For now this section contains only one letter, written to my second daughter's husband, who recently completed his Ph.D. in archaeology. Because it deals with the largely suppressed contrast between Islam and Christianity as regards what each considers acceptable means of propagation, it is of general interest.
I had sent my son-in-law a copy of a widely circulated "letter to the American people" purporting to come from Osama bin Laden, in which the radical leader sought to explain (1) "Why are we fighting and opposing you?" and (2) "What are we calling you to?" My son-in-law had responded via email to my provocative comments on the piece. Here is my counter-response:
December 7, 2002
Thank you for your obviously thoughtful and quite cogent response to the "bin Laden" email.
You expressed a little curiosity as to why I have not raised such issues when we are face to face. Allow me to restate the several reasons given in my last email to you: "I appreciated your words about point-counterpoint messages. You have a sharply incisive mind, and I agree that finding a worthy 'fencing partner' is intellectually refreshing. Moreover, for myself, having more of a four-wheel-drive than a race-car kind of mind, I think much more clearly in the plodding process of writing than 'on my feet,' especially in matters of philosophical weight. In addition, when we are together as families who only occasionally see each other, our mutual love and respect preclude 'ferocious' exchanges, when the proper focus is on each of you, especially your precious daughters. Meanwhile our mutual appreciation as persons of undoubted good will can continue to blossom, no?"
Well, all that is perfectly true; and, as far as the "mutual love and respect" goes, sets forth what must remain the bottom-line controlling value. The difficulty, as your word "ferocious" well suggests, is that the gulf between our viewpoints is so patently wide, our analyses so opposed, that to even broach them in conversation might seem to threaten the lovingly tolerant relationship we've all achieved to date. (Not that we would cease loving one another, but sometimes I think a totally open dialogue might proceed if, for example, you and I were confined to share a prison cell for, say, ten years! But -- back to my 4-wheel-drive analogy -- at least by limiting our thoughts to the concreteness of writing, there is less room for misunderstanding.)
And then of course there's that other seldom openly acknowledged level of conflict at the heart of the gulf between my weltanschauung and yours: a highly specific theism versus (what appears to be) an agnostic naturalism -- with perhaps some postmodern ideas about the subjectiveness of truth thrown in. Since ultimate assumptions about the nature of reality are involved, a semantically sound dialogue could prove daunting. Moreover, directly tied to my theism is the perceived risk of banishment from my daughter's lives on the charge of "superstition." This more personal reason I am reluctant to expose my mind derives from both Ingrid and Gabriel having made it clear that my "evangelical perspective" is -- despite the fact that for the past 26 years it has been the very bedrock from which I am purposed to live -- a taboo subject between us. Not that I think my sins against them haven't earned such "karma," but to simply say in their presence what I now actually think is seemingly to flirt with being prohibited from spending time with them or their children. So I am somewhat torn in this area. But I should look on the bright side: [wry smile here:] if Peggy and I are still alive when those grandkids reach adulthood, they might be ready to withstand exposure to our retrograde worldview!
Given, then, the fact that our paradigms are at present so antithetical, the following may stretch your credulity a bit, but here goes:
In 1965 when I left Vandy with my ticket to mould the minds of the young punched, my philosophical/political views were not all that alien to what one can discern yours now are. I was, for example, so opposed to participating in what I considered the absurdity of war that I wrote a self-righteous letter to the Adjutant General of the State of Tennessee declaring that as a member of the Air National Guard I would -- in the event of being called to armed conflict -- be more inclined to shoot myself rather than take the sacred life of an "enemy." (This action deeply embarrassed my dear father, who nevertheless interceded with his then boss [the A.G.] for honorable discharge, which, by these pulled strings, I received.) Moreover, as to my then sanguine confidence in notions of moral progress through science and education, my optimism was so boundless I for a time explored a possible career as a physiological psychologist. (After all, if the brain/mind mystery could be solved, the door to human potential and perfectibility would surely swing wide!) But quickly seeing the ontological hurdles of this approach to social amelioration, I soon made inquiries with the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland for possible training as a "depth psychologist." Somewhere along the way my dream included the founding of a utopian community of "way showers" who through electronic mass media might spread the good news of expanded consciousness suddenly available via mind-altering "sacred substances." As film and television represented the most potent to-date fusion of all art forms, in Alabama and Florida I began making underground films using my students as actors and soon landed a job learning all aspects of film production with Georgia Educational TV in Atlanta. During those years, burning draft cards and experimenting with psychedelics, the farthest left Democrats seemed way too conservative for my agenda.
