Παρασκευή, 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014
FIRST SERMON AFTER SEPTEMBER 11TH An Orthodox Response to the Terrorist Attacks of September 11th, 2001
It was utterly appropriate (Providentially directed) for the President to declare Friday, Holy Cross Day, to be a national day of prayer and remembrance. As I shared last Sunday, my hope is that this day, September 14th, be an annual national day, facilitating in some small way America's conversion to holy Orthodoxy.
We mourn for those who lost their lives, and their grieving loved ones. Our hearts go out to them. We pray for comfort and healing and resolution and closure. We are humbly grateful for the heroes who helped others. We especially mourn for those who died without Christ, to eternal torment. We pray for the children now orphaned, for the aged, and the injured, "that the Lord our God may look upon them with compassion; that He may comfort, strengthen and preserve them." Our churches immediately put together Moleiben services and came together to intercede for all affected by this horrific tragedy. They personally are certainly not to blame for their suffering, nor are they personally deserving their fate anymore than the rest of us sinners. Jesus Himself explained this, responding to reports of similar tragedies:
"Some present told Jesus of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.' "
Frightening words, from God Himself: "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
It seems the lesson is for us, not others, and that Christ uses such disasters to serve as a warning.
This is consistent with the Church's experience; when great catastrophes strike, God's people have always understood it as divine chastisement, and responded with repentance. (This is why we sing the Trisagion Hymn every liturgy and in our daily prayer rule: when in Constantinople a series of earthquakes killed many and threatened the city's survival, the Orthodox understood it to be correction from God and turned to Him in repentance; during their intercessions for mercy, a boy was lifted up into the clouds, hearing the angels sing, "Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us!"; shortly after, this prayer-of-prayers was added to our Divine Liturgy.)
Our current national tragedy is, more than anything else, a call to turn back to the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not simply go back to what we were doing, and life should not just go on as "normal." It is an Orthodox principle that all things are Providentially directed by the Hand of God; nothing is mere chance. Therefore we seek to hear from God in the midst of both the good and the bad, and redeem all circumstances. It is easy to see God's hand in good things that happen to us, and in the many blessings of our nation; but it is equally important - perhaps even more important - to see God's hand in bad things that happen. Our Moleiben prayers ask God to "be reconciled to us, so that He may turn away from us the storm of wrath and affliction stirred up against us; that He may deliver us from the righteous judgment impending against us; and that He may have mercy on us." This is the Orthodox view of any great national tragedy.
As Frederica Mathewes-Green puts it, "There's good spiritual precedent for taking a moment for reflection and assessment in any time of sorrow. The Hebrew scriptures show a consistent pattern: a devastating loss was a signal to repent, turn, and change. That didn't mean that the enemy was right or that God liked them better, just that it was time for learning a hard lesson... The goal is renewal." As painful as it may be, it is important for us, as Americans, to ask ourselves several pointed questions. While it is true that "the rain falls on the just and the unjust, "still, in this nation-stopping event, we would be derelict in our duty as citizens if we didn't confront the gnawing questions which arise from such a disaster.
There is bigotry across our country today. President Bush said rightly, "No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background." If you stereotype an entire race, you are a bigot. If you start a sentence with "They...," referring to blacks or hispanics or asians or arabs, and then make a negative character judgement, that's prejudice. Generalized race or color judgements is racism, pure and simple. Our laws correctly stand against discrimination on the basis of race or color, since "all men are created equal."
However, not all religions are equal. Judgements about creed, religion, truth vs. falsehood, what is right and wrong, moral or immoral, are not bigotry, and are necessary to be made, both for our salvation and for the salvation of the world. It's time for "situation ethics” to be thrown out the window. In the American worship of tolerance, all religions are given equivalency and Christianity is whitewashed into simply one of many alternatives. This is important for Orthodox because, contrary to popular thought, there is no religion in the world whose doctrine is compatible with Christianity. We know that Jesus Christ is The Truth, The Way, The Life, and there is no other Name under heaven by which we may be saved.
Furthermore, blind equality between religions is dangerous for all because, contrary to popular spin, some religions are intrinsically antagonistic or destructive. One example would be those religions which practice animal torture and/or sacrifice, such as Satanism or various occult practices, or those which seek or pray for harm to come to people, such as Voodoo or black magic. (The very foundation of our nation and the basis of our freedom is Christian. Patrick Henry wrote: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." Brannon Howse points out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1892: "Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian." George Washington himself wrote that the two pillars of our democracy are Morality and Christian Religion.)
