His Afrocentric lifestyle was all very nice. His collections of pottery was extraordinary. But from his lips, words of ignorance slipped. “Nike-ear, nice-eya,” he struggled to pronounce, “Nice-what? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Constaninople. Fourth century.” I replied, “The council. Nicea. The consolidation of the Trinity.”
He wasn’t listening. He was forming a sentence to feed me, assuming my ignorance. He noticed the Arabic, may have known the meaning, but he didn’t make the connection. “You’ll confuse people, my friend,” he said, “The followers of Jesus didn’t just accept Islam, my friend. It was spread by the sword. Spread by the sword, my friend.”
He wanted to teach me a lesson in history. But what did he know about Christianity? “Nice-what? I’ve never heard of it.” Well, that just about sums it up. He didn’t even recognise a fundamental name from the history of the Church. Yet he was an expert in his field; a self-proclaimed expert, reeling off the cliches I’d heard a thousand times before. From his mind, he couldn’t even afford the time to think of different words; the same well worn words would do. “Spread by the Sword.”
But did he know what had happened to the Ebionites? Did he even know who the Ebionites were? Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah whilst maintaining their Jewish identity, who were “eventually left behind as Christianity adapted to the influx of gentile converts. These Christians eventually became a distinct group that, along with other groups, was rejected as ‘heretical’ by the emerging ‘great’ church” (The Encyclopedia of Religions, Wilken, p.576).
That strange paradox, “that while Jewish Christianity in the Church came to grief, it was preserved in Islam and, with regard to some of its driving impulses at least, it has lasted till our own time” (Theology and History of Jewish Christianity, Schoeps, 1949, p.342).
Did he not know about Arius? Had he not even heard of Donatus? Had he ever even picked up the simplest book on Church history? Why should he? Well, it was he who was offering the lesson. And I suppose a book on Islamic history was too much to ask.
What was that about Negus, the King of Abyssinia? And the Coptics; strange how one of the oldest Christian Churches still hasn’t given up its ghost. One writer seems to think that history makes it clear “that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated” (O’Leary).
But let me say nothing. Pay him his due and walk out of his shop. He’s a casual know-it-all, a mind priding itself on its unconstrained thought. He knows his culture, he tells you, but he doesn’t know yours.