I have a friend who grew up in a Muslim country. He is Christian married to a Mormon. We have had long discussions over the years about how he is able to move without conflict between so many different faith traditions.
Queen Isabella, like the masses throughout history, was not able to manage it. Progressive in some ways, when it came to her faith and the practice of it, the Queen was every bit the tyrant that we see reflected in leaders throughout the world, including our feckless one.
The city of Toledo, Spain has been in existence for over 2,000 years. Imagine living in a town that was in existence in 200 B.C.. A world-heritage site, Toledo, perhaps more than any other place I’ve traveled, reflects the disparity between the ancient world and the modern one. But you know what they say: The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Even otherwise godly people can be uncommonly cruel.
As our intrepid and fast-talking tour guide explained, for many, many years, Toledo was the cultural center of the Spanish kingdom. Jews, Muslims, Christians, and I imagine, silent agnostics and a handful of outright atheists, managed to live side-by-side without too much ugliness. Although, the rule-makers put into place a few laws to keep the faith traditions separated in daily life. Jews weren’t allowed to bless the crops of non-Jews, and perhaps most telling of all, Jews were forbidden from eating with non-Jews.
Wonder how they explained that to little children along with Love Thy Neighbor?
So much for lingering over the table with one another. Still, the community of Toledo managed to get along well enough to establish themselves as the cultural center of Spain for a few centuries. The City of Three Cultures, as Toledo came to be known, prospered. They established the School of Translators of the 12th and 13th centuries, a very progressive action, really. A way to say, let’s respect each other’s cultures while ensuring we forge a way to live in community with each other as Arabs, Jews, and Christians. Obviously, though, centuries later, we still have not figured out how to do that. Or we are just as unwilling to do so.
During that time, Jews had their synagogues, Muslims had their mosques, and Christians (Catholics) had their cathedrals. Nobody was worshiping at the local high school auditorium. These were grand buildings, works of art, showcasing fine masonry that has lasted centuries, and drew people from all around Spain to Toledo.
Creativity is a really remarkable thing. Humans are quite capable of producing extraordinarily beautiful works of arts and communities when they don’t have to use all their time and energy waging wars and fighting with one another. But that’s the human condition, isn’t it? We always manage to muck up even our very finest works.
No matter that the City of Three Cultures grew from the same trunk, or that all of us are the works of One Creator, there are those among us who insist that they came from a better seed. It makes absolutely no sense, this compulsion we have to elevate ourselves over one another. To say that my Creator is better than your Creator. But give a man, or a woman a bit of power over others and they will manage to oppress somebody.
Today there is only one Jew in all the city of Toledo.
One Jew. He’s 88.
The synagogues of old have been converted into museums, market places where houses of worships have been exploited into industries of tourism. There is nothing a Capitalist won’t use to enrich themselves, even the culture and history of others.
Today’s Toledo has the feel of a Disneyland for history and religious buffs. Want to see the gift Christopher Columbus brought back to Isabella from the Americas?
Get in line.
For only 10 Euros, you can rent a chair along Toledo’s cobblestone streets and watch during the once-yearly celebration as this 200-pound relic is carried up and down the hills, the sun gleaming as people lift their voices in praise of the Queen who banished all the Jews and Muslims from Toledo, from Spain, and built an impressive cathedral right over the very site where Jews and Muslims once had their homes of worship.
Yet, all throughout Toledo you can buy menorahs of many sizes. For a price.
Queen Isabella, for all the good things she would do, issued an edict in 1492 that Jews and Muslims must convert to Christianity or be expelled from Spain. She was what you might call a “Catholic First, Make Spain Great Again” kind of gal. Perhaps she figured there was more than one way to skin a cat or convert a Jew or Arab.
Sigh. Power and riches. They are not our friends.
I couldn’t help but wonder as I pressed through the lines how it must feel to be a young girl growing up in a culture where all the “heroes” are men.
Did Isabella have to fight against all the men in her life so adamantly that once she gained power, she felt the need to oppress others, to establish her religion as the only religion?
How does one look upon the Scriptures and not come away convicted, or at least convinced, that the whole point of it all, all of it, is to Love One Another?
To not crucify each other?
But then again, on this Mother’s Day, I find myself wondering, how is it that people still regard Jesus as a blond-haired cherub born from a dark-skinned mother?
And why is it, all these centuries later, that we still have not managed to value one another? To respect that each of us will work out our own salvation and redemption with our Creator? Why do we insist that other live by the decrees we establish?
We have learned so little from history it appears, except how to make a buck. Walk a block away from the temple and you can find scarves from China for 15 euros, or swords crafted right there in Toledo, because, after all, weapons of mass destruction have been around since the Middle Ages and before.
We humans have the capacity for creating or destroying. The question isn’t can we do it? It’s a matter of what will we use our capabilities for?
Or for Evil?
Will we follow the early model of Toledo, where Three Cultures managed to get along well enough to create a city of prosperity for most? (No mention in any of the tour about the slaves who were employed to build all those still-standing works of art known as Cathedrals).
Isn’t the whole point of Jesus to view redemption through the sacrifices? Rather than to view Jesus as just another relic to exploit for financial gain, or power over others?
Here in Spain, as in the US, the rights of women are still being debated by men. By forcing women to submit their uterus to the power of the state, and the men who run it, leaders of nations and states, far and wide, are able to keep women in a state of “lesser than”. Subjugated. To decree that a woman must bear children in order to be found worthy before God and the men who impregnate her is to say to a woman: You are not holy enough. Or intelligent enough to make these decisions for yourself. The state will make these decisions for you.
That’s just wrong, whether it’s in Spain or in Georgia.
Revolutionaries are rising up all across the globe, resisting the oppressive fanatics who use religion as a battering ram against the masses, exploiting them as they exploit the earth, all in an effort to gain more power and more riches.
Enough is enough, shouted the Revolutionaries, the self-proclaimed Ingovernables, as they took to the streets of Madrid Saturday afternoon.
They marched for the rights of women.
They marched for the rights of Mother Earth.
They marched for the right to govern themselves.
The decrees of the Middle Ages continue to threaten our everyday existence because the (mostly) men in power continue to regard the masses as “little people” to be ruled. Particularly women.
Rather than valued and respected, the way Creator intended.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY (Mercer University Press).