The same critical honesty should be directed toward the religion which motivated the terrorists, Islam. Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, particularly among black Americans, affording them a moral and social structure long abandoned by churches. While most Muslims are peace-loving, law abiding, good citizens who sincerely want to follow the true God, their religion is neither peace-loving nor directed toward the one, true God. Islam is a religion founded specifically against Christians: Five times a day, faithful Muslims turn toward Mecca and declare that God "has no son," a prayer directed by design against the saving Truth of Orthodox Christianity. Islam is not only a false system of belief, but is a religion founded on violence. The media, in its zeal against anything Christian, has covered this fact up. (It was Allah, and not "God," whom the Egyptian airline hijacker called out to just as he crashed his plane with all its passengers a year ago.) The false "prophet" Mohamed founded his cult on slaughter, especially directed against Christians throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Spain.
(Incidentally, this is what motivated the Crusades --a sinful, evil series of Roman military campaigns-- which were response to the Muslim religious genocide across the known world. I looked through several Muslim web sites and found they repeatedly downplayed Islamic jihad and constantly condemned the Crusades. How ironic!)
The terrorists were not practicing a "fringe form” of Islamic "extremism," nor were they "traitors to their own faith," as President Bush proposes; they were simply taking the teachings of Mohammed seriously. Their scriptures speak for themselves: "Kill those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush"(Sura 9:5). "When you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them" (Sura 47:4). "Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in Allah, or in the Last Day, and who forbid not what Allah and His Apostle have forbidden..." (Sura 9:29).
Unlike the call to arms found in most religions, temporary, circumstantial commands to fight enemies of one's faith or land, Islam teaches a never-ending conversion by the sword until the world is under Muslim domination. "You are ordered by Allah to continue in carrying out Jihad against the disbelievers until they embrace Islam or at least come under you..." "Say to the infidels: If they desist (i.e., reject Christianity), what is now past shall be forgiven them; but if they return, they have already before them the doom of the ancients!
Fight then against them until strife be at an end, and the religion be all of Allah." (Sura 8:39).
It was not "the terrorists' directive" which commanded them to kill, as President Bush said, but the written commands of Allah, their false god. "Allah revealed the order and commanded the Muslims to fight against all the Mushrikun as well as against the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) if they do not embrace Islam, until they came under willing submission and feel themselves subdued. So Muslims were not permitted to abandon the fighting against them and to reconcile with them and to suspend hostilities against them for an unlimited period while they are strong and are able to fight against them."
Jihad is from the Arabic word for "struggle," and refers to the sacred duty of Muslims to engage in "holy war" against all non-Muslims. "Fight in the Cause of Allah... and incite the believers (to fight along with you), it may be that Allah will restrain the evil might of the disbelievers.” "Jihad is ordained for you though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know."
Those who engage in jihad receive rewards in this world and next.
One commentator notes, "Spoils of war would be the property of the soldiers who actually take part in the battle...
That is one of the reasons why the soldiers of Islam fought tooth and nail. They would get Paradise in case of death in a Holy War, and booties in the case of conquest. Jihad is therefore the best source of all acquisitions" ("Mishkat" II). "To whichever village you go and settle therein, there is your share therein, and whichever village disobeys Allah and His Messenger, its one-fifth is for Allah and His Messenger and the remainder is for you." (Mishkat II, p412). Another author explains, "In the actual war-field in the midst of hostilities, some concessions were sometimes given to soldiers for recreation. Captive virgin girls in war were once made lawful for the soldiers for copulation" (Sahih Muslim II).
Again, the Islamic scriptures are clear: "Those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost. He will guide them and set right their state and admit them to Paradise which He has made known." "Even though by its nature (killing) is disliked by the human soul..., Allah has made ready an immensely good reward that cannot be imagined by a human soul." "Paradise has one hundred grades which Allah has reserved for those who fight in His Cause, and the distance between each of the two grades is like the distance between the heaven and the earth."
