In an editorial written just prior to the Sept 11 terrorist attacks (The
Violence of God: Thinking the Unthinkable), I opened up a conversation about
the relationship between religion and violence. I had no idea at that time that
only a few weeks later, events would take place in my own city that would raise
the stakes in that conversation more than a thousand fold. Having seen the towers
of the World Trade Center come tumbling down, and having felt the shock waves
from that tragedy reverberate through my own network of friendships, family and
business associates, I now realize that people are asking some of the very
questions I addressed then, but now, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still raging,
the questions press upon our minds and hearts as a matter of survival.
is first and foremost, the terrible Why? Why would a group of people from so far
away be so filled with hate that they would sacrifice their own lives to strike
a blow at these symbols of our economic and military power: the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon? And that Why is backed by another, perhaps even more urgent
one. Why would a just and loving God permit such an unspeakable act of terror
to occur? Surely it cannot be, as Jerry Farwell and Pat Robertson believe, because
we allow secular organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to operate
freely here. If the destruction of nearly 3000 unsuspecting human beings is God's
preferred way of expressing displeasure with certain groups of people in this
country, then God is a monster far more sinister than any human terrorist ever
dreamed of becoming.
The fact that the terrorists are associated, at least nominally
with the religion of Islam, reinforces the presumption on the part of many that
Islam is a religion more likely to offer a justification of violence than other
world religions. But is there any basis in fact or in Muslim belief that would
support such a conclusion?
And if the terrorists invoke the name of Allah
to justify their acts, what of our own leaders' penchant for invoking the name
of God as they try to rally public support for a world wide war on terrorism?
At the conclusion of one of the first large scale worship services following the
September 11th attacks, the congregation at the National Cathedral in Washington,
joined in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The President and nearly
all the political and religious leaders in the nation's capital raised their voices
to sing these words:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming
of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are
He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
The problem, of course, with that hymn,
is that it tends to confuse two very different subjects. The first being what
this nation, the most powerful on earth, might undertake by way of lifting up
a "terrible swift sword" against the terrorists who were responsible
for all the carnage of the prior week; and the second being that final day of
judgment when God will correct every wrong and put the power of evil to flight
forever. Apparently there is a great deal of confusion on both sides of battle
lines in this first world war of the twenty-first century between what various
world leaders may decide, and what God may in fact have in mind for our world.
And the more one gets into the hymn, the deeper the confusion becomes, as the
final verse reveals:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born
across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching
In normal circumstances it would be a real stretch to equate
the gentle words and deeds of Jesus, with the violent actions of soldiers
and warriors in battle, but these are not ordinary times. And upon the spur of
the moment it is easy to lose sight of the all important distinction between the
purposes of the Almighty and our own. The Bush administration was apparently caught
up in this confusion when it first named its anti-terrorist effort a "crusade"
and titled it "Operation Infinite Justice." It was widely reported
that the name was withdrawn because of complaints from the Muslim community that
only Allah is infinite. I would have thought that the complaints would have been
just as strong from Christians and Jews who, after all, worship the same God!
that the initial after shock of Sept 11 has fadeed and most of us have returned
to something that has at least the appearance of a "normal life," there
is perhaps greater opportunity to reflect upon the questions that arose with such
force during those first days after the fall of the twin towers.
are links to several articles from a special edition of CrossCurrents that address
some of the more urgent questions ...
Are there substantial
differences between and among Christianity, Judaism, and Islam with the respect
to the likelihood that adherents of any of those Abrahamic religions are likely
to be involved in violence?
Hard and Soft
"Every religion contains, in varying degrees,
elements that contribute to peace or war. For the sake of world peace, dialogue
within religions and among them must strengthen the peacemaking elements within
by Johan Galtung
For those interested
in a clear and compelling statement of basic Muslim teaching, few have presented
it better than Riffat Hassan, who teaches at the University of Louisville.
Does It Mean To Be Muslim Today?
a Muslim means to be both Allah-conscious and creature-conscious, and to understand
the interconnectedness of all aspects of one's life, of the life of all creation
and of our life in this transient world to life eternal."
Politics of Religious Correctness: Islam and the West
Alice through the looking glass, and the clash of civilizations reveals itself
in a new -- and surprising -- guise. To enter the language of Islam and the West
is then, with Alice, to enter the Wonderland of the Looking Glass. It is an instructive
perspective; but only if we Westerners know we are looking not at another but
by John C. Raines