September 11th And "The Clash Of Civilizations"
I want to say some things about the September 11th, 2001 attacks on America and the war on terrorism. But before doing that, I believe it necessary to mention some particulars that preceded these events—things that will help us to better understand the serious crisis facing us as Christians, Americans and citizens of the West.
Every society is made up of different people, different jobs, different values, and different classes. Nevertheless, students of history tell us that no society can survive or function without a unifying system of thought. The unifying system of thought that acts as a glue that makes the various parts of a society adhere is called a “worldview.” This worldview may be built on a philosophical system like Platonism, or on a religion like ancient Israel. It may be built on a common mythology, or on a devotion to the state, or on some political philosophy. In every society there is a competition for dominance between philosophy, religion, mythology and politics. One of these elements will eventually emerge as the principle worldview.
Originally, a Biblical worldview was the unifying system that dominated American society. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. In our modern topsy-turvy culture, the principle ism, or system of thought, that is being reflected in our creative arts, in our popular literature and music, on our TV screens, in our educational institutions, and even in our churches, is secularism. In secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity must be understood in view of the here and now. There are no windows into the eternal. If there is a God, and the secularist is either an atheist or an agnostic, He is totally irrelevant. All that matters is now. In the secular worldview, human beings are not created in the image of God. They are, instead, wholly physical. Consequently, humans are believed to be the outgrowth of an evolutionary process, and are, at best, nothing more than a chance collocation of atoms. Because there is no hope of life beyond this present physical world, the "secular humanist" declares that man's highest end is happiness, freedom, and progress for all mankind in this present world. To this end the secularist “assigns to man nothing less than the task of being his own savior and redeemer” (Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism, page 283). There can be no doubt that 20th-century America drank deeply from this humanist well. Necessarily, 21st-century America is intoxicated with secularism.
In stark contrast to secularism, which says, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32), stands Christianity, which says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). For sure, Christianity speaks of the here and now, but more importantly, it speaks of something more than the here and now. While secularism takes the short view, Christianity takes the long view. While secularists talk about the here and now, Christians speak of an eternal life beyond the grave. While secularism, which teaches man is the product of evolution, validates narcissism, hedonism, materialism and pluralism, Christianity, which teaches man is created in the image of God, refutes all man-made isms with the admonition, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Saving faith, the Bible tells us, comes as a result of hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17). In Hebrews 11:3, the writer says that the faith that comes by hearing has its starting point at Genesis 1:1. Consequently, the starting point for a Biblical worldview is the very first verse of the Bible. Before the here and now, God, who transcends this present time-space continuum, existed in eternity. This means there is more to reality than the here and now. But there is more. Apart from “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” there are no real ethical obligations; no such things as absolute norms of conduct—no moral absolutes. If there is no Creator who is Sovereign of the universe, then man is under no moral obligations and is absolutely free to do as he pleases. It is here, then, that we arrive at the crux of the matter. Man, in his arrogant pride, simply does not want to do what God commands him to do. As a result, he attempts to suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Why? Because if man can be persuaded to believe the lie that there is no Sovereign God who lives in eternity, then he can be quite comfortable involving himself in all sorts of uncleanness and ungodliness (Romans 1:19-25). In other words, he can do whatever he wants. Secularism, then, is the perfect vehicle for such unbelief.
The Gravedigger Effect
In the 20th century, the secularization of America had a tremendous affect on Christians. It is as unfortunate as it is true that Christians bought, nearly “lock, stock, and barrel,” the secularization lie. Consequently, they gave themselves over to a traditional, uncritical, and unscriptural view of the separation of church (i.e., the sacred) and state (i.e., the secular). Although it is true that Christians ought to always distinguish between the secular and the sacred, it is just as true that we must never try to totally separate them. To do so would be to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life.
Nevertheless, for the most part, 20th-century Christians gave themselves over to a view of church and state that forced them to divide their lives into that which was sacred and that which was secular. This unnatural dichotomy forced them to compartmentalize their religion. So, within the confines of an ever decreasing arena, they unashamedly proclaimed belief in, and reliance upon, God; but outside those parameters—cage might be a better word—Christians were reluctant to even mention His name. Although religion in the private sector seemed to be flourishing during this time, in the public arena, it had been almost totally neutralized.
Today, at the beginning of a new century, as well as a new millennium, Christianity may still be privately engaging, but socially, it is irrelevant. The central sectors of society (business, technology, science, medicine, law, politics, et cetera) have all been largely stripped of religious influence. As Americans, and, unfortunately, as Christians, we have thought it only proper to internalize our religion. This “privatization,” or secret discipleship (some have called it the “Joseph of Arimathea Syndrome” [cf. John 19:38]), has contributed to our current secularization. But, more importantly, it has caused true Christianity, the kind we read about in God's Word, to be without any real impact in public life. Afraid to mention the name of the Lord publicly, except within the limited confines of church and family, for fear of being thought un-American, uncivil, un-professional, anti-social, sectarian and fanatical, we now, and I'm speaking of conditions that existed before September 11th, find ourselves without any real impact in our communities. Instead of being the salt that savors and the light that shines out of darkness (Matthew 5:13-16), we have allowed "the wall of separation" that secularists have erected between church and state to force New Testament Christians to publicly blend in with the rest of society. Some have called this "The Naked Public Square." As embarrassing as it is for some to admit, 20th-century secularists became victors by default, for they now occupy territory from which Christians withdrew. Thinking it their duty to espouse a principle that forces Christians to eliminate the Lord from ALL of government and MOST of society, they helped create the monster called “Secularism.” This Frankenstein, which has effectively neutralized Christianity, is a most unnatural creation that should never have been created in the first place. In essence, we Christians have been digging our own graves, and it is this reality that some have dubbed "The Gravedigger Effect."
No student of the Bible would deny that Jesus taught there was to be a distinction between church and state. During His earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). Nevertheless, I feel confident in denying that the Lord wanted His disciples to believe there was to be a separation of God and the state, that is, a complete divorcement of God-based morality from civil government. The “Wall,” or in its more expanded form, “the wall of separation between church and state,” first articulated by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, is a seductive metaphor that has subsequently been used to mislead many. The concept of an inseparable wall between church and state, whether one believes it to have been taught by Jesus, or espoused in the Constitution, surrenders to a simplistic understanding of a complicated subject. It is, in fact, a gross hermeneutical error to use Matthew 22:21 as a proof-text for an absolute and inseparable wall between government and religion. Proof-texting or “Bumper Sticker Theology,” as I sometimes like to call it, must give way to a conceptual, or over-all, view of the Lord's teaching on any given subject. For example, the faith taught in John 3:16, which is saving faith, cannot really be understood without the teaching found in James 2:14-26. Likewise, one would expect the truth taught in Matthew 22:21 to be amplified elsewhere in God's Word. For example, in Titus 3:1, the Christian is taught to be “subject to rulers and authorities.” Is not this really the same as, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's”? Conversely, when we render to Caesar the things that belong to God, we deify the state and secularization is the result.
Seduced By A Metaphor
Those who have supposed the state to be absolutely autonomous, and free from a God-based morality, have failed to consider many Bible passages, including Colossians 2:10, where Jesus is said to be “the head of all principality and power.” Not only is He “head over all things to the church,” but He is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21-22). There is but one exception to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, and that is the Father, “who put all things under Him” (I Corinthians 15:27). As Christians, there is simply no excuse for not knowing what Nebuchadnezzar had to learn the hard way; namely, it is “the Most High [who] rules in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:25).
As I have already said, for the Christian to have believed that in order to honor Jesus Christ it was necessary for him to eliminate the Lord from ALL of government and MOST of society is totally irreconcilable with the truths taught in the Bible. It is just such unquestioned allegiance to the erroneous doctrine of “the Wall” between church and state that has caused many churches of Christ today to be without any appreciable impact on society and, as a result, quite ineffective in their evangelistic efforts. Having rested their hopes on apologetics, which is the defense of a doctrine, they have sorely neglected discipleship, which is the living of a doctrine (cf. Galatians 2:20). There is, of course, nothing wrong with apologetics, and anyone who has spent time on this site knows I'm all for making a defense (apologia) of the gospel. Hoever, when Jesus taught us that we are to be the “salt” and “light” of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), He was telling us that apologetics without discipleship is practically useless. In the context, it is easy to understand that the Lord was not referring to our “saying,” but our “doing.” Christians function as salt and light when others see their “good works and glorify [their] Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16b). A world groping in darkness is benefitted by the disciplined lives of a “chosen generation, a royal nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). So, unless 21st-century Christians are willing to acknowledge their mistakes, and repent of them, we will be no good to ourselves or to others. With this in mind, it is beneficial for us to spend a little time examining some of the philosophies and values that exist under the larger umbrella of secularism, and which affect us both individually and collectively.
Narcissism is one of secularism's false values. It says, “Me first.” It says, “I'm number one.” The narcissist is in love with himself. Other people matter only as they serve to fulfill and satisfy him. He is only concerned about his rights, his privileges and his happiness. Wives, husbands, children, employers, employees and fellow citizens all take a second seat to the narcissist. He is a “me, my, mine” kind of person (cf. Luke 12:16-21). He is in love with the self-esteem, self-love, pull-your-own-strings, put-yourself-first, you're-number-one shibboleths of modern-day pop-psychology. When the Christian becomes infected with this spiritual disease, he begins to talk about doing something for himself. He talks of being tired of doing what God, and everyone else, wants him to do. He begins to complain about the sermons not being uplifting enough. He protests that Bible classes just aren't positive enough. He whines about the worship services of the local congregation just not doing anything for him anymore. It is not long before families, church unity, ethics in the marketplace and community stability begin to play second fiddle to the “star” of the show—Numero Uno! By contrast, the Jesus of the cross instructs us to crucify self as we learn to put others first (cf. Matthew 16:24,25; Philippians 2:3). He teaches us to give ourselves away to God and others (Matthew 22:34-40).
Closely related to narcissism, hedonism says that life ought to be lived solely for pleasure. It is personified in the Playboy philosophy of the 1950s and '60s, and is summed up in the motto, “If it feels good, do it.” It fans the flames of pornography and homosexuality as it promotes anything and everything that supposedly gives “pleasure.” It replaces responsible living with a “thrill at any cost” approach to life. It is responsible for the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Those given over to hedonism are addicted to lust and can never be satisfied, and in their attempts to satisfy their insatiable appetites, hedonists frequently become quite promiscuous. This, of course, destroys many marriages and homes. Finally, the pursuit of pleasure at any cost leaves men and women broken, lonely and sad. On the other hand, those who follow God's Word will find happiness and satisfaction in the “one flesh” relationship ordained by God, and will know ultimate contentment in pleasing Christ, not themselves (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Materialism says, “I am what I have” and “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Instead of concentrating on spiritual and eternal things, materialism seeks after those things that can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, and possessed. Everything, and everybody, takes a second seat to materialism—the accumulation of things. As a result, such fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown them in destruction and perdition (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10). In contrast to this, Christianity teaches that we ought to be laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven. In other words, life is an investment, and we can either invest for short-term benefits or long-term gains.