One leading Muslim, speaking at a recent conference in Chicago, explained that Allah considers jihad an act of worship: "The benefits of Jihad for us are extensive and comprehensive, and... it shows one's sincerity to Allah and it also shows one's trust in Him, and it indicates the handing over of one's soul and property to Him. Jihad shows...one's devotion to Islam, one's remembrance to Allah and there are other kinds of good deeds which are present in Jihad and are not present in any other act of worship." And again, "Jihad is regarded as the best thing, one can offer voluntarily..., bringing the greatest reward and vast blessings; and for the Muslim nation, Jihad provides all kinds of successes in respect of prosperity and dignity, victory and glory - thus bringing magnificence and splendor."
Islam isn't the only religion in which violence has played a part.
It is true that in the Old Testament, Israel's army was used by God to punish other nations - nations such as the Canaanites, which were sacrificing their own children to their false god Baal. Yes, God used the sword as punishment, as He used Fire to punish Sodom and Gomorrah's homosexuality. But Orthodox Christianity is based on progressive revelation. We believe the Old Testament is properly understood only in light of the New Testament. (It was one of the mistakes of the Crusaders to look at Christianity only in light of the Old Testament morality.) In the beginning, God taught the simplest of things, like we would with a little child, such as the fact that some actions are right, while other actions are wrong. God promised blessing if His people followed the right, and warned of His curse if they acted wrongly. Then, He made a covenant with His people, revealing to them the deeper concepts of His loyalty, longsuffering, and patience. Later, God revealed the Law through Moses, which lessened and limited punishment ("an eye for an eye" was an act of mercy, in that previously the offended person could wreak vengeance by killing the offender and all his family). Later still, God sent Prophets, teaching His people that "I desire mercy, not sacrifice;" that "the sacrifice acceptable to God is a humble spirit;" that God loves justice, shows compassion, values mercy more than law, and that He is a God of Peace, not violence. (Although King David was used by God to root out the wicked Philistines from the area, still God would not allow David to build His Temple, because David had shed blood in war.) Finally, God's ultimate self-revelation, showing The Truth, superceding all truths before Him, was in Christ Jesus, His only Son, Who taught us to "turn the other cheek," to "bless those who curse you,” to "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you," "do not let the sun go down on your anger," and "overcome evil with good."
Despite claims to the contrary, Islam has no New Testament. Though they say Islam embraces Jesus as a lesser prophet, they are unenlightened by His Gospel of Peace. Their laws are closer in character to "an eye for an eye," and "hate your enemies," than "turn the other cheek" and "do not resist those who are evil."
They are unenlightened by the Gospel of Peace.
They are still living under primitive, nationalistic ways, with a double standard for what is moral conduct between fellow Muslims versus what is acceptable conduct, legally and morally, between Muslims and Infidels.
They often say Christianized things in the world's arena, but illegitimately, simply because society is permeated with Christian ideals. For instance, in cases of personal injury, though financial compensation is urged over exacting physical harm, "a tooth for a tooth" is not unheard of in Muslim lands. The Monk James tells of "a recent case in Egypt, where a thief was surgically deprived of a hand because his victim would not accede to the financial option; the injured party wanted blood, and he got it."
In our political correctness, and in our tolerance, let us not be deceived. A poem by Ali ibn Abi Talib, summarizes Islam: "Our flowers are the sword and the dagger, Narcissus and myrtle are nought; Our drink is the blood of our foeman, Our goblet his skull, when we've fought." We do no service to anyone, Muslim or not, to pretend that Islam is equal to Christianity, or has nothing to do with the violence that has befallen us. We love when we speak the truth, and call all to the one Truth which can unite mankind, Jesus the Christ. (This is why, as Orthodox Christians, we know the only solution to violence in the Middle East, the only way to establish peace between Palestinians and Jews, is conversion to Christ. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we offer the Author and Prince of Peace. Christ the Messiah alone breaks down the barrier of hostility between God and man, and between man and man. He is the uniter of men, being the sole mediator between God and man. We pray for the softening of the hearts of all the people of the Middle East and the world, toward their only true Savior.)
