AH, HOW ABOUT RELIGION?
Some authorities seem to be having a problem finding a motive for the killing of our marines and a sailor in Chattanooga this July. There seems to be a hesitation to call it terrorism if the perpetrator cannot be proved to have some connection to a terrorist organization. Since the killer was a Muslim the authorities are obviously looking into Islamic Jihadist movements.
There is of course a problem in that thinking, and that is a failure to understand the motivating factor of religion within an individual to produce an act of terror. This attack was against our entire nation, not simply against a location, not simply against individuals, as those who were attacked and killed were representatives of our nation’s armed forces. I don’t believe this was typical American work place violence, or done from a despairing sense of nihilism; any target will do for that. This was too political a statement to be dismissed so easily. Two military locations were targeted, although one location might have simply been to draw off the police so the killing could take place in another.
It may be proved that the killer was in contact with some particular organization, or at least reading online encouragement for Jihad and the call to commit attacks against the U.S. by the end of Ramadan. That is when it happened, but again whether that is what the attacker intended is still unknown. Whether he was in contact with Jihadis, or simply inspired by propaganda, or motivated by things he heard and saw while visiting the Middle East, it is still possible something else was at work and that something may have simply been religious zeal.
There is a political conundrum about blaming a religion for horrendous acts against our nation and culture, although those who have been our enemies have consistently and outspokenly explained their murderous and heinous acts as religiously motivated. The obvious problem of simply blaming Islam for the terror is that not everyone who is a Muslim is a terrorist, for which we are grateful. That would make things fairly simple, but overwhelmingly horrible, and the war would therefore have to be horrendous to put it down.
Preachers know that one sermon can make the difference between someone who is a “backslider” or “prodigal” and one who now has a fresh passion and commitment to God. Ramadan is a time of year when Muslims get in touch with their religion, they get back to the basics, they seek for a spiritual revival. The Muslim killer not too long ago had a DUI, which is not a sign of being a good Muslim. I am not sure what he did with his guilt about that, but I have a suspicion. Christians are well aware of spiritual revival and renewal, when our faith is “radicalized” and we become more fervent. This is something common to religious adherents.
What is not common is murder, and this is exactly where Islam and Christianity part company. This is one reason I am so grateful that the Bible is a book of progressive revelation, where the Old Testament unfolds into the New Testament. When a Muslim becomes “radical” in their faith all the teachings of the Koran become motivating to them, even the ones that construe the killing of non-Muslims to be something their Allah would approve. For Christians to become radical means we become more like Jesus, and thus more loving and more forgiving.
All religions have splinter groups that are not consistent with the fundamental principles of that religion. All religions have “cults” and charismatic leaders who delude their followers into stupid and perverted twists on the original religion. For Christianity to be “fundamental” means to love more, but that is not true for Islam. Islamic fundamentalism doesn’t need a cult to make it dangerous, it has always been a militaristic and imperialistic religion, and it is a great blessing to the world for most of its adherents to be “moderate” about their religion. It is a shame for so many Christians to be “moderate” about theirs.
There have been seminars and conferences to bring about some understanding of what has radicalized Muslim young adults. Opinions have been offered about poverty, displacement, alienation, and other emotional and social causes. It seems like it is forbidden to simply say, “ah, how about religion?” If it could simply be renewed fervency of Islamic practice that means it is fairly unpredictable, or very predictable, depending on how you look at it.
The secular West has a very hard time trying to figure this out. We seem to have the expectancy that people will privatize their religious beliefs, be non-intrusive to others, and that religious adherents would subordinate their beliefs to a Western pluralism. Secularists have few tools to understand Islam nor do they have the ideas to clearly speak to its dangers without sounding undemocratic. The mass migration of Muslims to countries of the West without their willingness to assimilate either to Christianity, or to Western secular ideas (and this is not to include materialism or technology which Muslims can readily embrace) makes radicalized individuals, in our midst, far too possible. For Christians being a martyr means to die for your faith, for a Muslim it means killing infidels while you die for your faith.
We are not speaking of crazy people here nor of deadbeats and losers. We are talking about smart, educated, earnest young people who want to make a difference in life. Unfortunately the religion they have become fervent about means that to make a difference might come through murder, beheading, suicide bombing, kidnapping of young women, and taking children into slavery. Since the West has decided it doesn’t know what its values are, or which cultural values it should keep, it has opened the door to all kinds of difficulty in stemming what it will call “inexplicable” acts of violence.
There is another problem that is closer to home for Christians. The question is how can we love Muslim people while understanding that the religion they hold might cause them to act in hate toward us, and might motivate them to kill us, and has motivated other Muslims to kill our brothers and sisters around the world? How can we love Muslims who hold to a religion that might at any time motivate some of them to kill our military members, our own sons and daughters, in the name of their Allah? This is hard, but it has always been hard for Christians to love those that hate them, and yet at the same time it has always been the command of Christ for us to do so. In times like these we will need to believe that the grace of God is able to help us to do just that.