Thursday, August 25, 2016

Through Time

I’ve read a series of books lately that each cover huge sections of world history that were not clear to me before the reading. I’ve read or listened to:
  1. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land
  2. The History of the Ancient World
  3. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
These books tell the known stories of parts of our past in a broad, sweeping fashion. Pieces of a puzzle are fitting together for me and it has been an interesting journey. I think I’ll likely look for a few more of these types to fill in more details.
Here are some thoughts:

  1. The unbelievable brutality of man in situation after situation is so sad. There are just so many places, peoples, kingdoms that were wiped out by others. In some cases in very horrific fashion. When the ‘Latins’ retook Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, it is reported that they killed all in the city.  When the Khans were insulted by city or kingdom, they would simply wipe out all who were part of that community. The Khans did not torture, but they killed everyone except for those they could keep to help them (engineers, artisans, etc.).
  2. Treasures and libraries were destroyed. Books were burned. Art was destroyed. Seems that some groups still do that with various destructions taking place in the middle east. For example:  At almost the same time of Rubruck’s debate in Mongolia, his sponsor, King Louis IX, was busy rounding up all Talmudic texts and other books of the Jews. The devout king had the Hebrew manuscripts heaped into great piles and set afire. During Rubruck’s absence from France, his fellow countrymen burned some twelve thousand handwritten and illuminated Jewish books.
  3. Single individuals or families or decisions can ripple through time for centuries. The animosity between Muslims and Christians has some of its roots in the behaviors or both groups in the middle ages.
  4. People can use a religious reason to justify terrible actions. Current news in the middle east and parts of Africa as well as the Crusades and many other examples.
  5. A letter or a conversation can change history. For example, I read in the Khan book:
By happenstance, on July 22, 1246, in the midst of the massive gathering of the Mongol leadership, the first envoy arrived at the Mongol court from western Europe. Friar Giovanni of Plano Carpini, a sixty-five-year-old cleric, who had been one of the disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi, arrived as the agent and spy for Pope Innocent IV, commissioned to find out as much as possible about these strange people who had threatened Europe... 
the Mongols eagerly received Carping ... 
Pope Innocent IV offered the khan a pedantic synopsis of the life of Jesus and the main tenets of Christianity, all of which was probably well known to the khan through his Christian mother and his frequent attendance of religious services with her. Guyuk was likely a Christian himself; if not, he was certainly well disposed toward Christianity and relied heavily on Christian Mongols in his administration. The pope’s letter chastised the Mongols for invading Europe, ordering the khan to “desist entirely from assaults of this kind and especially from the persecution of Christians.” He demanded an explanation from the khan “to make fully known to us . . . what moved you to destroy other nations and what your intentions are for the future.”  
The letter informed the khan that God had delegated all earthly power to the pope in Rome, who was the only person authorized by God to speak for Him... 
The first direct diplomatic contact between Europe and the Far East had degenerated into an exchange of comparative theology mixed with religious insults. Despite the extensive spiritual beliefs that the Mongols and Europeans shared in common, the opening relationship had been so negative and misguided that in future years, the entire base of shared religion would eventually erode. The Mongols continued for another generation to foster closer relations with Christian Europe, but in the end, they would have to abandon all such hope, and with it they would, in time, abandon Christianity entirely in favor of Buddhism and Islam. 
The Mongols were very religiously tolerant and in face many of the Khan’s family were Christians but over time, they turn away with this letter and this message as one of the starting points of that turn. Imaging how this might have gone differently.
We just don’t realize how our actions and words can ripple through time into the future and long after we are gone. We need to be so careful of who we criticize, what we destroy, who we elect and what we say.

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