This truth must be balanced, however, with the realization that, especially in the West, the violent core of Islam is repressed, even to the point that perhaps most Muslims in the West not only reject violence, but don't even know the true nature of their own religion. Nominalism is just as much a reality in the Islamic world as it is in Christendom. Though Islam offers a strong moral backbone, and the Koran repeatedly encourages doing good, caring for the poor, rejecting materialism and following righteousness, I believe it fair to say (sadly) that many if not most Western Muslims are as worldly as the average Mormon, or Protestant, or (tragically!) Orthodox Christian. Fr. Justin Frederick explains, "These days, anyone who takes the tenets of his faith so seriously that he will put them before secular and material concerns is labeled an 'extremist' or 'fundamentalist'... But it is precisely those who are 'nominal' that our press goes to for their definition and understanding of Islam." In fact, the character of Islam differs from society to society. In Indonesia, for instance, Islam is generally tempered by Hindu, Buddhist, and other animist faiths that preceded it...
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Islam promotes conversion/subjugation by the sword. Islam divides the entire world into two 'houses' or 'lands': the Land of Islam (Darul Islam), and the Land of War (Darul Harb), where Muslims are required to infiltrate, proselytize and procreate until their numbers increase such that they can kill the people and impose their religion, "converting" it into the Land of Islam. Dr. Samuel Schlorff, an expert on Islam, explains further: "Islam, we've been told, is related to the Arabic word meaning 'peace.' This is correct, except that the word means a particular kind of peace. A better translation is 'surrender' or 'submission.' It describes the peace when a vanquished soldier lays down his arms in submission. And so the very name, Islam, has militaristic connotations... All Christians should respect law-abiding Muslims in this country. But we also should understand our differences."
While Islam has a rich and marvelous cultural heritage, freedom of religion has never been a part of it. Religious freedom simply does not exist in any Muslim country. Bernard Lewis explains the Muslim worldview: "The true faith, based on God's final revelation, must be protected from insult and abuse; other faiths, being either false or incomplete, have no right to any such protection." The Koran actually teaches religious intolerance: "If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him" (3:85). In Islamic Egypt, the police look the other way while whole Coptic Christian families are murdered. The Islamic Turks keep Orthodox Christians under fierce subjugation, arresting them for even speaking about Christ. The Islamic Sudanese sell Christians into slavery and crucify them. Islamic Algerian police arrest citizens for having Bibles and Christian literature. Islamic Indonesians have rioted against Christians and burned and bombed churches. (Last year Muslims invaded the islands, and 7000 Christians tried to flee. Those who could not were hacked to death with machetes or forced to convert to Islam under threat of death.) In Islamic Nigeria, all churches in the northern state of Kano have been declared illegal, 17 have been demolished, and a total of 294 churches have been burned in Kaduna city. Muslims in the Philippines kidnap and kill even children in their campaign to Islamicize the southern part of that country.
A group of secular Muslims concludes that "it is not the extremists who have misunderstood Islam. They do literally what the Qur'an asks them to do. It is we who misunderstand Islam. We are the ones who are confused... Let us not fool ourselves. Islam is not a religion of peace, of tolerance, of equality or of unity of humankind. Let us read the Qur'an. Let us face the truth even if it is painful. As long as we keep this lie alive, as long as we hide our head in the sands of Arabia we are feeding terrorism. As long as you and I keep calling Qur'an the infallible book of God, we cannot blame those who follow the teachings therein."
It is time for blind tolerance to open its eyes and admit right and wrong. Brannon Howse explains: "So many (American leaders) have lobbied for unlimited abortion rights, the teaching of moral relativism in our nation's schools, doctor assisted suicide, the removal of God from our nation's school and public square, and now, this week we have heard some of these same people describing the events and actions of the terrorist on September 11th as wrong, absolutely wrong, and evil. Indeed, it was wrong, absolutely wrong and evil. However, how can the same people who have so long proclaimed that there is not right or wrong, that there are not absolutes, that education must be value neutral, that all religions are of equal value, that we must be tolerant of all beliefs and all ideas and that we must not pass judgment on anyone, now proclaim their horror at the ideas, actions and religious convictions of America's attackers? If indeed moral relativism, pluralism and situational ethics are the prevailing standards as proclaimed by the cultural elite, educators and university professors, how then can it be said that what the terrorist did on September 11th is wrong? If such actions are acceptable under the "religious" philosophies of radical, fundamentalist Islamic followers, how can we say that is wrong lest we declare one value or belief system is better than another or such a religion is evil and worthy of being declared as such? What happens to pluralism then? What happens to moral relativism, situational ethics?
