A report on who’s been shooting at whom, and why.

When the U.S. Marines entered Lebanon, they were sucked into the vortex of a religious feud that has been swirling long before the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain. It is small wonder that there has been no peace for the multinational peacekeepers.

The Lebanese political system, with its president, prime minister, and parliament, resembles other modern democracies on the surface. But it remains, in essence, a feudal system. Its main leadership has always been elected from hereditary clan leaders. Lebanese President Amin Gemayel is the heir of a leading Maronite clan, while Walid Jumblatt, a member of parliament and the opposition leader, heads a dominant Druze clan and lives in its medieval castle.

The identity of the Lebanese is determined not so much by national allegiance as by allegiance to village, clan chief, and, above all, to religious group. So in this context, the word Christian is a community and political term more than a religious one.

Neither of the groups recently shooting it out originated in Lebanon, but fled to the isolation of its steep ridges and canyons as persecuted religious minorities.

The Maronites were chased there from northern Syria, where Antioch, the oldest Gentile church, was situated. The early Constantinople-based Christian church was hard on those who deviated from its doctrinal formulations. It excluded the Nestorians from orthodoxy in the early fifth century for overly emphasizing the distinction between the divine Logos and the man Jesus. Then in the mid-fifth century, it pushed out those who maintained that Christ possessed only a divine nature (the Coptic, Armenian, and Syrian Orthodox churches still fit this category). Finally, ...

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