“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars….”
(Matthew 24:6a, NRSV)
What solace there is in the assurance offered by Christ Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, NRSV) Christians “weep with those who weep” throughout the oioumene, the whole inhabited earth.
My heart goes out to all those these days who are suffering over the loss of loved ones and grieving the sudden absence in their lives of these beloved individuals wantonly slaughtered by terrorist violence as well as to all those have been wounded, some critically. In times like these, it is important to remember the blessing promised those who mourn.
But in times like these, it is also imperative to think critically about the concatenation of terrorist attacks as of late and the potential counterterror responses to them. As a citizen of the United States of America, my immediate concern is more about the nature of the counterterror response to the evil terrorism represents—whether particular responses to terrorism are morally justifiable and whether specific types of counterterror responses risk returning evil with evil. Lee Griffith asked in his book The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God: “…is it possible that terrorism can also come in the guise of the legally sanctioned violence of powerful nation states?” Any consideration of the evil of terrorist violence requires analysis of the possible evil implicit in the counterterror response. One need only ponder, for example, drone warfare. Neither terrorist violence nor the counterterror response to it can be exempted from moral examination.
In an anxious age when “wars and rumors of wars” run rampant, there is great peril that misbegotten national security policy could invite the very thing it seeks to avert—the use of weapons of mass destruction and the whole world at war. When a policy of preemptive or preventive war is coupled with an oversimplified worldview, a militarized, alarmingly bellicose foreign policy, and the sanctimonious assumption that “might makes right,” it could lead to the temptation of announcing ambitious, hubristic intentions to “rid the world of evil.” It can result in an inordinate confidence in the righteousness of one’s cause, creating the complete moral confusion that leads many to feel their country can do no wrong, and there is rarely any alternative to war. Remember Friedrich Nietzsche’s warning, issued in Beyond Good and Evil: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
In a world awash with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and intoxicated by religious fantasies of apocalyptic glory, the potential for devastating evil to be instantly unloosed in a wild paroxysm of cosmic violence is scarcely unimaginable. We are now only a short rationalization away from “total war” being justified on dubious, eschatological religious grounds when doomsday could be finally ushered in with many happy religious accomplices in speeding its arrival.
Each religious community must be poised to critique and rebuke its own membership. In particular, today, Christians and Muslims alike must muster arguments against radical fundamentalists and violent extremists in their midst, morally rebuking their own religious apostates who incite to evil. We cannot allow extremist fringe elements within our traditions to define what our faiths stand for, and what they stand against. Let us throw of this affliction. Christians and Muslims should readily deny any standing to, disassociate themselves from, and condemn unhesitatingly, all those who would disgrace their faith, pervert its teachings, and do evil in God’s or Allah’s name.
With abiding appreciation for the profound insight of Saint Augustine that evil can never be fought as if it arose totally outside of ourselves, Christians and Muslims could studiously draft and then solemnly enter into a new, worldwide interreligious covenant that boldly affirms our faiths—and earnestly expresses our hopes—that we “ain’t goin’ to study war no more.”
In our warring, unjust world, I pray Christians and Muslims together will seek “the things that make for peace” and justice and work as one in new ways toward that end. — The Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., ecumenical staff officer of The United Methodist Church.