Modern America prides itself in its pluralism. Pluralism is modern culture's belief that there are many different "right ways" to live and believe. It says:Find whatever works for you. If it's Jesus and Christianity, fine. If it's Hinduism, great. Whatever you want to believe is just fine. Find the church of your choice. Dogmatism is out. Absolutes are out. All paths lead to the same God. God wouldn't turn away sincere people.
This then is what pluralism is. In a pluralistic America, even witchcraft and Devil worship are constitutionally protected religions. Many Americans today act like they think the Creator of the universe is somehow limited by the Constitution of the United States. He is not! Jesus emphatically said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Paul unequivocally taught, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Any culture or society totally given over to pluralism has forgotten that there is a Law above the law. Consequently, the United States of America will honor God and be blessed, or it will continue to disobey God and pay the bitter consequences. To even suggest that the events of September 11th might have been a wake-up call for America to repent has been met with the severest of condemnations. But a nation that has permitted the killing of over a million unborn babies a year since 1973, legalizes witchcraft and Devil worship, and promotes and protects alternative lifestyles (viz., homosexuality, lesbianism, et cetera) was due some sort of judgment. If not, it would seem that God owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.
September 11th And Its Effect
So, on September 11th, 2001, the United States of America was a nation that, by and large, had forgotten God. Consumed by the various isms of our now thoroughly secularized society, we were enjoying our wealth, comfort and security. Then, almost in an instant, our comfortable world was shattered. The reality that we were at war was thrust upon us by the shocking images of those two airliners crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and their subsequent and astonishing collapse. It is safe to say that whatever memorial will eventually stand at "ground zero," it will stand as a stark reminder of a day that significantly changed not just America, but the world. How the events set into motion that day will ultimately play out depends on whether we, as a people, are ready to break with the vacation many of us have taken from the vicissitudes of history. The world in which we live is very different from what we have thought. Lulled by our narcissism, hedonism, materialism and pluralism, it has been very difficult for us to believe that there are actually people in the world who do not want us to die peacefully in our sleep. Instead, they want to kill as many of us as they can with fiery and horror-filled deaths. Welcome, my fellow Americans to the very real, and hate-filled, world of Islam—a world of more than one billion Muslims!
It's Not Just Envy
The work ethic most Americans imbibe, an ethic left over from an era when most of our citizens thought Biblically, has made not just American society, but Western societies in general, the most productive the world has ever seen. Some have mistakenly called this the "Protestant Ethic." However, it is no more Protestant than it is Catholic. It is, instead, Biblical, for at issue is a work ethic clearly derived from concepts and principles taught in the Bible. Consequently, it should not seem strange that the resulting prosperity of Western civilization, a prosperity derived from Biblical principles, would fly in the face of Islam, a religion its adherents believe to be the only true religion of the only true God—a God who, although he seems to be an expert at instilling hostility and hatred in his followers, just can't seem to get the hang of prospering His people. For instance, if one were to try and name the Muslim countries today that could genuinely be called developed, or First World, nations, he would discover there aren't any, not even one! Why? Because the formula for the ultimate success of any nation is found in the equation NR + HE x T = P, a Biblical concept that says: natural resources (NR), which are a gift from God (that's Jehovah, not Allah), plus human energy (HR), or work inspired by a Biblical ethic, when multiplied by tools (T), equals prosperity (P). The things that have made America a prosperous nation, perhaps the most prosperous that has ever existed, is to be found in this formula. Islamic nations, which give lip service to the Old Testament and some of the New Testament, do not actually honor the one true God who has revealed Himself in both the Old and New Testaments. Consequently, they have not been blessed by this God with an abundance of natural resources (oil being the one exception). When you couple this with the fact that Muslims do not emulate the work ethic taught in the New Testament, you have the reason Islamic nations are categorized as either "Third World" or "Developing Nations." Necessarily, America's prosperity is a constant vexation to the Muslim World. The West, of which America is the undisputed leader, is free, rich and powerful, an absolute treasure-trove that can easily produce envy and ill-will in those who realize they have not been so "blessed." This, many pundits claim, is the real reason Muslims hate us like they do. However, there is much more to it than just envy, although this is, no doubt, sufficient motivation for some. Even so, for Americans to think that this is the only motivation for Muslims' hate and rage demonstrates an all too smug self-delusion.
The Clash Of Civilizations
Americans, and this is particularly important for New Testament Christians, must learn that it is not just envy that drives Muslims' malice towards us. This would be too easy, even though it satisfies the arrogance of some. The flames of Muslim enmity is fueled by what Samuel Huntington has called "The Clash of Civilizations," for when Muslims speak of the West, they most assuredly mean the "Christian West." It is, therefore, ironic that at the precise moment in time when many in the West pride themselves in the belief that ours is, for all practical purposes, a secular society, most Muslims view secularization itself as a manifestation, specifically, of "Christian decadence." Returning from their holiday from history, many Americans are asking, "Who are these people?" However, this question can't really be answered without asking, "Who are we?" More and more, as this "clash of civilizations" continues, we in the West, particularly America, may once again learn that we are, however ambiguously, exactly who and what they think we are—namely, the Christian West. Although most of you who read this won't like to see "Christian" used as an adjective, I hope you'll come to understand the term is quite descriptive of that which lies at the core of Western civilization
At odds with what it sees as the Christian West is a religion with over 1.3 billion adherents. Many of these people, if they do not hate us, resent us deeply. It was not just a few Palestinian youths who danced with joy upon watching hijacked aircraft crash into the Twin Towers. Throughout the Muslim world, and not only in the Middle East, there were expressions of supreme satisfaction that America was at last getting what they felt it so richly deserved. It is not only the Osama bin Ladens who speak of a world divided into two camps, "the camp of the faithful and the camp of the infidel," or of America as "leading the crusade of the infidels." This is, instead, the fevered language that has been heard almost daily in newspapers and broadcasts, frequently under direct government control, in large parts of the Muslim world. It is, for instance, the language of the main government newspaper in Egypt, a country that the U.S. supports to the tune of three billion dollars per year.
To further illustrate my point, I will tell you that it was with shock, amazement and some apprehensiveness that I sat, post-September 11th, in the living room of a Muslim friend as he seriously reported to me the story that was being widely circulated in Muslim circles that the Israelis were somehow behind the destruction of the World Trade Center. When I asked him to elaborate, he said that Jews who worked in the Twin Towers did not report for work on the morning of September 11th. When I asked him, "How do you know this?," he said, "This is what is being said." I replied, "If what you say is true, then it won't be long before this is discovered and reported all over the world, as freedom of the press is alive and well in America." Which, I might add, is certainly not the case in Muslim countries. He next launched into how "it could not have been Osama bin Laden" who was the one behind this extraordinary and horrendous event. When I asked, "Why?," he said, "Because he has said he didn't do it!" When I pointed out to him that bin Laden was the same man who claimed responsibility for the simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam back in 1998 that killed hundreds and injured thousands, and that it wouldn't surprise me at all that a stone-cold killer would lie to protect his hide, my friend replied, "But that's just my point, he didn't deny bombing those embassies, so why would he lie about the World Trade Center?" "Why?," I said, "Because this time, instead of firing a few cruise missiles at a milk factory in Khartoum, or a few alleged training camps in Afghanistan, the President of the United States had declared war on terrorists, and those who aid them, and that bin Laden and his bunch are, in my opinion, as good as dead." He responded by saying, "One thing I know for sure, bin Laden did not do it!" During our further conversation that evening, and on subsequent occasions, my Muslim friend made it clear to me that although terrorism is bad, and no one should condone such a thing, the chickens were finally coming home to roost in that the U.S. was paying the price for its support of Israel against the Palestinians. On and on I could go, but my point is this: For anyone to think the enmity between Arab and Jew is not deep-seated, or that it is something that started recently is seriously mistaken. It is, in fact, an ancient tradition that goes all the way back to Isaac and Ishmael. Furthermore, the Muslims' hatred of both "Jews and Christians" is also quite ancient. In fact, history is littered with the carnage from these conflicts.
Of course, the memories of religious wars, and the fear of their revival, make some reluctant to emphasize the religious dimension of the contest in which we now find ourselves engaged. Even so, we can no longer deny who and what we are as a people, nor can we any longer gainsay our past. We are, at least in the minds of our enemies, "the Christian West." Allowing ourselves to be seduced by a metaphor, we have helped to create the void that has caused our current secularization. Surrendering to our ancient enemy, and we must not forget who he is, we have even stooped to digging our own collective grave. Consequently, I believe it is absolutely critical for Christians in particular, and society in general, to respond to the God-given imperative that says we must “Let [our] light shine.”
Realizing that some of you may misunderstand my point, I want to make it clear that I am not promoting the activation of Christendom, the universal church, or any other man-made effort to unite Christians under one flag. In fact, I would resist any and all efforts to do so, for all such efforts have resulted in the perversion of the gospel message. On the contrary, mine is not an appeal to any of these things. It is, instead, an appeal to individual Christians, who are, if they are what they are supposed to be, the salt that savors a lost and dying world. For twenty-five years now I have been making a sustained effort to remind Christians that although there will always be a genuine and lasting praxis between church and state, there is, at the same time, no basic conflict between discipleship and political power. The faith of the Christian is more than a private pill to be swallowed; it is, instead, a prescribed regimen that must become a part of every facet of our lives here on earth.
Now, at the start of a new millennium, we have been reminded that secular values and their consequences will continue to permeate our culture and affect Christians, as well as Western civilization. Our faith, our culture, even Western civilization itself is at stake. Those who do not share our worldview, and thinking we are the personification of Christian decadence, have declared war on America. Of course, and once again, this is the terrible irony of it all, the moral decadence of America is not a result of Christianity at all. Instead, it represents a departure from the concept of "One nation under God." So, as America has been weakened and made soft by those isms mentioned above, our enemy thinks we will soon grow weary and either run away or surrender. Will we? It all depends on whether we, as a society, will be willing to acknowledge, once again, that "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34). If we will do this, and there are indications that post-September 11th America may be returning to its religious roots, then we can be sure that God will continue to bless our nation. Why? Because He said He would (Proverbs 14:34).