Perhaps these ideas will finally be exposed for what they are: false, dangerous and having serious consequences."
Admitting the fact that Islam advocates violence does little to comfort the bereaved, or resolve our confusion and fear. So many have asked, "Why would God allow such a thing?" As one minister put it, God did not do it, but He did make us all with free will, the ability to choose either good or bad. Pastor Malcolm continues, ""It is the most amazing fact when one studies creation, that He created us at all! Knowing that the gift of free will would wreak havoc on his creation and cause Him to suffer, shed His blood and die, yet still He created us. The only answer is that He would rather die" for us than force us to love Him back."
"Where was God in all of this?" God was in the midst of the suffering. In fact, Christ took upon Himself, in a way that we can't begin to fathom, all the sin, grief, and pain of the world while on the Cross. His suffering was infinite, voluntarily receiving in Himself every evil of the past, present and future of mankind, "becoming sin for our sake," as St. Paul puts it. Pastor Malcolm: "God in Jesus Christ joined us in our pain... He took and made His own our sin, grief, sorrow and death and swallowed it in His resurrection. He now joins us in our deepest sorrows and grief knowing from His experience what we are going through and infuses His strong comfort and divine peace into us."
We must respond to the events of September 11th by putting all our trust in Christ, not in our country, not at all in ourselves, not in the Stock Market, not in democracy or capitalism or anything or anyone else. As King David put it, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?" (Psalm 56:3-4). Many responded to the terrorist attacks with indignant pride: "They can't defeat us! We're going to build a bigger and better World Trade Center!" This is the wrong response. The truth is, they can defeat us. It is possible. Just as the "unsinkable" Titanic could sink, so the "unconquerable" United States can be overthrown. No country is invincible, no government is almighty, and no nation is eternal. Sooner or later (and of course we all hope and pray that it is much later), the United States will crumble and fall, just as every nation has and every nation will, before Christ returns in power, inaugurating the eternal Day. Contrary to popular (false) "Christian" belief, America is not the Kingdom of God.
Let us never put our hope in any nation, or in democracy, and certainly not in capitalism, but let us place all of our faith in our eternal Lord and Master. Of those who call God their refuge, the Psalmist says, "You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday" (Psalm 91).
All the above being said, we must ask what I think is the most important question rising from our national tragedy: Why are we so hated in the world? Again, we must look at this question honestly, without glossing over or making excuses for ourselves, and without pride. Frankly, President Bush's assessment that the terrorists "hate our freedoms" of democracy, was shallow. Yes, others are jealous of America, but that can account for petty hatred and envy, not for a series of kamikaze suicides. Envy falls short of explaining someone slaughtering thousands of innocents. Osama bin Laden with his cohorts isn't seeking money; he's a multi-millionaire.
It's not an issue of government, democracy or monarchy, since Osama bin Laden is his own ruler.
It's not an issue of hating freedom. The terrorists aren't so much power hungry, either, as they are fierce adherents to an ideology and a way of life which they perceive as threatened by the American lifestyle. And they're right.
Listen to what Muslims say in their anti-American rhetoric.
Individual U.S. citizens are not the great enemy, it is the decadent, unjust, and immoral American way of life which they call "the Great Satan." I believe we must examine ourselves and our country as we are seen by others - with an understanding sympathetic to how other countries view us. If we do so honestly, we will find ample room for repentance as a nation.
What does the average citizen of Turkey or Afghanistan or Iraq see when he looks at the United States? Vast wealth, for one thing. Greater affluence than the world has ever known, all concentrated in less than one-twenty-fourth of the world’s population.
Put aside our usual justifications ("we’ve earned it”), and look through their eyes: does this seem fair? Nearly a third of the world is starving, and we pay farmers not to produce food.
Is this justice? To my thinking, it wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t accompany our gluttony with a condescending attitude which judges others as deserving their poverty. "All you need is hard work,” is not true.
What would you think of a people obsessed with houses, cars, fashion and the like, while you and your children struggle to survive? In our utter selfishness, we’re glued to the stock market report, fretting over what percentage of a return we’re making and how much to store up in our CDs, while the rest of the suffering world is ignored.