Having been raised in a nominally Christian home where I gained superficial familiarity with historical events as rendered in the Bible, I believed myself qualified to -- as Thoreau says --"gird up my loins and strike out for the fountainhead" from which that (or any other) particular lake of wisdom had collected itself. I dove into esoteric writings of Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs -- confident that all paths led to the top of the same mountain. Then, moving to the literal mountains of northern New Mexico, I pursued the physical and mental disciplines of strict diet, strenuous yoga, and half-assed meditation. But if I had a "religion" in those days, it was probably free sex. Utopia surely must make room for the institution of the harem. The wreckage of two divorces is about all that remains of these misguided radicalisms.
Of course I'm not accusing you of being any such hair-brained fool as I then was; but merely that, had we been contemporaries, we would definitely have occupied the same side of the political spectrum!
Now, however, we find our views of the world at opposite poles, primarily because I have become convinced of the trustworthiness and authority of the Old and New Testament scriptures. On the matter of Islam, for instance, I strongly disagree that it is at root a religion of peace. Its adherents who loudly proclaim it as such are as apostate from the injunctions of the Koran as are the mainline Christian denominations fallen away from the historic doctrines of the church. Radical Muslims like bin Laden are simply being less hypocritical about the parts of the Koran which openly enjoin violence against unbelievers, most especially Jews.
The New Testament, on the other hand, never advocates violence, though it recognizes that in this epoch violence will persist. (You misunderstood my intent when I contrasted those who think perhaps we need to concentrate on changing our behavior over against those who advocate a military response. I was speaking there as the collective "we" because these are the options America seems polarized around. I agree with you there may be other approaches.) The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that church and state have separate yet nevertheless God-ordained roles. Despite the fact that governments, like men, tend to corruption, they have a clear mandate in "bearing the sword" to restrain evil (Rom. 13:1-4). On the other hand, Paul explicitly states that "the weapons of our [the Christian's] warfare are not fleshly" but rather fitted for "pulling down [mental and spiritual] strongholds…raised up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10: 3-5). When Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword," his immediate context was the inevitable strife between members of the same family over his claim of divinity. While such a statement also doubtless showed his realism about religious wars to come, his other precepts of non-retaliation on the personal level make it plain he was not advocating the spread of the gospel by military conquest -- as though a change in the heart could be wrought by fiat. (Thus the Crusades were hardly a "Christian" enterprise; Muslim confusion on this point is, sadly, all too understandable. The all too common use of the word Christian as an adjective is a source of huge confusion.) Recall also the incident on the night of Jesus' betrayal when he told Peter to "put up your sword" after the latter tried to defend his master -- who then even healed the severed ear of the one struck. On the contrary, the New Testament is consistent and unambiguous in its use of "sword" as one of its metaphors for the "Word of God." (See Eph.6:17, Heb.4:12, Rev.1:16, 2:12, and [in use]: Mt.4:4,6,7,10.)
In parallel (but illegitimate) fashion liberal Muslims try to spiritualize the suras in the Koran advocating jihad, as though the symbolism always refers to a struggle or warfare within the self. But when one comes across verses such as these:
The Koran states that even the boulder behind which a Jew is hiding will verbally betray his presence there. Further, when one follows the historical spread of Islam, the inescapable conclusion is that the religion has been spread by the literal sword wielded under the explicit mandate of its most holy text. I fully concur with what CBS reporter David Dolan says in his book Holy War for the Promised Land: "While I have great love and respect for the Muslims as people made in the image of God, I cannot but grieve for them as prisoners of a religious system, based on the Koran and Hadith, which exalts warfare and almost mandates hatred, or at least scorn, of the Jews" (p. 208).
The openness and toleration of the American social order with respect to religion derives historically in large part from the Judeo-Christian concept of free will -- that men are born with a potential (and implied obligation) to choose their own path, for good or ill. The contrast between our society, for all its hideous faults, and the coercive intolerance of Islamic legalism could hardly be sharper. Although we sometimes, for the most heinous crimes, resort to the death penalty, we have no Chop-chop Square for "infidels." The very concept of freedom of religion is anathema in Islamic society.