Ultimately, all who would honor God must understand that the battle, first of all, is for the mind. Therefore, we, the Christian West, will either give ourselves over to a secular way of thinking, aiding and abetting our enemy by digging our own graves, or we will, once again, learn to "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). It is my prayer that churches of Christ will stand up at this critical time in our history and courageously answer the Lord's bidding. So, with this in mind, I want to remind you of the apostle Paul's exhortation in Romans 13:12-14, which says: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
But, It's More Than A Spiritual Battle
But to think the battle before us is purely spiritual is a serious mistake, in that there are millions upon millions of Muslims who hate us and want to kill us in the name of their God. They hate us because they believe the West, now indisputably led by America, has marginalized, exploited, and oppressed them for centuries. They hate us for the cultural decadence that we export and that many of them hate themselves for enjoying. They hate us because we have troops on their sacred soil, and they hate us because we support what they view as the alien State of Israel on their land—land handed down to them by their forefathers for many generations. Intertwined with all the reasons they hate us and want to kill us is the belief that we are the infidel who has for years beyond numbering, in ways beyond numbering and telling, humiliated Allah's chosen people. Their intent is not just to destroy a way of life, they intend to murder us and our children with unmerciful malice. The enmity we see being vented toward us by Muslims every evening on our television screens is not, as some are trying to portray it, some rare "fundamentalist" aberration. It is, instead, something carefully and methodically cultivated every day in mosques, Islamic cultural centers and Muslim living rooms all over the world, including those venues available to over two million Muslims here in our own homeland. Furthermore, the use of "fundamentalist" as a term of general disapprobation only serves to confuse the issue and is a machination used by those who hope to discredit any belief system with which they do not agree. Bin Laden and his ilk are not fundamentalists. Those who study these things urge upon us the distinction between Islam and Islamism, the latter supposedly identifying the militant faith and theocratic aspirations now arrayed against us. So, call them militant Muslims, radical Muslims, monistic Muslims, or even fanatical Muslims, but do not fail to notice this: they call themselves faithful Muslims.
As Americans scurry to learn who these people are, they will come to discover that they are other. Therefore, a welcome consequence of the war in which we now find ourselves engaged may be the collapse of the dogma of multiculturalism that has so dominated academia in recent years. Multiculturalism says that all cultures, except our own, are equal, and that we should celebrate the "otherness" of all the others. Of course, it is a fact that multiculturalism, in most of its forms, actually refuses to let the others be truly other. However, and there must be no mistake about this, Muslims are not "just like us." When it comes to freedom, human rights, and the dignity of the person, their difference is not a diversity to be celebrated; it is, instead, a threat to be opposed. The Muslim terrorists who unmercifully struck us on September 11th, 2001 have now unmistakably underscored their otherness, and with it, the otherness of Islam. Ten years ago in the Atlantic, Bernard Lewis of Princeton, an astute student of Islam, published an article, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," that was extremely farsighted. In that article, he wrote:Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women. It has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives. It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance. It inspired a great civilization in which others besides Muslims lived creative and useful lives and which, by its achievement, enriched the whole world. But Islam, like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that part, though by no means all or even most, of the Muslim world is now going through such a period, and that much, though again not all, of that hatred is directed against us.
In this article, he described the fourteen centuries of history apart from which we cannot begin to understand the present conflict. He ended by saying not all Muslims adorn their faith with hatred of the West:There are others, more tolerant, more open, that helped to inspire the great achievements of Islamic civilization in the past, and we may hope that these other traditions will in time prevail. But before this issue is decided there will be a hard struggle, in which we of the West can do little or nothing. Even the attempt might do harm, for these are issues that Muslims must decide among themselves.
That was ten years ago. Now, a decade later, we do not have the option of doing little or nothing, for we are at war once again by means of a sneak attack. My fellow Christians, pray that our cause will prevail. Pray that those other traditions in Islam will, in time, prevail. And finally, pray that the one outcome does not preclude the other.
"But What Would Jesus Do?"
Realizing I have begun to make an argument justifying "carnal warfare," some will ask, "But what would Jesus do?" or "Can you imagine Jesus flying a stealth bomber or involved in a commando raid?" As a December, 2001 editorial in First Things points out:One might as well ask if you can imagine Jesus driving a bus, editing a magazine, or being a tenured professor in a religious studies department. The question is not what Jesus would do but what he would have us do.
This, I think, is an excellent point. The pacifist, of course, will answer this question one way. Others, including myself, will answer that in obedience to the command to love one's neighbor, the Christian is duty-bound to defend the innocent by engaging in a just war against a murderous aggressor. Although genuine pacifists—and I'm not talking about those who are just plain cowards and don't want to fight—may be intensely sincere, and I can even appreciate this, but they are, in my opinion, monumentally wrong. Although the personal ethic that has us giving way to violence-prone people is not only scriptural, but wise (cf. Matthew 5:39), nonviolent resistance to the aggression American citizens are now facing is a tactic that is utterly implausible and, I believe, totally unscriptural. First, the naive belief that aggression can be effectively resisted if we'll only be nice and understanding to terrorists is not idealistic; it is, instead, just plain dumb! Second, civil government was ordained by God to take life, if necessary, in order to protect its citizens and punish evildoers, and all this consistent with the principles of Justice and Righteousness taught in the Bible (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-14).
I am, by nature, a warrior. Twelve years of military/civilian police work qualify me as such. During those years, I served my country to the best of my ability, and in doing so, I believed I was honoring God and serving my fellow men. I love America and am not ashamed to say that I sing the Star Spangled Banner with all the patriotic devotion I can muster. But whatever patriotism is, it should be clear-eyed. It does not create a straw man to be knocked down. It should not confuse the United States of America with God's Chosen People. And whatever it is, it must never think that the U.S.A. was formed to be a theocracy. Contrary to what some have thought (viz., reconstructionists et al.), the religion of Christ does not provide a blueprint for theocratic government. The Everlasting Kingdom knows no city, county, state, or national boundaries. Therefore, God ordained civil government, not the church, to carry out punishment against evildoers. The Kingdom of God (the church) and the kingdom of men (the civil government as recognized by its citizens and foreign powers) are clearly not the same, but each co-exists on this earthly plane with the other. This is not, as some Christians have wrongly supposed, with one kingdom being good and the other evil; but, both are good, existing for different purposes: one spiritual, the other temporal. Civil government, as identified in Romans 13:1-7, is ordained by God as a mechanical remedy against evil, so as to make life in this physical world somewhat more tolerable. Remove the sword from civil government's hand, as some want to do, and one destroys what God has ordained.
In Romans 13:4, Paul says that civil rulers “beareth not the sword in vain.” Most of the expositors agree that this phrase does not mean only the “symbol of authority, but the actual sword in the hands of the executioner who inflicts the death penalty on criminals” (Lenski, St. Paul's Epistle To The Romans, p. 792). But the instrument of death is not a tool reserved for the executioner alone, it is instead a legitimate mechanism to be used by the police and military. Romans 13:1-7 teaches that the state's authority to inflict death is still ordained of God, is a terror, and, as such, should be feared. That this authority must always be carried out by the state in a way consistent with Righteousness and Justice is an idea that could almost go without saying (cf. II Samuel 23:3; Ezekiel 45:9; Daniel 4:25b-27). Further, the inflicting of death on evildoers must always be carried out in keeping with due process in conjunction with competent, lawfully constituted authority. In others words, such must not be engaged in capriciously or illegally. If civil government inflicts death in such a way as to become a terror to law-abiding citizens, then it would need to be condemned.
In his highly informative book, Christian Ethics in Secular Society, Philip E. Hughes wrote: “The preciousness of human life is evident in the requirement not only that an animal which causes a man's death (and thereby overturns the proper order of creation) should be deprived of life, but also that the man who murders his brother is to be put to death, because in doing so he has despised the image of God with which his being is imprinted and has treated his fellow man as though he were a brute beast whose life can be taken without compunction.” This is, I believe, an accurate exposition of Genesis 9:5-6. Therefore, when the state fails to exercise its power to inflict death, whether in war or domestic law enforcement (including capital punishment), the unique and inviolable character of man is, in effect, denied; the unlawful taking of human life is, then, equivalent to lesser crimes, and the life of man is cheapened; but even more importantly, the Creator is despised and profaned. Governments, then, in order to be pleasing to God, must view the life of every human being as sacrosanct, and protect it with the sword, which represents the ultimate penalty a temporal government may inflict on those who do wrong. A people who would limit this God-given deterrent do so at their own peril.
All who honestly consider the question of civil government's right to inflict death on evildoers must move beyond the purely emotional into the realm of the ideological, for this question really has to do with how we perceive ourselves. The fact that al-Qaeda does not consist of your average run-of-the-mill criminals does not make these international terrorists any less responsible for their crimes. However, because these sycophants are multi-national in scope, and because they, as a parasite state, have received sustenance from various foreign governments, and because there exists no credible international force to see that justice is done, we are now, and for years to come, at war. At such a critical time, I'm thankful we have a President who understands the duty he has to protect law-abiding Americans by inflicting death, when this is necessary, on the enemy/adversary/criminal. In one of his speeches, President George W. Bush said, "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." He went on to say to the international community: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." This is not simply hubris, as some have claimed. It is, instead, the apparent expression of Mr. Bush's determination to do what he has been entrusted to do: namely, to defend the United States of America and its citizens from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. But if, though nonsensical thinking, Americans continue to denude the God-given power of the state to protect its citizens, then I am convinced a pall of darkness will sweep over the West in the name of a pathetically merciless god whose followers have spawned a most ill-contrived and woeful religion. Therefore, it is time for America, and this includes Christians, to take a stand. If not, our enemies are more than willing to consign our way of life to the dustbin of history.
Those who follow Jesus have a God-given responsibility to support government authorities in their God-ordained obligation to protect law-abiding citizens from aggression, both foreign and domestic, even to the point of using deadly force, when necessary. Military force and police power are part of the government's legitimate repertoire. So, instead of making the government's work harder by attempting to prohibit its God-given power to use deadly force, Christians should be willing to uphold the government's righteous hand as it does justice (cf. 1 Peter 2:14; Titus 3:1; Romans 13:1-7). Admittedly, and even understandably, not every Christian is suitable for military or police service. But for a New Testament Christian to look down his nose at fellow Christians who serve their fellow citizens in this fashion is, in my opinion, unthinkably obtuse. I have discussed, argued with, and even been cajoled by, brethren who charge that a Christian cannot, as they like to put it, "kill for his government" without committing sin. I've even known of congregations where some wanted to refuse the Lord's Supper to our men and women in uniform, particularly those serving in our Armed Forces. Understanding, as I do, that a Christian cannot violate his conscience without committing sin, I respect, and will even defend, a Christian's decision to be a "conscientious objector." But I think any such Christian needs to be extremely careful in his or her condemnation of those of us who believe that not only can we use deadly force to protect the innocent, but that, in some cases, we must do so if we are not to be counted as sinners. One such fellow, a preacher of the gospel, made it clear that he was barely tolerating fellows like me, as he said I taught Christians it was "okay" for them to kill for their government when it "commands" them to do so. I assure you that I do not believe, nor have I have ever taught, anything of the sort. I do not believe the responsibilities of citizenship are so easily discerned, as my interlocutor suggests. Furthermore, I do not believe one's citizenship obligations should ever interfere with the Christian's duty to obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 5:29). Thus, I believe there are times when a Christian must refuse to serve his country, and that if he didn't, he would certainly be involving himself in sin. In other words, the state does not possess ultimate authority. Instead, it possesses only delegated authority (cf. John 19:11), and any state that doesn't recognize this is idolatrous.
