Friday, 29 January 2010

'Iran - open hearts in a closed land', by Mark Bradley

This is a short book on Christianity in Iran, by an author I have met more than once. It runs to only 104 pages, plus a few endnotes and references. My main complaint about this book is that it is too short. I wanted more detail and deeper analysis.

You may think that Iran is a solidly Muslim society, but this book reveals that there is a small and thriving Christian community there. The author is surprisingly optimistic about prospects for the growth of the church there. This particular approach to understanding Iran proves very fruitful, since it cuts through the details of history and opens the lid on a society which few of us understand in the West. One also realises how important a country Iran is, both in history and in the contemporary world, and how educated Westerners should familiarise themselves with the Iranians much better.

First the book lowers our expectations by explaining why Iran can be described as a ‘closed land’. The government’s policy of doing everything it can to promote the glory of Islam is made clear – though personally I would have liked more explanation of why the 1979 revolution came about. The second thread in this section is to explain the Shia preoccupation with the return of the Mahdi – the hidden Imam, and how that shapes policy and religious attitudes. The third thread is and explanation of the anger that seethes below the surface at the ‘Christian’ West – mixed with confusing despising of the irreligious modern paganism / materialism of the West. Again I would like the colonialist actions of the British and Americans explained more fully, especially the seminal Mossadeq episode.

Then the book explains the ‘open hearts’ anti-thesis. It is interesting to learn of the widespread disillusion with their own Islamic government, which sent many tens of thousands to their death in the Iran-Iraq war, messed up the economy and has become riven by hypocrisy and corruption. The second part of this section is to stress that Iran is an ancient culture and language going back many glorious centuries before the adoption of Islam. So Iranians are proud of their own identity separate from Islam, which makes them more open to consider other religions, and less guilty about ‘betraying’ their native identity. Lastly Bradley explains the remarkable witness of the local Iranian church.

Bradley is obviously a talented writer and I hope he will give us a lot more on this and other related topics.

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