“Do not be agitated by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong. For they wither quickly, like grass and wilt like tender green plants.
Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:1-4, HCSB
“There is no fear in love; instead perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:18-19, HCSB
Social media, cable and satellite news outlets, and access to information instantly has had an effect on our culture and society, and not all of it has been good. We are almost on top of dramatic events when they happen, cameras may even be rolling and showing scenes before something is over, on the other side of the world. That brings the event close, right into your living room, on your lap, in your mind. We can relate to what we see, so it makes us vulnerable to fear.
The writers of scripture had a lot to say about fear. It’s one of those concepts that, when translated from the original languages of the Bible into English depends a lot on the context in which it is used. The idea of approaching God with “fear and trembling” carries with it the idea of ultimate respect, not only because of what he can do, but because of who he is, by nature, of the authority that he has, and of what he has done for us, whom he created. Conversely, the kind of fear that terrorists generate is a perversion of the same concept. It is a twisted form of respect that depends on their unpredictability and the perception that they want to create, through extreme actions that are counter to the respect for life that directly results from God’s creation of it.
It’s no accident that terrorists have become adept at the use of modern technology and communication. That has been a vehicle they’ve used to enhance the effect of the fear they want to create, so that they can experience more immediate results. They cannot win an ideological battle up front, nor do they have the resources to win by military conquest. ISIS/ISIL has introduced the concept of an Islamic “caliphate” to terrorism, setting up a state to use as a means of gathering resources and having a base of operations to carry out their terrorism. Though their approach is different than previous terrorist organizations have taken, the goal is the same. They use terror to get their perceived enemies to abandon their principles and values in exchange for a sense of security. In so doing, they achieve their ends.
Compared to air attacks and ground battles in the Syrian and Iraqi desert, the Paris attacks, and the shooting in San Bernardino, if it is indeed ISIS-directed, ISIS-inspired, or merely a copy-cat act, are small potatoes. But if the public reaction to these events is any indication of the way people in the United States, and in Western Europe, are thinking, the terrorists may be losing ground in the Middle Eastern military fight, but it won’t take much to win the philosophical and ideological battle. Here’s the evidence of that.
Many Americans, including government officials and politicians, are willing to completely abandon a fundamental core principle of American ideology, which distinguishes our nation from the rest of the world, in exchange for some nebulous idea of “national security.”
Our national identity is inexorably linked to the concept and history that we have cultivated as a refuge for the oppressed and persecuted people of the world. Even as children, when we read about people who were persecuted for their faith, or because they were a minority under a monarch or dictatorship, or because of famine, we automatically thought, “Why don’t they just move here?” That’s a simplistic answer of course, but the bottom line is that the world believes that America is a nation that does not abandon the oppressed to their fate. There have been times in the past when, because we are human, and we are prone to mistakes, we have allowed prejudice and bigotry to interfere with this principle, but the national will has always been to strive for this ideal.
Now, we’re hearing rhetoric about registering Muslims, putting Mosques under surveillance, and we’re seeing a rise in threats and attacks against Muslims in this country. That should scare us a whole lot more than terrorism. It’s time to study the biographies of Father Bernard Lichtenberg and Deitrich Bonhoeffer again, and take a look at history, and what happens when people are singled out for their religion or race.
The immediate access to information, and video images, along with the availability of internet technology seems to remove the ability to think, and to understand facts, and pushes people to react to rumors and propaganda.
That’s frightening. Look at the facts.
The Muslim population in the US is about a half of a percent of the total, with approximately 2.5 million adherents. However, the US Muslim population represents as broad of a diversity of practice and belief as any group of Muslims in the world. Many of them are here because of the US’s extensive involvement in the oil business, and a fairly significant percentage of them, almost half, are native born Americans of either Caucasian or African American descent, and have family roots here that go back for generations, many of them into the colonial days.
Conversely, hundreds of thousands of Americans live and work every day in countries with significant Muslim populations, and are, by comparison, safer there than they are in the US, where the statistics on deaths by shooting are comparably higher. From teaching in a Christian school in Texas, I met many families who had lived for an extended time in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait, and remote places like Kazakhstan, and our school had a high percentage of students who were born in those places.
The idea that the Koran teaches Muslims to rise up and murder “infidels” can be argued from a literal interpretation of some verses, and those are places which fundamentalist, radical Islamic clerics rely upon to motivate their followers. But from the evidence, it is clear that few Muslims of any branch of Islam take those passages literally, and interpret them as being relevant for their faith today. If that were the case, living and working in Indonesia would be impossible, since there are more Muslims there than any other country in the world, and being in Saudi Arabia would be a danger that would actually outweigh the profit motive. Wouldn’t it?
Are Christians abandoning scriptural principles to give in to fear?
It appears that might be the case in some instances. There are Christian leaders who see what is happening, and are speaking the truth in love. But these days, speaking truth that’s not politically correct and aligned with the political view that some church leaders and church groups have adopted as dogma can be hazardous. I know Christians who will not speak to other Christians because they don’t agree on political candidates, or political positions, and as far as God’s word is concerned, that’s wrong.
The passions were inflamed, and the words were strong in support when Kim Davis’ religious freedom was apparently violated when she was jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as ordered by the courts in compliance with the law. But it doesn’t seem that the same principle applies to American Muslims. They can be subjected to violations of their religious freedom, based on the extreme actions of what is a relatively small handful of extremists, without the same consideration.
That is frightening. Where does it stop? If Muslims can be singled out as a group, and held accountable for the actions of a few extremists, then no religious group is safe from persecution. The threshold will be breached, the principle broken.
I cited the first few verses of Psalm 37. That is scripture, you know. Do you really believe what the Psalmist says there? Do you understand that the context in which that Psalm was written was every bit as intense, and occurred in a time that was far more dangerous to the writer and his nation than the problems we face now?
“Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated–it can only bring harm.” Psalm 37:8, HCSB
Do you really believe that? I think, like Jesus’ words, “love your enemies…”, the scripture isn’t getting much attention among many Christians who post on social media. And we’re seeing some Christians, including some pastors and church leaders, come up with some interesting convolutions when it comes to interpreting and applying the parts of scripture that address these issues directly.
When Americans abandon fundamental founding principles of the nation, the terrorists have achieved their goal. When Christians abandon the truth of scripture in the face of fear, the enemy wins, and you are giving the kind of respect that only God deserves to those who use terror to get their way.