No Place For Unrestrained Patriotism
Consequently, whatever patriotism is, it cannot—indeed, it must not—automatically exempt itself from the charge that "in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin" (Psalm 36:2, NIV). Whatever it is, patriotism should not imprudently suppose that by invoking the name of God in slogans it will tether the Almighty to its cause any more successfully than rebellious Israel did when Eli's sons took the ark of the covenant out of mothballs and propped it like a talisman before the armies marching against the Philistines (cf. 1 Samuel 4). True patriotism does not permit itself to be manipulated by media mantras into a pumped-up frenzy that drowns out all other voices—particularly the voice of Jesus, who said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." To the state, then, obedient servants present their bodies and wills for the national defense; to God, a "contrite and humble spirit" (Isaiah 57:15). As a result, there need be no contradiction, no conflict of interest. So, like Daniel, who knew how to "seek the peace of the city" to which God had carried him into exile (Jeremiah 29:7a), but who, along with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, would not bow to its "image of gold" (Daniel 3), the New Testament Christian needs to reflect the godly patriotism the Lord enjoins for His priesthood of spiritual pilgrims who, in every age, sojourn in Babylon while "longing for a better country" (Hebrews 11:16, NIV). "Pray," He says, "to the Lord for [your country]; for in its peace you will have peace" (Jeremiah 29:7b). But at the same time, He says: "Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them" (Jeremiah 29:8-9, NASB).
Who then are the true patriots? Is it the ones who proclaim to a rebellious king, "Go up, for the Lord will deliver [Ramoth Gilead] into the hand of the king" (1 Kings 22:6)? Or is it to be found in the penetrating words of a man like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who in his 1978 Harvard commencement address, warned of "defects in the Western view of the world" and "the bill which former colonies will present to the West," and as a result, was promptly and roundly booed for his trouble? I, for one, do not believe the only choice of action for the thinking Christian is to be found in the tweedledee and tweedledum of mindless, hysterical hawkishness, or half-baked, limpish pacifism. Instead, there ought to be a loyalty to one's country based on truth, not lies, and a manly, unflinching patriotism that is based on reality and not popular fiction. For example, all the victims of September 11th were not heroes, as they are now being called. And at the same time, those willing to do what the al-Qaeda terrorists did on September 11th are not cowards, as our President has called them. You can call them hateful, and you can certainly call them evil, but don't ask me to subvert the English language by calling them cowards. Islamic warriors are not, nor have they ever been known to be, cowards. The 72 black-eyed virgins that are believed to be waiting to serve their every need in Paradise do not produce limp-wristed cowards. As bin Laden has declared, "We are steadfast on the path of jihad." Of those jihadis (Islamic radicals) he sent into battle on September 11th, he said, "We hope that they are the first martyrs in Islam’s battle in this era against the new crusade and Jewish campaign led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross." In the coda of his now famous speech to the American people, the President said:The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war. And we know that God is not neutral between them. We will meet violence with patient justice, assured of the rightness of our cause and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom and may He watch over the United States of America.
At the inception of this country, Americans declared "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them [to action]." Once again, at a serious time of testing, we have thought it necessary to declare the causes of our actions, and our response to this declaration reveals those who do, and those who do not, have just a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, but a decent respect for mankind, as well. Consequently, our determined resistance to a parasitic state bent upon the mass murder of innocent citizens seems, to me, to be the minimal expression of what true decency is all about.
Although a determined (some would say, "feisty") George W. Bush is not known for being the most eloquent of speakers, his speech to the American people on that occasion was, undoubtedly and up to that time, the best of his life and clearly articulated not the hubris that arrogantly identifies our purposes with the purposes of God, as some have wrongly accused him, but the humility that submits our cause in prayer to a higher authority—the Law above the law, if you will. Those who think otherwise must make a case that between freedom and fear, between justice and cruelty, God is, in fact, neutral.
So, at this time of grave testing, I am encouraged that Americans have once again given national display to the idea that we are "one nation under God"—an idea that says we are under God's protection as well as His judgment. Again, this does not have to be, nor do I think it is, national hubris. Instead, it appears to reflect a belief that we are under God's protection, which is faith, coupled with an awareness that we are under His judgment as well, which is humility. This right relationship with the Creator of the universe is not sustained by the fact that we are, as Americans, the most powerful country on the face of the earth, but by the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man (i.e., that "He has made of one blood every nation of men to dwell on the earth," and that it is "in Him that we live and move and have our being" [Acts 17:26a,28a]).
"For God And Country"
Therefore, understanding, as they should, the Lord's instruction to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's (Matthew 22:21), the thoughtful Christian realizes the motto "For God and country" can, and too frequently does, demonstrate nothing more than one's idolatrous allegiance to the state. Nevertheless, the Christian acts with the prayer that it represents nothing less than a convergence of the citizen's God-given duties. In their hearts and minds, all Christians, regardless of their nationality, realize that the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is not, nor could He ever be, neutral when it comes to this, or any, war on the evil of terrorism. Consequently, although the unrestrained passions of patriotism seem to always be idolatrous, and although it is also true that patriotism can be, and all too frequently is, the last refuge of a scoundrel, the scorn and disdain many "super Christians" (gnostics might be a better word) display for patriotism becomes, it seems, a make-believe sanctuary that permits them, in their presumed superiority to the particulars of time, place and people, to evade their God-given duty to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (cf. Micah 6:8).
I believe a Christian soldier or policeman who uses just force, even when that force is necessarily deadly, is acting in a way consistent with God's will and is, in truth, following the teachings of Christ. If not, then the concept of civil government being "God's minister to you for good" must be eliminated from the New Testament (cf. Romans 13:4). Furthermore, the Biblically shallow idea that the founder of Christianity rejected all use of force, when coupled with the question, "But what would Jesus do?," has lead many to think New Testament Christianity is ambivalent when it comes to fighting wars, even when such wars are undertaken in what would otherwise be seen as a just cause. This is simply not true. First of all, Jesus did not reject all use of force. On several occasions He effectively and forcefully drove the moneychangers and their animals from the Temple (cf. John 2:13-17; Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-16; Luke 19:45-47). Therefore, it is a mystery to me how otherwise knowledgable students of the Word could read these accounts and think that Jesus rejected all use of force. In this regard, I recall a conversation I had with a gospel preacher years ago before I started preaching. At the time, I was a detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Tampa, Florida, and I remember the issue of a Christian being a policeman or serving in the military was a frequently discussed issue between us. He contended that the non-violent Jesus only used the "scourge of cords" (ASV) to drive out the animals from the Temple. I've spoken and read behind others Christians who believe the same thing. My point, however, is that one might as well believe that baptism has nothing to do with salvation, as to think that Jesus drove out only the animals with His hastily fashioned "whip of cords" (NJKV). In connection with this, the account in Mark 11:16 says that Jesus would not allow "anyone to carry wares through the temple." How are we to think He did this, by giving them all "warm fuzzies"?
Secondly, it is frequently overlooked that Jesus instructed those He would be sending into the world to preach His gospel to purchase swords for themselves (Luke 22:36). Are we to suppose they were to do this for decoration only? The world the Lord was sending His disciples into was, and remains, a dangerous place, and He wanted them to know that He was authorizing them to defend themselves, when necessary, from its evils. I also think it should not be forgotten that when soldiers coming to be baptized of John the Baptist asked, "And we, what must we do?," they were told, "Extort from no man by violence, neither accuse any one wrongfully; and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14, ASV). John did not tell them they couldn't be soldiers, only that they could not use their position for unrighteousness. How is this different from the role of government mentioned by Paul in Romans 13:1-7?
Influenced by liberals and humanists, whose voices form the background noise of our secularized society, many of our citizens think of war as brutal, stupid and totally irresponsible. War, they believe, is inherently ignoble, unworthy of human nature, and out of step with modern mores and the ever advancing think-sos of history. This view of war is all around us. Even when forced by horrendous circumstances to admit that war is sometimes necessary, these folks will continue to think of it as something inherently evil, tainting everything it touches with vileness. It is unfortunate that many Christians have come basically to these same conclusions, albeit for a sometimes different reason. As stated previously, many Christians who wrongly think their religion lifts them above time, place and people, think the use of force is condemned by Jesus' humble and meek life, and is, therefore, always wrong. The police-military power of the state is "necessary" to protect law-abiding citizens and save the lives of victims of injustice, but all such "dirty hands" tasks should be carried out by sinners, not Christians. According to this élitist view, there does not exist a government act involving the use of coercive, violent or deadly force that does not demand repentance. Sin, these argue, is committed when we use force, even when this force is implemented for the use of just ends.
In addition to arguing from the example of Jesus' life here on earth, which, as I've already pointed out, fails to take into account several occasions where the Lord used force, and failing to take into account the understanding that Jesus did not come into this world primarily to be a perfect example of citizenship, although there is no doubt in my mind that He was, anti-force proponents seem to forget that His primary purpose was to become the perfect sacrifice for sin. As a result, there were many otherwise legitimate things He had to forego. He was not, for instance, a husband, father, politician, civil servant, soldier, or anything else He could have rendered faithful service to God in doing. Instead, He was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, the sacrificial Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). As such, He made it clear that His task was unique (cf. John 5:30). So, although we cannot picture Jesus, whose unique work was grounded in the priestly role of reconciliation and intercession, as a soldier or policeman, it ought not to be so hard for a Christian to understand how a soldier or policeman who is primarily motivated by charity—and I'm talking about the love of God and neighbor here—would be conscience driven to do all he could to restrain evil in his efforts to see justice done. Nevertheless, to many Christians, this strikes a discordant note. "How," they ask, "can force, deadly or otherwise, be loving?" In short, it can't unless it seeks to mimic God's use of force. This means, among other things, that the just use of force can never involve intrinsic evil (i.e., it cannot involve the intentional killing of innocent people, for instance). Force is charity, then, when it seeks to resemble God's use of force.
The Scriptures seem clear in teaching that God desires to restrain evil among His creatures, and that this is, as we've already seen, the primary purpose for God-ordained government. It seems to be just as clear that in using human beings to restrain evil, God elevates the restrainers to ministers-of-God-for-good status (cf. Romans 13:4,6; 1 Peter 2:14). With this in mind, it is interesting to note what God said through His prophet in Isaiah 5:20-21:Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
So, when one argues that it is wrong (viz., that it is "evil") for a Christian to serve as "God's minister to you for good," why should he not see himself under the condemnation of calling good evil, and evil good? What's more, in Jesus' condemnation of those who were willing, as a result of their misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture, to condemn the guiltless, He said, "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Matthew 12:7). When Jesus' disciples acted as they did, they acted consistent with the principle of mercy taught in His Word. Therefore, they did not break God's law, as they were being wrongly accused of doing by a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites. If these encounters sound like harsh and bitter confrontations, be assured they were. Jesus was not being "nice," as most people then and now count niceness. Instead, He was confrontational and deadly serious about what He was saying, for He addressed an issue that would ultimately determine where human beings created in the image of God would spend an eternity. The Lord advanced this same theme in Matthew 23:23-24, where He said:Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
As the concepts of mercy, justice and faith were very important ideas to Jesus, it would behoove every Christian to spend some time contemplating these "weightier matter of the law."
The Weightier Matters
One can be sure that the kind of faith Jesus was talking about in the passage mentioned above is not mere mental assent. It is, instead, the saving faith manifested by works (cf. James 2:14-26)—works, I might add, of mercy and justice. James, in answering the question of whether or not a man can be saved by faith alone, said:If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:15-18).
