), and uncritical acceptance of promises made by charismatic leaders. In other cases, it probably is actually, literally, demonic.
Even with the incursion of moral chaos in many areas, Westerners have a deeply engrained, if albeit superficial, Christian world-view. When we assume that everyone shares the values and assumptions of our anthems and founding, we make an enormous mistake. Westerners often say, “Radical Muslims want the same things for their families and children that we do.” That is simply not true. They want a caliphate and Sharia law. Westerners want pluralism.
To deal with this divide effectively, we are going to have to understand the differences in how many who sing the Yemini, Pakistani, and Iranian anthems think. Assuming that radicals all think and value the same things that we do is a fatal flaw. Adding to the problem is the fact that their behaviors do not allow for dialogue at this point. Sadly, it seems that the only current model that could be effective is military subjugation. Once there is a calm of the storm, we can then engage a world of ideas. Before overwhelming military superiority that can calm the storm is established, no dialogue with radicals is fruitful. It only leads to the strengthening of radical behavior and is perceived by them as our weakness and lack of resolve.
The Test of Time
I am utterly convinced that the Gospel world-view is the only one that will stand the test of time, whether we are dealing with sexuality or confronting radial Islam. We live in the midst of challenges that are very similar to those in the first century where the Gospel had to displace deeply held, entrenched beliefs. It is inspiring how the Gospel was able to penetrate the culture so powerfully. What they did not do, however, is compromise on the content of the Gospel. Today, it is more common to water down the demands of “lose your life,” “pick up your cross,” or “love one another.” Sadly, too often we are not sharing Gospel grace and power well. There is so much chaos now, and those radicals with whom we have tensions are so different in their world-view from us that, it is sad to say, we are likely in for a long season of pain. Uncritical thinking and an obscured or diluted Gospel will make things even worse.
Bishop Bill Awtood is Bishop of the ACNA’s International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.