I am convinced that the fight against religious terrorism will eventually result in a fight against all forms of strong religious adherance. Here is an example from the latest Time magazine cover that shows the logic behind this thinking:
But at some point [Bush] risks becoming trapped in contradiction when he tries to separate the jihadists from the God in whose name they fight. Many Americans who support the war on terrorism do so because they view al-Qaeda and its ilk as an implacable enemy anchored in a radical, though by no means typical, Muslim faith, willing to strap on explosives and blow up a nightclub because of a vision of heaven and earth and right and wrong that we may not understand but can’t just ignore. It is as though Bush can’t allow the possibility that the enemy is motivated by its understanding of God’s will lest his critics note that he believes the same of himself.
The problem with the terrorists, according to Time is that they think they understand God’s will. This also happens to be President Bush’s position, so he is just as dangerous as the terrorists. I run into this type of thinking recently when I spoke at a local church:
I took the opportunity to preach on one of my favorite subjects: seeking first the kingdom of God. In a sermon entitled “Jesus Guide to a Truly Rewarding Career,” I talked about how God wants us to spend our lives working for the eternal, indestructible rewards of Heaven rather than the temporal, perishable rewards of earth. I focused on passages in which Jesus explains that we cannot serve two masters—either we are slaves to earthly things like money, power, reputation and relationships or we are slaves to Him—and I showed that we are often called to choose between the two. (Mark 8:34-38, John 12:23-26 and Matt 10:34-39, for example). The right choice, however painful it seems at the time, will result in a truly rewarding, fulfilling life.
After the talk there was a short question and comment time. One of the more interesting (and disconcerting) thoughts came from an elderly woman who felt that I had concentrated too much on the specifically “hard sayings” of Christ and not enough on his more general commands to love one another and live a life of peaceful service to our fellow man. The motivation for her comments became clear when she concluded them with a statement to the effect of “after all, what you taught is exactly what the Muslim terrorists believe.”
I responded to the lady by explaining briefly that she was correct about one thing: faithful Muslims (including terrorists) believe that they should follow the dictates of God rather than man and they are convinced that rewards in heaven are of infinitely greater worth than rewards of earth.
However, as I tried to then make clear to my questioner, even if these beliefs result in actions we find deplorable, the problem is not with the terrorists approach to morality, it is that they believe in a false god. Blaming their ethical system for bad behavior is like blaming the car for drunk driving. Muslims don’t have a bad theory of ethics, they have wrong beliefs supporting it.
Orthodox Muslims and Christians both agree that God’s nature and His revealed will is the standard for right and wrong in the universe. As such we have the same basis for morality. There is no dispute at that level. The disagreement is over what God’s nature and His will actually is. The bottom line is that we have competing theology. We disagree over what God is like.
Unfortunately, magazines like Time would have us focus on the divine-centered ethical system rather than the theology. When some Muslims claim that God would have them kill Americans or some Christians say God would have them kill abortion doctors, these events are rightly held up as examples of obviously bad “extremist” religious behavior. However, notice why the mainstream calls these people extreme. It is not because of their theology. It is because of their ethical system. The problem, according to the mainstream, is that the extremists follow God rather than society. They focus on the fact that these “crazies” actually think that God talks to them and they are willing to follow His voice. Rather than focus on the fact that the one true God of the universe does not say such things and does not want Americans or abortion doctors murdered and that is why these actions are bad, we end up talking about the dangers of believing God actually speaks.
The result is that everyone whose basis for morality is God—in other words, anyone who takes their faith seriously enough to actually live by it— is branded an extremist. And since we know from the terrorists that extremism is bad, all devoutly religious people are lumped together and labeled a danger to society (this is the not so subtle insinutaion regarding Bush in the article).
In the press we see this idea played out when fundamentalist Christians are called the “American Taliban” and their sub-culture compared to the Islamic dictatorship in Iran. It is a trend that does not bode well for liberty. In government’s quest to stamp out “religious extremism”, many of the wrong people will feel their wrath and Christians who follow Jesus “hard” sayings will certainly be among them. When the goal of the earthly powers becomes ”peace at all costs”, freedom is the first thing to go. As an example, Canada has essentially outlawed public proclamation of Biblical injunctions against homosexuality. The Bible has become hate speech in an attempt to produce a more “peaceful, loving, accepting” country.
Should Christians abide by this? Should we discard the truth of Jesus “hard sayings” in order to keep the peace and avoid becoming branded “extremists?” Should we accept the rewards of this life at the expense of the rewards of the next?
The choice lies before us: coasting through life on the broad way or following Jesus down the narrow.
ALSO: To see some more examples of how these dangerous ideas are takin hold, see the comment section of getreligon’s post about the Time article.