Suppose, then, that a little old lady walking to the market is attacked by thugs who have knocked her to the ground in an effort to steal her purse. Suppose that because that purse contains all the money she has, and because it's just enough to get her through another week, she refuses to let go of it. In other words, she is resisting their assault with all the strength she can muster. Suppose, in their efforts to make her let go of the purse, one of the thugs begins to kick her in the side, while another tries to break her arm in his effort to make her let go. Now, suppose you are a witness to this whole thing. Do you mean to tell me that the principles of mercy and justice require you to do nothing more than yell for someone who is a sinner anyway to come and stop these vicious criminals? What kind of faith is this? And what kind of pathetic religion is this that makes this old lady a sinner for resisting her attackers and, in the end, needs sinners (viz., the unrighteous) to be called in order to do what is right? Those who practice such a creed, and who, in turn, look down their noses at those of us they call "carnal Christians," must be identified with the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day who, although they claimed élitist positions in their service to God, had neglected the weightier matters of the law.
But How About The Injunction Against Returning Evil For Evil?
Yes, the Bible does talk about not returning evil for evil (Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9), but unless one's conscience condemns him (cf. Romans 14:23), it is never evil to do what is right. In fact, the Bible says, "He who practices righteousness is righteous" (1 John 3:7). So, even though sentiment has now evolved to the point that many believe it is wrong (i.e., evil) to inflict corporal punishment, even on one's own children, and even though this sentiment is now being enforced by law in some places, God caused it to be recorded long ago that "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Proverbs 13:24, see also 19:18). The Bible makes it clear that even God provides such chastening to His own children (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 12:5-11; Revelation 3:19). Consequently, when a child does wrong and is properly punished for it, such is not an evil to be eradicated, but a virtue to be upheld. Along these same lines, when policemen and soldiers put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and protect them from evil, they are involved in the highest form of love the Bible talks about—the self-sacrificing love that is willing, if necessary, to lay its life down for another (cf. Romans 5:6-10). This remains true even when such love includes the legitimate and deadly use of force. Therefore, the scriptural prohibition against returning evil for evil has nothing to do with the legitimate, lawful and righteous utilization of force, for "Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:23b)—never has been, and never will be!
But How About Jesus' Instruction To Turn The Other Cheek?
Yes, when giving instructions regarding personal ethics, Jesus talked about turning the other cheek, and when He did, He did so in the context of not resisting an evil person, nor invoking the "eye for eye and tooth for tooth" mandate of the Mosaical law (cf. Matthew 5:38-39; Exodus 21:24). Therefore, it ought to be absolutely clear that He was not addressing His remarks to civil authorities, who were authorized by Him to do so. Instead, He was addressing the common man and was, therefore, dealing only with personal ethics. Many have thought the ethics taught by Jesus here in these verses, although laudable, are not obtainable in a fallen world. Consequently, they have believed them to be something destined for implementation in a yet future millennial kingdom. This is a mistake. Jesus' instructions here are the most practical ever given to man. The individual who understands and implements this personal set of ethics will learn to cultivate the kind of life God created mankind to live from the very beginning.
Consequently, there was nothing wrong with the lex talionis (viz., the law of like for like) principle taught in the law of Moses. In fact, it was, and still is, the model par excellence for earthly justice. However, such was not created as a personal set of ethics. It was, instead, created as a judicial remedy against personal vengeance, which is something that very seldom manifests the weightier matters of the law, that is, things like mercy, justice and faith. Nevertheless, if all mankind were to live according to the principles articulated in the Sermon on the Mount, there would be no need for the mechanical remedies provided by civil authorities. But because mankind is fallen, Romans 13 governments, which are governments ordained by God, function as God-given ministers of Justice and Righteousness. Government authorities, even when they fail to realize it, and whether they like it or not, are subject to Christ's Law above the law and will answer to His "rod of iron" if their policies are contrary to His principles. Finally, the degree to which a government finds this offensive is a good indicator of just how far down the path towards a Revelation 13 government, which is a government ordained by Satan, it has travelled.
Justice And Righteousness
Unfortunately, our post-modern culture has clearly lost its way. Nevertheless, this same culture can frequently be heard clamoring for Justice. But, post-modernism has summarily rejected the absolute standard of Righteousness taught in the Bible—a standard that is necessary if acts of Justice are to be consistently carried out. Consequently, as our nation continues down paganism's slippery slope, everything that was once thought to be morally right will be questioned and ultimately rejected. Without national repentance, Divine judgment will eventually result (Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32; Amos 1-2, et cetera). Make no mistake about it, the Bible makes it clear that God's adversaries, when the time is right (cf. Genesis 15:16), will meet the fire of His wrath. Why? Because they have seen fit to neglect His absolute standard of Righteousness (Psalm 97:1-9). In other words, "Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).
I am not a prophet, nor the son of one, for that matter. Therefore, it is not possible for me to know just where our nation is on that path between a Romans 13 government and a Revelation 13 government. Even though we have been cut off from our Biblical roots by the isms mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is still much that is good about America. Because of this, our nation continues to be blessed by God. So, even though we are a cut-flower generation, there remains enough residual Justice and Righteousness in our nation to motivate God's continued blessings upon it. There are more New Testament Christians in America than any place else in the world, and these, I am convinced, function as the salt that continues to preserve this nation (cf. Matthew 5:13). Therefore, the righteous acts of Christians are not only important to the salvation of Christians themselves, but to the preservation of our nation, as well. If our government, God forbid, ever becomes a full-fledged Revelation 13 government, openly and deliberately persecuting God's people, it will go down to the pit, as did the Roman Empire. Any nation that messes with God's people, makes itself an enemy of God. Nevertheless, and in the meantime, the godly salt of faithful Christians continues to preserve our great nation.
But here is a most sobering thought, what happens when this salt loses its savor? It is, as Jesus said, good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men (Matthew 5:13). So, when a Christian, who the Bible says has been created in Christ Jesus for good works (cf. Ephesians 2:10), is not living a godly life (i.e., is not doing Justice and Righteousness), he can no longer save himself from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40), nor can he act so as to preserve this nation from God's righteous indignation. Consequently, we should pray for, and seek to become, salty Christians who understand that although our Lord has returned to heaven, we are called upon to faithfully serve the time, place and people of a lost and dying world until that glorious day when, having been found faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10), we'll hear that One to whom we're betrothed say, "Simper Fi, My love!"
Simper Fidelis, Or "Always Faithful"
Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann, a United States Marine and paramilitary officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, Special Activities Division, was the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan. He was shot and killed on November 25, 2001, in a prison uprising by captured Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives at the Kala Jangi fortress in the Northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif. He was from the small town of Winfield, Alabama, about halfway between Birmingham and Tupelo, Mississippi. He was a Criminal Justice graduate from Auburn University. He was also a New Testament Christian.
At his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, where he received full military honors, his wife, Shannon, in her final goodbye to his flag-draped coffin, said "Simper Fi, my love." Simper fi, which is short for simper fidelis, the Marine Corps motto, means "always faithful." Whether he was in all things faithful is a decision best left to the One who knows all things perfectly and is, therefore, incapable of making an error in judgment. But, it bodes well for Mike Spann that the wife to whom he had sworn his love believed him to be simper fi, and that the grateful country he served thought him to be faithful to the last ounce of devotion. These serve as beacons of hope that this Christian soldier faithfully fulfilled his "whole duty" to the Lord God Almighty, the Ruler of all that is (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13). At Spann's burial service, the preacher said:Mike Spann was the kind of man we dream of growing up to be when we are boys - tough, kind, strong, fair, fully committed to God, to family, to country. He was a warrior in the highest, best sense of that word. So like David—Courageous and prepared because his highest aim was to please God, protect his family, and preserve his nation.
George J. Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, said in his remarks:Here today, in American soil, we lay to lasting rest an American hero. United in loss and in sorrow, we are united, as well, in our reverence for the timeless virtues upon which Mike Spann shaped his life—virtues for which he ultimately gave his life.
Dignity. Decency. Bravery. Liberty.
From his earliest days, Mike not only knew what was right, he worked to do what was right. At home and school in Alabama. As a United States Marine. As an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. And as the head of his own, young family.
And it was in the quest for right that Mike at his country’s call went to Afghanistan. To that place of danger and terror, he sought to bring justice and freedom. And to our nation—which he held so close to his heart—he sought to bring a still greater measure of strength and security.
For Mike understood that it is not enough simply to dream of a better, safer world. He understood that it has to be built—with passion and dedication, in the face of obstacles, in the face of evil.
Those who took him from us will be neither deeply mourned nor long remembered. But Mike Spann will be forever part of the treasured legacy of free peoples everywhere—as we each owe him an immense, unpayable debt of honor and gratitude.
His example is our inspiration. His sacrifice is our strength.
For the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency, he remains the rigorous and resolute colleague. The professional who took great pride in his difficult and demanding work. The patriot who knew that information saves lives, and that its collection is a risk worth taking.
May God bless Mike Spann—an American of courage— and may God bless those who love and miss him, and all who carry on the noble work that he began.
I think these are fitting tributes to a fallen warrior, but thinking about Mike Spann and those like him, I feel compelled to ask the questions listed in the subtitle below.
But Who Are These People, And From Whence Do They Come?
In The Letter to Diognetus, which is believed to have been written in A.D. 130, an individual by the name of Mathetes undertook to explain to a pagan reader the way it is with these strange people called Christians. He said, in part:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.
For almost two millennia, these "alien citizens," still far from their New Jerusalem home, have followed a course of action they believe prescribed in the Bible—a course that compels fidelity to the well-being of their homeland in time before the end of time. The so-called "just war" doctrine has emerged as one product of this attempted fidelity. The doctrine, articulated by the many different classes of men who have claimed to be Christian, teaches that just war, although occasioned by evil, is not, in and of itself, evil; nor is it, as is commonly held today, a necessary evil. On the contrary, if just, war is a positive duty, the doing of which, even though it frequently involves much suffering, is to be counted as a good. What, then, is the just war doctrine?
The Just War Doctrine
My intent here is not to engage in a long soliloquy on the just war doctrine, which is perhaps best left for the theologians. However, I would like to mention the basic components or categories that all just war advocates agree must pertain if war is to be considered just. The first of these has to do with the reasons that justify going to war. The second with how a just war is to be conducted.
In order to be just, a war must be defensive. As such, its aim is to protect the innocent from unjust aggression. Further, it must be undertaken with the right intention, which is to restore a just peace. When such a war is decided upon, it must be with an understanding that the means used will be proportionate to the ends sought. In addition, just war is always a last resort, engaged in only when it has been reasonably determined that there are no viable alternatives for resolving the conflict. Finally, to meet a just war criteria, there must be a reasonable probability of success in achieving the aims of the war. This very briefly describes the criteria that must be present before one can engage in a just war.
