Minarets, church towers and Babel

British anti-minaret posterSwiss anti-minaret posterI don’t know whether in the States you have noticed the debate about the Swiss people’s decision last Sunday (29th of November) to amend their constitution to forbid minarets. Here in Germany and the rest of Europe fascists and right-leaners are celebrating and want plebiscites on these issues as well(check out their posters!). Swiss politicians are shocked as no one would have anticipated such a result and are now checking if they can squirm out of it, by saying that basic liberties cannot be changed, not even by the will of the people. Analysis shows that the most votes for the ban came from the rural areas where there are almost no Muslims, and most votes against the ban came from the cities where there is a relatively high Muslim population, still not high. In all of Switzerland there are four mosques…

To me, this shows a fundamental flaw in democracy as good as it maybe: Democracy does not mean the rule of people, it means rule of the majority and if the majority should decide not to tolerate the minority -like the case with Switzerland – so be it. Ok, in order to correct this there are things like independent judges and not directly elected secretaries, but that is exactly what the SVP, the “Swiss People’s Party”, wants to change next. Democracy is not an absolute value.

But how is the Anabaptist view on this, is there one at all? In the beginning, Anabaptists didn’t gather in fancy churches, they met in houses or caves in the forest to prevent being sent to prison. The only time one would find them in the usual churches was to storm the pulpit and preach the gospel. When Anabaptists were allowed to settle in Southern Germany after the 30 years war they weren’t allowed to build church towers.

The bells in church towers have often been melted in times of war to make swords and guns, a reversion of Micah 4,1-4 so to say.

During the campaigning for the ban on minarets the initiators always claimed not to be anti-Islamic, but that they were only against radical Islamists and that Islam didn’t need minarets, therefore a  minaret was a political extremist statement and it’s ban would not interfere with the right to religious freedom.

Let’s look at Christianity then, I did find one story in my Bible, where people wanted to build a tower. But after God “came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building” Gen.11,5 he didn’t like it too much and confused their languages.

In the New Testament there is not a single reference of towers… So, are towers needed in Christianity? Shouldn’t the Swiss people perhaps also ban church towers?

Or maybe Swiss Mennonites and Mennonites in general should build “mennorates” in solidarity with the Swiss Muslims?

Comments (3)

  1. ST

    Your play on words at the end is hilarious, and it might be this kind of creative thinking that is necessary to figure out how we can all live in peace and worship God and be open to all others.

    My analysis would also tentatively question towers as perhaps phallo-centric…symbols that exalt men/masculinity and male power. (As do missiles, etc.) I am not sure that this enters into the discussion too much, but another thing to consider.

    As I think about my experience with towers, I believe it is mostly formed by personal opinion. My mother never liked steeples. Too showy, she said. I know at least one architect that is helping churches think through how their building/building plans do or do not reflect their theology. And usually steeples are not a part of the blueprint.

  2. Marius

    Hi Ben :)

    It’s funny how the fascists are suddenly all about democracy. Well it would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.
    I’d say we need to be in solidarity with our muslim brothers and sisters, in one of two ways. Either we build minarets all over the place (on cars, on houses, on our houses of prayer, etc), or we start arguing for a ban on church towers. Once the law is passed, we may even be able to push a legal procedure so that the law is interpreted to include church towers… hmmm.

  3. Stephen

    I like the idea of putting mini-minarets on cars as an act of civil disobedience. Jon Stewart on the Daily Show when hearing that there were only four minarets in all of Switzerland said, “I have more minarets than that on my car.”

    It does rather make me wonder about the definition of a minaret though. I can think of many Mosques I know in the Manchester area that are converted Christian churches. Now if those buildings have church towers, does that make those towers minarets? Or vice versa – if a Muslim community sold their building to a Christian community, would the minaret still be a minaret?? It would be funny if it wasn’t scary.

    There’s a minaret at the end of my road, and it’s lovely.

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