Broadening the focus now, your comments about the nature of religion suggest you believe it to be a kind of conceptual froth overlaying a primordial given derived from natural history. Peggy and I, in contrast, believe religion always has an intelligent source beyond the phenomenal realm. Allow a brief amplification:
In the Judeo-Christian view, there is a sense in which the problem of terrorism by Muslims is a problem of religion. But in a deeper sense "mere religion" is not the problem. In the former case, on the level of words in this or that book from which human beings struggle to distill, as you put it, "a canonized framework," there will inevitably be the "clash of rationalizations," even among adherents of the same "religion." Religion in this sense is primarily the frustrating human attempt to reach up to God. But, in the latter case, insofar as those "rationalized frameworks" accurately reflect objective spiritual realities, they may offer a window of opportunity through which God reaches down to humans. (From the human perspective, that God should have so arranged his economy that "faith" should play a crucial role in the individual's reconciliation with him, seems bizarre enough, I agree.) Of course within the same religious system there will be more and less accurate theologies, but even more dismaying is the realization that there are "designer religions," supernaturally inspired and intricately contrived to lead humans aside from what Jesus called the "narrow gate" (Jn. 10:1-5).
Paranoia to the max -- unless it's true.
If the Bible does not present an accurate and authoritative picture of unseen realities, then we are indeed not only paranoid but even our peace, hope, and joy must be illusory -- or, as Paul said, "of all men most to be pitied." Quite amazingly, however, the Bible states in no uncertain terms "Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). This same angelic creature is presented in the Old Testament as God's former Lieutenant (Is. 14:12-14, Ez. 28:11-19) who through pride aspired to compete with his Creator. Now in (his last remaining avenue of) revenge for banishment to earth he is like an enraged lion bent on destruction of human souls (1 Pet. 5:8, Rev. 12:12).
Aside from the "bloody barbarism" of God somehow allowing himself to be tortured to death on a wooden cross, the supreme offense of the Bible's message is Christ's claim to exclusivity. (So offensive that lately major segments of nominal Christendom are rejecting the historical faith in ecumenical alliances with other spiritual traditions. Yet even this development is no surprise to the Bible, which predicts just such a falling away [2 Thess. 2:1-12, Mt. 24:4-5]. Jesus himself said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" [Lk. 18:8].) In a world system where a uni-directional "tolerance" has become the highest virtue, the ultimate political incorrectness is this claim that there is only one way to reconciliation with God. It offends self-determination, self-reliance, self-esteem, intellect -- in short, it is an offence to pride.
Yet again I say, if one has the courage to seek in that one place which the spirit of our age has taught us to shun as disproven and obsolescent -- if one can muster the honesty to confront the Bible on its own terms -- God Himself ever waits to open the eyes of human hearts. When that happens, all confusion is put to rest. The great "offense" has become our highest joy, our perfect peace. Our context as biological creatures living on a dust mote in an empty corner of a nondescript galaxy is indeed incredible. How could the Creator of all THAT possibly give a hoot for our fate? As the psalmist asked, "What is man, that THOU art mindful of him?" We can't answer that question while we still inhabit bodies of flesh, but even now, once we have made our peace with the Father of lights, the assurance of his "mindfulness" becomes unshakable.
If I were to unwisely blunder on from religion into politics, you would perhaps be even more shocked to hear my views. To hear, for example, that I am glad for Israel that it has the Churchill it needs at this time in Ariel Sharon, just as I am grateful our country has Cowboy Bush instead of Spotted Al Gore. I am well aware of the unseen hands of the super-rich ever maneuvering behind the scenes to direct the ship of state, yet I reject the facile charge that Bush and Cheny are motivated primarily by personal stakes in big oil. (The fact remains that oil is the lifeblood of the global economy, but that's another subject.) I fear you have been sheltered in Seattle from the full spectrum of political thought going on outside the ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, NPR "ghetto." But my rhetoric is starting to crowd the red line of ferocity here, so I'll just tip my hat to you in temporary farewell, and say I have enjoyed the opportunity to respond to your stimulating email!
Sincerest love to you and yours,
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Copyright © 2001 STORMWATCH all rights