The second category, which has to do with "the how" (or conduct) of a just war is quite distinct, and must be kept so. The various nuances of this category can be many, but the criteria are essentially two: proportionality and discrimination. The first has to do with using only the force necessary to effect the desired results. In other words, to vindicate a just cause, no more force than is necessary can be used. Consequently, the disproportionate use of force is not only inappropriate, but it is wrong ("evil," if you will) and punishable by law. The second, called "noncombatant immunity," has to do with the idea that there must be no intentional killing of innocent civilians. In modern parlance, this has come to be called "collateral damage," a term I'm not all that pleased with, as it can detract from the fact that innocent civilians have been killed. However, in defense of the term, it must be pointed out that those using it are doing so to make it clear that they have not purposefully targeted innocent civilians, which is the exact opposite of what the September 11th attacks did.
The Current War Against jihadi Terrorism Is Just
Because it meets all the criteria of the just war I've mentioned above, and because our government has the right authority, a just cause and the right intention, I believe the present war against Muslim jihadis, and those who support them, is not just right, but obligatory. Therefore, for me to fail to lend my support to its efforts would be a failure of virtue—that is, a failure to act consistently with the principles of Righteousness and Justice taught in God's Word. Conjointly, if I were to fail to willingly and knowingly engage in this just war, I would be doing a vicious, vicious thing, in that I would be failing to show charity (love) toward my neighbor and, thus, toward God. As charity forms the foundation for the "good works" I believe I was "created in Christ Jesus" to do (Ephesians 2:10), I pray I will be willing, like the many before me, to lay down my life, when necessary, for others. If this isn't "pure and undefiled religion before God" (James 1:27), then I don't know that anything else could be.
On December 6th, 2001, at a memorial service for Mike Spann held in the meeting house of the Winfield, Alabama church of Christ, his father read the last e-mail he received from his son. In it, Mike Spann said, "What everyone needs to understand is these fellows hate you—that's right, they hate you, because you are an American." He went on to urge his family to write their congressmen to show their support for the war against terrorism. "Support your government and your military," he wrote, "especially when the bodies start coming home." Alison Spann, age 9, a small girl with a brown ponytail and a red blouse, stood quietly beside her grandfather as he read the last letter she had written to her father, the one she wants placed in his casket. It said: "Dear Daddy, I will miss you dearly. Thank you, Daddy, for making the world a better place."
Mike Spann gave his life to make the world a better place. Before this war is over, many others will, undoubtedly, do the same thing. Unlike Spann, they won't all be Christians, by a long shot. Even so, they will mimic the love of One who came to this earth 2000 years ago to lay down His life for those He loved. And, if a lost and dying world can so unselfishly imitate the love of God in the flesh, can the Christian fail to do so and still be pleasing to his Lord?
A Likely Scenario
Back in 1967, the nation of Israel's amazing rout of Arab armies stemmed the tide of pan-Arab nationalism. Will our astonishing victory in Afghanistan effectively attenuate militant Islamism? Only God knows for sure, but time will tell. Many jihadis fear it may. They believe Osama bin Laden's attack on America could jeopardize their effort to overthrow what they call "corrupt" and "heretical" Arab regimes. Consequently there is already dissent between the nationalists, on one side, who have waged local and regional jihads, often with considerable atrocity, against third-world regimes, and the globalists, on the other side, led by bin Laden, who want to take on the world. At issue in this dissent is not their aim, as all jihadis believe that one day the whole world will be Muslim, but the timing. It was a bin Laden mistake, say some who fought along side of him, that he declared war on the United States now when it is at the peak of its military power.
The disagreement dates back at least to 1987, when Osama bin Laden, then a young acolyte in the Muslim Brotherhood announced his "vision" of a Muslim super-state. After all, Muhammad had defeated the two great empires of his day, Persia and Byzantium. Bin Laden had helped to topple the Russians in Afghanistan, and now only America, "the head of the snake," remained. His dream was to rein in those fighting civil wars in the Arab world, arguing that jihad should only be waged against non-Muslims, or "infidels," if you will.
Well, the globalists seemed to have won this war of ideologies. Their victory was perhaps best symbolized by the marriage of bin Laden's son to the daughter of Muhammad Ataf, deputy to Ayman a-Zawahari, the leader of Egyptian Jihad. As the global movement expanded its operations in Kashmir, Chechnya and Bosnia, more and more Muslims became excited about the inevitable universal triumph of Islam. As a result, dissenters held their tongues, or drifted away. However, this is no longer the case. Since the debacle in Afghanistan, global jihadis have slipped away—because they are dead, in hiding, or locked away at Guantanamo, Cuba. Consequently, local radicals are raising their voices once again. As they do so, they face Arab regimes more repressive than ever, as a galvanized West has given the green light to Arab regimes to repress their radicals by all means possible. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a global crackdown on the Islamists who are his most effective opposition, has said, "Those who carry out terrorist acts have no claims to human rights." Consequently, 20,000 people are now detained in Egypt without trial.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Middle Eastern police states have considered themselves to be palisades against the militant Islamic tide. Although we in the West used to argue, although never too vociferously, that the systematic repression and autocracy of these regimes served to feed Islamic unrest, we no longer are doing so. Since September 11th, Western countries, heretofore havens for Arab Islamists--and this was so bad that London was even being called "Londonistan"--have started rounding up their Islamist exiles. Across Europe and even in America, new laws have been introduced to intern foreigners. Arab regimes are rapturous that the West is finally learning their language. According to Atif Obeid, Egypt's Prime Minister, we Americans must design our fight against terrorism on their model. On a visit to Syria in mid-January, members of our Congress were even treated to a lecture on how to fight terrorism by Bashar Assad, president of a state which, according to our own State Department, is a sponsor of terrorism.
But even before September 11th, the State Department had already started to rein in its democracy programs in the Arab world. Tunisia, if you can believe it, was characterized by our government as a "stable democratic country." Ironically, our promotion of democracy in that country was limited to nothing more than some money to train army officers. At the moment, the Bush administration has exerted little or no pressure on Israel over its violations of civil rights in the occupied territories. At one time, we even praised al-Jazeera, the satellite T.V. station that transmits from Qatar in the Middle East, and even defended it from its distractors in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt who were trying to muzzle it. However, in his visit to the White House last October, the emir of Qatar was asked to stop its broadcasting of bin Laden's tapes. So much for freedom of the press.
Additionally, it ought not to surprise anyone that, so far, all the suspects on the "terrorist lists" being provided to American officials by these muslim countries are waging, in most cases, local, not global, battles. This means that, at least for the moment, no Arab country will face penalties as it increases its repression against homegrown opposition. Nor will they have to contend with lectures from us on the evils of summary tribunals or detention without trial. After all, we and Britian are now doing practically the same thing.
Here's my question then: Even if we and others feel justified in trampling on civil liberties in the name of homeland security, and many seem to believe this is the right course of action, will suppression work? Arab countries like to think it's already working. For instance, the last attack on tourists in Egypt took place five years ago. Life has even returned to normal in the big cities of Algeria. Even so, the battle is far from over. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have not defeated their jihadis, but have exiled them to the periphery of the Muslim world. Ousted from one country, they have quickly reappeared in another. When they were ejected from Pakistan at the end of the Afghanistan jihad in 1992, the mujahideen resurfaced in Sudan and places in the West. Then, forced from Sudan in the mid-1990s, they regrouped in Yemen and then went back to Afghanistan. So, we took a long way around to end up, once again, at the beginning.
Confronted with a global crackdown for the first time in the modern era, the jihadi movement is likely to lay low for a while. But the current silence does not mean defeat. For sure, it is only temporary. Even as I write this in the first week of February, 2002, the war in Afghanistan is not yet over. Bin Laden and some of his close associates may have outwitted the Americans hunting them, or they may be dead. Many of the al-Qaeda foot-soldiers have donned civilian clothes and been absorbed into the pathetically abysmal existence of so many in that part of the world.
But for all the Islamic misgivings about his timing, Osama bin Laden succeeded in recapturing the imagination of the so-called "Arab street." For years now, observers had written off political Islam as a spent force lacking the wherewithal to run a state, or the organizational skills to mount an effective challenge to the West—make that, if you recall, the Judeo-Christian West. The ability of al-Qaeda to strike at the heart of America with such amazing effect has confounded the doubters and thrilled the faithful.
To many Muslims, America's current pounding of Afghanistan, and of Iraq more than a decade ago, coupled with our seemingly unwavering and sympathetic support of Israel's pounding of the Palestinians, have made us Islam's number one enemy, and the basic cause of most, if not all, the Arab world's ills. In Mosques and prayer halls from Java to London, and from Kenya to Cleveland, Muslims recite the Qunut, an additional raka'a (or prostration) added during times of calamity, accompanied by the words, "May God destroy America." So, as the Islamic world stands ready for some great new thing in its unrelenting struggle to make the world Muslim, the question for jihadis is how to exploit their new-found appeal.
Since its founding in the early 1970s, the current movement has been a clandestine assortment of cells that plotted in secret to launch its coups d'état. Now, they are rethinking their strategy. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, some jihadis envisioned a popular Islamic revolt on the Iranian model, probably in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. However, they have come to realize they need a plan for the much longer term. Consequently, they are now considering taking a leaf from the pages of the Palestinian Islamic movement. This movement has not only won Arab plaudits for attacking the "Israeli occupiers," but they have also been successful in undermining Yasser Arafat for his attempts to be what they think is Israel's proxy policeman. So, the groups involved in the Palestinian intifada have raised the possibility of a militant Islamic alternative. After all, the same strategy—attacking the colonial occupier—can probably be applied to our country's ever increasing presence in the Muslim world. There are, in fact, precedents for its success. Islamic groups ran us out of Lebanon in 1982 and Somalia ten years later. Additionally, many Muslims already subscribe to bin Laden's contention that 5,000 American troops in Saudi Arabia, along with the 3,500 in Kuwait, are occupying the Arabian peninsula's holy land. In the coming months, this belief will spread as, from Bulgaria to Tajikistan, we set up 13 new military bases, with 60,000 troops, in nine Muslim countries. Muftis (or experts on Islamic law) could pave the way by issuing fatwas (verdicts, or legal opinions) declaring Americans "legitimate targets," just as Iranian clerics did against Salman Rushdie in the infamous Satanic Verses affair. Imams (or preachers) could then remind the faithful every Friday night of the heinous crimes and grievous sins of "the Great Satan," America, whose citizens, military or civilian, are "legitimate targets" to be slaughtered, deserving, as one well-informed interpreter has said, to "suffer and swelter in the hot blasts, foul smoke and molten metal of hell." Finally, jihadi exiles from the West could further fan the flames of their holy war, as they did when they returned home after winning the jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan.
This strategy has a twofold attraction for jihadis. First, it will permit them to be fighting Americans on our home turf. Second, it will allow them to shake, and possibly topple, Arab regimes that depend on American or Western backing to stay in power. The more these regimes engage in repression, the more this will work to the jihadis' advantage. Arab regimes will be depicted increasingly as "client states," and the American image will be tarnished for upholding them. As a result, political Islam will most assuredly gain a new generation of martyrs.
