Saturday, February 21, 2015

The limits of Christian love in a battle against ISIS and radical Islamists

For quite a few years now, when sitting in church listening to a sermon, or reading the news about atrocities around the world, I have this nagging feeling that Jesus' message of loving your neighbor is just not enough any more.

It seems to me that, while we like it or not, we are now enmeshed in an existential battle for our existence against radical Islam. There is plenty of evidence all around us that this is, in actual fact, the world we live in, despite the hectoring and lecturing from the political class about how awful we are for seeing the world with both eyes wide open. Start here, with an asbsolute must-read if there ever was one: What ISIS Really Wants. I'll wait. Go ahead.

There is so much to discuss here, and people get all wrapped up in either the religious or the political, or both. This shows the limitations of using exclusively a religious, or political, frame of reference to view the world. Both are important, and both are relevant, but sometimes neither one by itself can inform our world view sufficiently to cause us to see what is clearly happening before us.

We went to the Ash Wednesday service this week, and at several different times during the service, we were informed that we need to dig deeper, to love more, and that the meek shall inherit the earth, and various other Christ-centered messages, as usual. And these are, to get the obvious out of the way, very good messages to hear for anybody, generally speaking. The world needed to hear this then, and it needs it now, and I have no problem with that.

But during all this, at several times, an image kept popping into my head: the image of the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS recently.

I'm no biblical scholar, and I don't play one on TV or in church on Sundays either, but I do get the essential messages of Jesus in the New Testament: love your neighbor as yourself, and always strive for more by recognizing that we are imperfect.

Which is, again, a very good message to hear, that makes us better human beings and as a result, makes our world better.

But what if we are confronted with people who hate us for who we are? What if we are confronted with people who kill us - with glee - for who we are?

Jesus would tell us to "turn the other cheek".

This advice is not always helpful. Sometimes, there are people who want to kill you just because they hate you and everything you stand for.

Sometimes there are people who relish the thought of killing somebody like you, and who think you are a fool for wanting to turn the other cheek and to love them as yourself.

And you know, they may be right, on that last point. You might be a fool, indeed.

There is an old saying, "he brought a knife to a gunfight", and it colorfully illustrates an important error that we all make sometimes: using the wrong tool for the job. Today, the main job we have before us is to stop the rise of ISIS and the radical Islamists generally, at least as I see it.

And I would say that the message of Jesus Christ has nothing to offer us in this particular situation. Mankind, sadly, is not driven solely by the concept of Christian love. Even though we wish this were true, it is not true at this point in the timeline of history, and believing it is true is causing Christians to fail to see the world as it is for the purposes of how to move forward and how to think about the problems before us.

And "you cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists", a quote that is so true and so relevant to today in so many ways. It's from the former head of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), Lt. Michael Flynn. Here are some other good quotes (but read the article):
“There is no substitute, none, for American power,” the general said, to occasional cheers and ultimately a standing ovation from a crowd of special operators and intelligence officers at a Washington industry conference.

He also slammed the administration for refusing to use the term “Islamic militants” in its description of ISIS and al Qaeda.

“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” Flynn said.

He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy.

“There are many sincere people in our government who frankly are paralyzed by this complexity,” said Flynn, so they “accept a defensive posture, reasoning that passivity is less likely to provoke our enemies.”

Flynn refused to name President Obama as the focus of his ire in comments afterward to The Daily Beast, saying that he was simply “sending a message to the American people.” But the comments show the widening rift between some in the national-security community who want to see more special-operations and intelligence assets sent into the fight against ISIS and other groups in Syria and beyond.
Sometimes, I see a tendency in Christians and Christian churches to tell ourselves that by asking more and more from ourselves, all will be right with the world. That if we can just demand more love and caring from ourselves, this is the key to fixing what is wrong.

And I see a curious tendency in both Christians and Christian churches to avoid calling attention to the Muslim slaughter and persecution of Christians being perpetrated by ISIS in the Middle East, and by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other trouble spots. Children are being beheaded and crucified, yet the West yawns, and Christianity yawns. Why is that? Are we afraid of hurting their feelings? What kind of Christian doesn't even stand in solidarity with other Christians throughout the world, in the defense of not just their religion, but of the basic rights of man to worship as they choose? This refusal to call attention to this slaughter bothers me a great deal, and it leads me to the inevitable conclusion that political correctness, social justice, and other "progressive" ideas are blocking a reckoning that truly needs to occur. As noted in the first article above:
But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”
The "interfaith-Christian-nonsense" tradition has always seemed a little odd to me, for precisely this reason.

Pope Francis was not afraid to speak the truth: "They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.  It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians!"

So here we are. The world is becoming radically more dangerous, and a hate-filled group is growing in power and attracting adherents, and Christians and the West in general re-assure themselves with inward-focused Christian platitudes and politically-correct fiction that is clearly at odds with the facts on the ground.

I'm trying to work on being a better Christian, and maybe I'm just flawed somehow in pursuit of that goal, but it's primarily because of things like this that keep getting in the way. And I'm really at a loss as to how to reconcile it.