Modern Moralists Condemn Terrorism But Don’t Ask Them Why

by | Feb 16, 2002

Do you support our government’s actions for the attacks of 9-11? Can you explain why or why not, with reasonable precision? In particular, can a follower of Jesus provide a consistent argument for supporting military strikes against the terrorists? Certainly not by virtue of “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . […]

Do you support our government’s actions for the attacks of 9-11? Can you explain why or why not, with reasonable precision?

In particular, can a follower of Jesus provide a consistent argument for supporting military strikes against the terrorists? Certainly not by virtue of “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you . . .” (Luke 6: 27-28) or “Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also . . .” (Mathew 5: 39-41). Perhaps Moses has the answer: “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them” (Numbers 31:2) — the implication being that the Lord in some circumstances urges mortals to do his fighting. But clearly, there’s conflict among the dictates.

When our founders signed the Declaration of Independence, were they doing so in accordance with Jesus’s precepts? If not, on what moral principles were they acting? If you say “common sense,” then it certainly wasn’t a sense common to all colonists, many of whom were Tories. There was no practical element in their revolt, either. Of the 56 signers, most were doctors, lawyers, judges, landowners, merchants — men with much to lose. The British wanted to hang them all.

We fought England — on principle. We fight the terrorists — on principle. The question is: which principles?

Church leaders, to whom many turn for moral guidance, came up with various pronouncements regarding the terrorist attacks.

The United Methodists issued a 350-word statement condemning all terrorist acts and called on members to do eight things, which included examining the causes of terrorism, supporting the United Nations as an agency for conflict resolution, and urging the president to “repudiate violence and the killing and victimizing of innocent people.” They also took a stand against “terrorist acts in the forms of retaliation or capital punishment.”

How exactly do we retaliate if our commander-in-chief is urged to repudiate violence and turn matters over to the U.N? Are they saying it’s okay for the U.N. to get tough, but not us? And since Methodists are Christians, how do they reconcile these recommendations with their source of truth, the Bible?

Franklin Graham, son of Billy, spoke to Family News in Focus about the attacks. We “need to look to almighty God for His help and His strength” in dealing with the terrorists, he stressed. Bin Laden would agree, if we substitute “Americans” for “terrorists.”

As “a people we have sinned against God. We look at the great moral failures of this nation and we have become wicked in many senses,” Graham added, neglecting to provide detail about our wicked ways — unlike Robertson and Falwell. Does this mean bin Laden was an agent of the Christian God delivering a just punishment? Surely not.

Evading the moral questions surrounding retaliation, he said our nation’s “response” would take years, and that “we are going to see some dark days ahead of us as a nation, and so, we need to pray. We need to ask for God’s wisdom for our leaders.” Why can’t he, as a moral mentor, provide some of that wisdom? Why can’t he share some of the answers God has presumably given him through prayer? Is God mute on the subject? Graham condemns the country for its immorality, yet fails to provide clear direction when it is needed.

Baptist preacher Kelly Boggs, in a column for Baptist Press, dealt with the terrorists in theological terms. “The motive for the terrorist attacks is an extreme form of Islam that seeks to dominate the world with its truth. Anyone who does not embrace the terrorists’ theology is considered an infidel worthy of death.”

So which Biblical injunctions does he recommend we follow?

“There are those who believe a passive response to the terrorists’ actions will somehow pave the way to a peaceful resolution,” he wrote, in a prelude to dismissing the turn-the-other-cheek approach. “You cannot negotiate with someone who is willing to die in an effort to dominate the world with his truth. Freedom-loving people the world over, led by the United States, must unite against terrorists and those who love them. If we do not, this war motivated by extremist theology might not be won.”

Aside from the worn and unwarranted view that extremism is bad, Boggs has an odd element of secularism in his assessment — “Freedom-loving people..” In which chapter and verse do we find freedom dictated as a Christian virtue? If the other side is motivated by extremist views, are we going to beat them with tepid ones? Does uniting against terrorists mean, for a principled Baptist, going to war against them?

He’s right about Islam’s attraction to killing, though. If unbelievers refuse to accept Allah, Mohammed said, “then war. The sword is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer; whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven . . .” The forgiveness-of-sins clause is a big help in training suicide bombers.

Unlike creeds that preach man’s innate depravity, Unitarian Universalists found themselves challenged at its very roots, where they affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But as the Rev. Walter Royal Jones explained, worth and dignity are potentials and only one part of the human condition. This leads to the startling conclusion that some people are good, while others are bad.

Rev. Gordon McKeeman said evil comes about when two “goods” collide, referring to the 9-11 attack. Apparently, it makes no difference which side initiated the collision. If a drunk driver runs into you, it’s simply one good killing another. If that thought bothers you, it’s a reflection of your unenlightened self-interest. People should adjust their concept of self so that it’s synonymous with everyone in the world. Eventually there would be one nation and therefore no conflict among nations.

Reinhold Niebuhr sings a similar tune. “Evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole, whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community or the total community of humanity, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels.”

And to maintain that harmony, I’m sure we can find suggestions in a certain German bestseller of 1933. Terrorism would be the honed tool of the global State for crushing dissidents.

If we’re looking for principled guides to action, then turning to the nation’s churches will likely add to our frustration. While our politicians failed to provide political leadership, the churches have defaulted on moral initiative. The best they can do is holler for help, in the form of prayer.

They condemn the terrorists on the grounds of extremism, a euphemism for acting in accordance with beliefs. Our founders were “extremists” — they were willing to die for their liberty. Though some of them were Christians, it was the shining light of rational individualism that served their moral purpose — that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How fortunate we are that today’s moral leaders were not around in 1776.

George Smith lives in Atlanta where he is busy writing screenplays and articles on liberty. In addition to parenting, he enjoys staying fit, tomato gardening, and making the occasional "killer sandwich."

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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