As my Muslim friends, most of whom are rather well off financially, continue to remind me, radical Islamists are, by and large, made up of the poorest and most ignorant in Islam. Pakistanis and Afghans frequently receive the brunt of this kind of talk. But as much as I like my Muslim friends, they have gotten it wrong once again. The hijackers who flew into the World Trade Center were Western-educated. Fifteen, out of 19, came from the Arab world's riches state, Saudi Arabia. Two of Gaza's suicide-bombers have been sons of millionaires. The vast majority of Arabs who fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Russians were high school or college graduates, and their leaders were of Sunni aristocracy. Osama bin Laden came from the richest non-royal family in Saudi Arabia. Ayman al-Zawahari, the leader of Egyptian Jihad and bin Laden's cohort, is a doctor who was born into a landowning family. The movement continues to attract some of the Arab world's richest and most privileged. This is, therefore, no peasant's revolt. As more and more money flows into jihadi coffers, radical Islamists will be in a better position to obtain weapons of mass destruction. This includes chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the use of which, the experts tell us, is only a matter of time and opportunity.
The "Axis Of Evil"
From the very beginning of this conflict, President Bush has said the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam. In one sense, he is absolutely correct. In America, as other places in the West, there is freedom of religion. Therefore, the war in which we are now engaged is not about suppressing or prohibiting the practice of anyone's religion, be it Islam or any other. From our perspective, this war is about the rule of law and basic human liberties. Consequently, the conflict is about suppressing and prohibiting terrorism, not religion. Mr. Bush has further made it clear that the Muslims in our midst are not to be held personally responsible for what happened on September 11th. And this is exactly the right thing to say, even though it is not the whole truth. His strategy, of course, is to split off the jihadis from the great majority of Muslims in the world. As Islam is not nearly the monolithic religion that many of us in the West have believed it to be, in that there are about 150 different sects of Islam at the present time, this is exactly the right thing to attempt, even though it may not be very successful.
On the other hand, it is the religious character of Islam itself that presents the problem. Although Allah is said to be Ar-Rahman (the Merciful) and Ar-Rahim (the Compassionate), his love is rarely mentioned in the Qur'an, and even then means nothing more than his actions in giving laws and warnings to men. After studying and observing Islam for many years, one expert came to the conclusion that "The chief lack in the Islamic doctrine of God is the lack of love," and added, "No orthodox Muslim could say, 'God is love'" (William A. Miller, A Christian's Response to Islam, page 72).
From its inception, Islam has been committed to jihad. The duty of Muslims is to subjugate or destroy “infidels”—the term the Qur'an uses for all non-believers. From their viewpoint, the world is divided into two regions—those areas controlled by Islam, called Dar al-Islam (meaning the House of Islam) and those called Dar al-Harb (the House of War). The Koran commands Muslims to fight non-Muslims until they exterminate all other religions, leaving Islam as the one and only religion in the world (cf. Suras 2:193 and 8:39). Muhammad is quoted in the Ahãdith, a collection of sacred Islamic traditions, as saying, “I have been ordered to fight with the people until they say, none has the right to be worshiped but Allah” (Ahãdith 4:196).
Regarding terror, Allah orders Muslims to terrorize non-Muslims on his behalf: “Strike terror [into the hearts of] the enemies of Allah and your enemies” (Sura 8:60). Allah then assures his followers that he will assist them: “I will instill terror into the hearts of unbelievers. Smite them above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them. It is not you who slay them, it is Allah” (Sura 8:12, 17). The Qur'an guarantees Paradise to those who fight for Allah (cf. Sura 4:74), and it promises instant Paradise for those who die in battle (cf. Suras 9:111 and 47:5-6). Dying for Allah is presented as better than living: “And if you are killed or die in the Way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all that others may amass [of worldly wealth]” (Sura 3:157). Further, martyrs are promised a sensual and luxurious life in Paradise (cf. Sura 52:17-22). Today, this is reflected in the promise of the 72 black-eyed virgins that are supposed to be waiting the martyr in Paradise. But according to Al-Ghazzali, one of Islam’s greatest teachers, it's even better that this, for he says that when a martyr reaches Paradise, he “will marry 500 companions, 4,000 virgins, and 8,000 divorced women.” In other words, the Islamic Paradise is just the kind of place adolescent, unmarried men, isolated throughout their lives from the opposite sex by rigid cultural standards, would be motivated to die for.
Finally, in this era of globalization, where the ideology of America and the West threatens to become the universal civilization, Muslims are very touchy about what they consider to be the encroachment (invasion is the way they see it) of Western culture. Although this seems trivial to most Westerners, this is because of our failure to understand that Islam is a cultural religion that deifies 7th-Century Arabian culture. (There is a good discussion of the cultural nature of Islam in the book by Robert Morey entitled, The Islamic Invasion [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1992]. See in particular pages 19-32.) As many of us Westerners tend to view religion as something intensely personal and private, we don't see our Judeo-Christian heritage as the cultural phenomenon it is perceived to be by many Muslims. For example, Christianity is actually “supra-cultural,” in that it allows people to live, dress and eat in accordance with the culture in which they exist, and it is this easy adaptability that so frightens Muslims. On the other hand, there is not, nor can there ever be, the easy assimilation of Islamic culture, because for the Muslim there is no “secular realm” free of religion. Islam regulates every aspect of life to the point that religion, politics, and culture become inseparable. Unlike Western culture, which easily adapts to many ways of life, and is, therefore, easily assimilated globally, Islam is fueled by a subtle form of racism in which 7th-Century Arab culture is to be imposed upon all other cultures. In fact, the tribalism of 7th-Century Arabia is the political structure sanctioned by the Qur'an, of which the now defunct Taliban is a prime example. The chief (or warlord) has absolute authority. There is no concept of civil rights. This principle is reflected today in the reality that all Islamic countries are ruled by dictators, and civil liberties, like freedom of speech and religion, do not exist. Samuel Huntington does not exaggerate when, speaking of conflicts all over the world, he mentions "the bloody borders of Islam."
So, perhaps Mr. Bush's strategy will succeed in splitting off the jihadis from their host culture, or maybe the ongoing war on terrorism will succeed in annihilating their global networks and cells. Even so, this does not necessarily mean that Islamic culture is likely to be transformed. More probably, angry Muslims will temporarily back off to seethe in their powerless rage until an opportune time arises for the venting of their hatred of the West.
In the meantime, the President, in his State-of-the-Union speech to Congress on January 29th, and in what can only be described as a brilliant working out of his strategy, spoke of "an axis of evil" that now threatens the peace of the world. In doing so, he hopes to demonstrate that America, along with the West, holds no ill-will toward Islam, which has been hard to do when all the folks you're bombing happen to be Muslims. In his speech, the President named three countries—Iraq, Iran and North Korea—who he accused of arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction and forming themselves into an axis of evil. Iraq and Iran are clearly Muslim countries, but North Korea is not—ergo, the West is not targeting Islam. One would think that the traffic of arms from North Korea (and don't forget China) to Libya and Iran and Syria shows that states will consort with any civilization, however alien, as long as the price is right and the goods are ready. Samuel Huntington turns this routine act of selfishness into a sinister "Confucian-Islamic connection." The President's speech writers, Michael Gerson and David Frum, have definitely read Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" article, which I mentioned previously. However, there may be better explanations that an "axis of evil," or a "Confucian-Islamic" connection: namely, the commerce of renegades, plain piracy and an "underground economy," all of which pick up the slack left by the great arms suppliers of the world--ahem, the United States, Russia, Britain and France.
Even so, George W. Bush's axis of evil statement will probably come to stand alongside Ronald Reagan's depiction of the old Soviet Union as "an evil empire," and this is, I'm sure, just what he hoped for. We'll have to wait and see what the "Arab street" says about this, but I rather doubt they'll be buying it. In fact, while I write this, mosques around the world, particularly in the West, report an increase in Friday prayers. Muslim women are donning their veils in Western countries, and the practice, once common among just jihadis, of adopting pseudonyms is now spreading among other Muslims. Even 17-year-olds are now calling each other Abu (which means "father of") Somebody, the traditional nom-de-guerre form for grown-up jihadis. All this, of course, lends a new fervor to the movement, and as one veteran observer has reported, "The jihadi future has never been brighter."
The former Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran was the modern-day Islamic spokesman who revived Muhammad’s vision of world conquest. He taught that the modern nation of Israel was a "Satanic miracle" permitted by Allah because of the lukewarmness of the Muslim masses. He called for a renewal of true Islam—i.e., not the watered-down kind the academics and moderates like to talk about—to accomplish three purposes:
- To overthrow the “secular” rulers of Islamic countries (like Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt), just as he had done in Iran.
- To take back the land of Palestine for Allah, exterminating Israel in the process.
- To conquer the rest of the world for Allah.
Notice, if you will, that the first priority was the transformation of secular Islamic countries into religious states ruled by the Qur'an. Then come Israel and the West. In a proclamation made by bin Laden in 1998, he listed the same goals and prioritized them in the same order (Sheikh Usamah bin-Muhammad bin-Laden, “Text of Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans,” published by Al-Quds al-Arabi on February 23, 1998). With the new Palestinian strategy mentioned previously, the first part of this credo will be put on hold to clear the way for Islam's war with the West, which includes Israel and America. In fact, bin Laden identified the United States as the prime obstacle to the achievement of these goals. Accordingly, he called on Muslims everywhere “to comply with Allah’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it.” Those who ascribe to such a creed cannot be appeased; they must, instead, be defeated.
As much of jihadis' contempt for the West derives from our presumed softness and decadence, sustained and incontrovertible military evidence to the contrary may induce a greater respect, if not affection, for "the Great Satan," as they like to taunt us. In any case, it is simple justice that requires American retribution. Anyone who says, "Yes, the guilty must be punished, but no, we must not employ violence," has completely divorced himself from reality and is, quite frankly, living in La-La Land. Those who have spoken of bringing the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks before a court of law tend to be extremely vague when specifying how such "bringing" is to be accomplished. America has been viciously attacked, and she owes it to the victims to make, within the limits imposed by the rules of just war, an appropriately harsh response, and I believe there is nothing in the Bible, when properly understood, that would prohibit such. I believe the efforts in Afghanistan have been a good beginning, but as the President has said, we've still got a long way to go before this thing is over. As American bases and interests overseas are attacked, and as American citizens abroad and here at home continue to be "targeted," Americans will die in this struggle that Huntington has called, and I think rightly so, "The Clash of Civilizations." So, as this clash extends itself both in both time and geography, it is my prayer that God will continue to bless the righteous efforts of this great nation.
Some Concluding Remarks
If you have read behind me over the years, then you know that man-made philosophies, worldviews and cultural trends have been of great interest to me. Accordingly, I want to close with a few remarks about the immediate results of the September 11th attacks and what they may portend for the future. "Everything has changed" seems to be a refrain that has become as common as "God bless America" in post-September 11th America. Even Hollywood, evidently with a very guilty conscience, is toning down its violence, and the art world is calling for an end to the irony, cynicism and nihilism for which it has been so well-known. So, it is stimulating for me to think about the other changes that may soon be arriving on the cultural scene.
