Lebanon’s past, America’s future?

What the heck is going on in Lebanon? The BBC News web site has a brief but interesting summary entitled “The Lebanese crisis explained.”

Tiny Lebanon baffles outsiders. Even people in the Middle East find its politics confusing.

If Lebanon is so tiny, though, then why should America care? Well, apart from the humanitarian reasons, little Lebanon is farther along a road that many people would like to take the United States.

Lebanon is a state troubled by polarization and sectarianism. In fact, most of the polarization is sectarian. It’s the Jews vs. the Muslims vs. the Christians, with about another 15 significant sects thrown into the mix–and that’s just the officially recognized religions. Mutual suspicion and mutual intolerance have more than once flared up into actual violence, from the odd bombing or kidnapping to outright civil and regional war, as the different sects have fought over whose religion was going to control the government.

And the trouble is that none of these religions have a God who would be willing and able to show up in real life to resolve any of these disagreements over who is right about Him. It’s purely a tribal conflict, each group seeking to enhance its own political (and military) power in order to establish dominance through purely human forces. With a head nod to God, of course. No matter how hard you work to produce the result you want, in the end you claim God did it.

In the meantime, the threat of another civil war looms, as it always has, just over the Lebanese horizon. It’s a sad state of affairs, with no readily available remedy, and it’s a situation that is not entirely inconceivable even in the United States. Many commentators and political leaders are already working to create a similar atmosphere of sectarian polarization, with their talk of a “war” on Christmas (because some people say “Happy Holidays”) and an “assault” on marriage (because some people want to marry partners that Christians don’t approve of).

Don’t get me wrong: we’re a long way from being Lebanon, and I don’t foresee this happening anytime next week or anything. But every step down that road is a step in the wrong direction. We need to change our direction, turn away from sectarian government, and towards greater tolerance and secularism. After all, Lebanon is not that far away.

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