Clearly, patriotism is on the rise, along with a new appreciation for America's cultural heritage. Church buildings are full, and because the terrorists hate our freedoms as much as they do our religion, this may be reason enough for Americans to stop taking both of these for granted, and to start building on them once again. But there are other possibilities.
Plato warned that an excess of freedom is frequently followed by an excess of tyranny. The "holiday from history" I mentioned previously is definitely over. Although the last decade was filled with peace and prosperity, it was filled with O.J. Simpson, Monica Lewinsky and Gary Condit. But September 11th shocked people out of that fantasy. Although it is true that our perceived prosperity had already begun to erode before September 11th, with the bursting of the dot.com bubble, peace definitely ended that day. As a result, personal insecurity has been added to the cultural mix in which we now find ourselves. We used to believe our "homeland" was practically invulnerable to outside attack, and felt accordingly secure. We no longer do. So the September 11th attacks have altered the balance in America between security and civil liberties. To most of us, Mr. Ashscorft's moves to boost the surveillance powers of our law-enforcement officials and to make counter-terrorism the focus of the Justice Department seem like good ideas. However, this is potentially a far-reaching change, confirming Alexander Hamilton's view that "to be more safe, [people] at length become willing to run the risk of being less free." So, because freedom has become a tool in the hands of our enemy, we are now willing to have this precious commodity curtailed. As a result, there have already been calls for national ID cards and the suspension of constitutional rights. Many of us appear ready to give up some of our freedoms for more security, just as the great cultural critic Francis Schaeffer warned us about decades ago. We must wait to see how this eventually plays out, but its implications are profound.
It also appears that politics will become more important in post-September 11th America. The more people feel insecure, the more they will turn to government for protection. This traces back to the think-sos of Thomas Hobbes who said that because life is "nasty, brutish and short" (which sounds to me like the name of a pretty good law firm), people band together and create governments for self-protection. Of course, before Hobbes, there was a God who ordained civil government for this very reason. Consequently, the most noticeable change to have occurred since September 11th is a sharp rise in the level of public trust in the institutions of government. In the mid-1960s, two-thirds of Americans said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most, or all, of the time, which was the highest rate in the world. But by the mid-1990s, this figure had dwindled to 20%, the lowest in any democracy. However, on September 11th, this figure more than doubled overnight. This scale of change is absolutely astounding, and as Vice President Cheney told the Washington Post in late October, "it has altered the way the American people think about their government, and the role we have in society and overseas." Sentiments, of course, quickly change, and there are already signs that the immediate post-September 11th unity in Congress, which was caused by the expected "rallying around the flag," is returning to the pre-September 11th rancor and partisanship we've come to expect. Even so, liberals keep crowing that the era of distrust of government is over. We shall see. But if it is, then as more and more people look to government to take care of their problems, real or perceived, government will get much bigger than it already is. This, of course, would be the complete reversal of George W. Bush's pre-election rhetoric, and would be as interestingly curious as the fact that the federal government continued to grow tremendously during Ronald Reagan's presidency—a presidency, as is Bush's, which was ideologically committed to smaller government. Reality, though, never seems to turn out exactly as planned. To boot, it is often ironic, as many have learned to their dismay.
But perhaps the most significant thing that could happen in post-September 11th America is what may be happening to religion. Suddenly, when Americans faced real pain and spiritual need, our secularized culture's hostility to faith seems to have evaporated overnight. Although I've been in Africa since September 5, 2001, and have not therefore experienced these things firsthand, practically everyone I've corresponded with from the States tells me of a groundswell in post-September 11th religious feelings and expressions. This is, undoubtedly, a good thing. Accompanying this, however, has been the pall of suspicion that has fallen on all forms of religious certainty, especially "fundamentalism." In fact, a few are now arguing that we are actually at war with all forms of fundamentalism, including the "religious right." There are several things wrong with such thinking, not least of which is the use of "fundamentalist" to describe any belief system "we" do not like. The use of this term as a general opprobrium not only confuses the religious scene here in America, but it also prevents us from fully comprehending those whom we are now trying hard to understand. On the contrary, bin Laden and his ilk are not fundamentalists. In fact, and as I've already pointed out, the experts urge upon us a distinction that needs to be made between Islam and Islamism, with the latter representing the militant faith and theocratic aspirations presently arrayed against us. So, although we can call them militant, radical, monistic, or even fanatical Muslims, these folks are not, most agree, fundamentalists.
In fact, and this is going to surprise some of you, there is an old tradition in Islam, particularly that of Muslim Spain (al-Andalus), where adherents to Christianity, Judaism and Islam lived side by side without great calamity. In fact, the revival of science, mathematics and philosophy in Western Europe was stimulated by the contribution of brilliant Muslims like Averroes and Avicenna. Moderate Muslims, and I use this term only to distinguish them from the radical militants mentioned above, point out that their faith is unique among the monotheistic beliefs in urging its followers not only to respect but, where necessary, to protect adherents of the other two. And because of the current propaganda to which we are subjected, it's going to be hard for some to believe it happened. But it did! Muslim rulers of the past were far more tolerant of people of other faiths than were those in Christendom. For example, in al-Andalus where, in cities like Granada and Cordoba, Muslims ruled a millennium ago what were then the most civilized places on the face of the earth, as measured by artistic and scientific accomplishments, the multiculturalism of an enlightened Islamic regime was conquered by a Roman Catholic establishment that was grossly intolerant of even its own dissidents, and offered Jews and Muslims a choice only between being forcefully "converted," exiled, or, I'm sorry to say, worse.
It may surprise some of you to learn that many of my friends and acquaintances here in Africa are Muslims (both Sunni and Shi'a), and that they have been kind and extremely helpful as they have graciously extended themselves to me on different occasions. I have dined in their homes, as they have in mine, and my wife and I have even slept in several of their homes. I have great respect for them and know that they do not hate me or other Americans. Religiously, I have gleaned some interesting and helpful ideas from them as we have discussed various religious concepts. For their own good, and for ours, I hope moderate Muslims, not the jihadis, will win the struggle currently taking place within Islam. One of the most articulate chroniclers of this internal struggle has been Fouad Ajami, Majid Khadduri Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, who believes if real change is to occur in the Arab world, it must come from within. "Americans must accept," he says, "that they are strangers in the Arab world." Therefore, when answering the question of why the Muslim world in general, and the Middle East in particular, have had such a difficult time in the modern world, Ajami is convinced that the only people who can truly answer this question are Muslims. He argues, and I think rightly so, that the great failing of Arab intellectuals is that rather than look inward with a critical eye, they have looked elsewhere for people to blame. And where the intelligentsia have gone, the Arab people have followed. Consequently, Arabs have been stuck in a cycle of victimization and self-delusion. Only when they can take an objective look at their own cultural shortcomings will they be able to emerge from the muck and mire of economic stagnation and social malaise. Unlike some others (viz., Huntington, Lewis et al.), Ajami does not see anything innate about Islam or Arabs that has led to the present state of affairs. This, I suppose, is an argument that will continue. But if Ajami is right, Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cohorts are simply a violent byproduct of this struggle. A boom in Islamic studies on college campuses, and a new generation inclined to be more sympathetic of Islam may be a welcome prospect in America, provided that the Islam being presented is not the Islam that some would wish it to be, but the Islam as believed and practiced by the Muslims of this country and the world.
Consequently, it is not right for me or anyone else to explain what is, and is not, "authentic Islam." I can, of course, read and know what the Qur'an says, but it's the Muslims' interpretation of the Qur'an that forms the religious convictions that make up Islam. Furthermore, and with no disrespect for Professor Ajami, defining authentic Islam is a task not for academics who just happen to be Muslim by background, but for Muslims who can speak believably from the heart of Islamic faith and life. In the meantime, I cannot dismiss those bodies that were buried, and remain buried, in the rubble of ground zero—bodies which make it clear that there is a jihad declared and prosecuted by Muslims in the name of Islam. And although there are those who, like Georgetown University's John Espositio, believe democracy and Islam are compatible, there are others, like Metin Kaplan, the head of the Caliphate State who lives safely in Germany while being wanted in Turkey for his role in a pair of suicide bombings there, who boldly proclaim, "When we come to power, we will destroy and burn Parliament and cast its ashes into the sea." Only God knows how this struggle within Islam will finally turn out. For the rest of us, only time will tell.
While this is being played out, there is an argument being advanced by some that religious conservatives (i.e., "the religious right") are to be lumped together with Muslim terrorists as "fundamentalist," and therefore as enemies who deserve to be stamped out. So, another possibility set in motion by the September 11th attacks may be not just a continuation of pre-September 11th secularism, but an upsurge, instead, of a aggressively militant secularism. Salman Rushdie, who we've already mentioned as being under a Muslim death sentence for his Satanic Verses novel, wrote a column for The Washington Post in which he takes to task the anti-American left. But in doing so, he urges the exaltation of everything the Islamic "fundamentalists" are against. "The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings," Mr. Rushdie writes. "Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex." He goes on to say that it is easy to be against terrorism, "But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend?"
Well, I can think of several things in Rushdie's list that I'm not for and for which I do not intend to die. Just as the Romans who were not willing to die for their orgies when faced with the barbarian onslaught, I don't think Americans, although open to many things on Rushdie's list, are willing to die for the general theory of evolution, homosexuality, or short skirts. But if the Salman Rushdies of the world get their way, America, along with the rest of the West, will be in the grip of a militant secularism that would certainly not sit well with true New Testament Christians.
Finally, the well-intentioned "inter-faith prayer services" that have been prevalent since September 11th may be a much more disturbing note than anything mentioned so far. In these services, those calling themselves Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are all worshipping together, praying, it is said, "to the same God." The Bible, of course, forbids all forms of syncretism, which is the mingling of Biblical and pagan religions. When the ancient Israelites brought idols of Baal into the Temple, evidently under the erroneous idea that they and the Canaanites worshipped "the same God," Jehovah, the only true and living God, was not pleased, to say the least. Therefore, what we're seeing in these multi-faith worship services may be the beginning of the much-anticipated "one-world religion" being bantered about in some circles today. Although such a religion would be filled with pious emotionalism and religiosity, it would be far different from the Christianity we read about in the New Testament.
So, although nihilism appears to be dead, the question remains: What will replace it? I cannot tell, but this I know most assuredly, if New Testament Christians are not salt and light, we are sinning (cf. Matthew 5:13), and these sins, if unrepented of, will not only damn our souls, but will serve to place yet another nail in the coffin of America's heritage. Remember, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (Psalm 9:17). Therefore, we need to be very careful that we do not permit the secularism of our culture to exercise an undue influence upon us. Unfortunately, many Christians in America have begun to blend in. Instead of acting like strangers and pilgrims (Hebrews 11:13; I Peter 2:11) whose citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), many of us have become much too comfortable in our hedonistic, materialistic and pluralistic society. As such, many of us are failing to live out the “in the world, but not of the world” mandate of John 17. Therefore, like the church at Laodicia, many of us, flirting with the materialistic idols of our our time (cf. Revelation 3:17), have become “neither hot nor cold” (verse 15). If we do not repent, the Lord is going to spew us out of His mouth. Let us make sure this doesn't happen.