Our collective pride and brazen arrogance in the world community is overshadowed only by our immorality. Islam has a strict moral code. Again, put aside our opinion that it is oppressively strict, and realize that brazen immorality is much more an offense to those who seek to live moral lives. The corruption spread by "bottom line" capitalism and American lifestyles broadcast around the world is a very real threat to their morality.
Pornography pours out of the United States, like a river of sewage. It is beamed via satellite around the globe and no one stops it. The number one product on the internet is sexual perversion. Sodomy is literally paraded in American streets as a tribute to the U.S. Constitution and the pinnacle of freedom. And again, worst of all, we flaunt our immorality. Promiscuity is a protected right of the American citizen, so much so that we will kill our children to hide our adultery or maintain our fornication. It's one thing to be a moral failure (I am!); it's a much deeper offense to mock morality incessantly in every media outlet. We justify debauchery as a lifestyle, with nearly complete societal acceptance of couples living together before marriage --indeed, without marriage ever being considered.
We've become lewd, defending filth as art, defining blasphemy as self-expression and protecting obscenity behind the First Amendment, something revered as so sacred as to abrogate God's Ten Commandments. (Frederica Mathewes-Green suggests, "No more stuff designed merely to shock. We've seen the truly shocking now and it's not a game. Get over the idea that art must be ugly in order to be true. Most generations before us have had the idea that truth was connected to beauty. We're hungry for some beauty now.") Our divorce laws and tax code assist in the breakup of the family, while our leaders champion lesbian adoption. We have become the Jerry Springer Show of the global community. And all this vaunted before the world as a way of life they should adopt, or else be considered "backward."
Can you see how this is perceived by Muslim communities, seeking to live devoutly?
Take the treatment of women, for instance. In Muslim countries, women are protected, sheltered, and modesty is the rule. Yes, we believe it is taken to the extreme, to the point of oppression and domination, but for just a moment think through the pious Muslim's mind.
A woman's virtue is considered so precious and is so guarded that they cover their bodies completely when in public.
How well does that stand alongside the daily glut of American women's fashion, lifestyle, and general demeanor? Can you see how someone could possibly feel offended, might possibly feel his way of life threatened, by ever-increasing American world dominance?
Abortion is another major area of offense (not only to Islamic countries but to anyone of any moral character). Islamic countries (along with a few Orthodox) are consistently the only ones to stand against the overwhelming dominance of U.S.- backed abortion laws in UN conferences and world meetings. They are the greatest advocates of pro-life sense, in the midst of U.S. pro-abortion bullying tactics. Let's think about this for just a moment, from the viewpoint of the Muslim. If Israel justified wiping out the Canaanites because they practiced infanticide, offering up their own children as living sacrifices to Baal, isn't America a modern parallel, justly receiving due punishment for the painful mutilation and slaughter of over forty million of our own preborn babies? And again, we don't just do it ourselves, we champion it and spread it around the world, advocating it for all and pushing it in Egypt, China, Turkey and elsewhere in conferences "on the child," under the guise of being concerned for children's welfare.
No less significant is the deep sense that the United States is responsible for some of the grossest political injustices. We repeatedly support - and kill for - extremely repressive regimes in favor of governments which in some way do not follow us. We made the Shaw of Iran, as well as Noriega, Mobutu, and yes, we trained Osama bin Laden. Agree or not, this sense of American injustice was put best a few days ago in The (London) Guardian: "Two days after (the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center)...it has become painfully clear that most Americans simply don't get it... Any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process --or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world - seems almost entirely absent... Unconstrained by any system of global governance, the U.S. giant has rewritten the global financial and trading system in its own interest; ripped up a string of treaties it finds inconvenient; sent troops to every corner of the globe; bombed Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia and Iraq without troubling the United Nations; maintained a string of murderous embargos against recalcitrant regimes; and recklessly thrown its weight behind Israel's 34-year illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza... It was the Americans, after all, who poured resources into the 1980s war against the Soviet- backed regime in Kabul, at a time when girls could go to school and women to work. Bin Laden and his mojahedin were armed and trained by the CIA and MI6, as Afghanistan was turned into a wasteland...
U.S.- sponsored Pakistani intelligence spawned the grotesque Taliban now protecting him. To punish its wayward Afghan offspring, the U.S. subsequently forced through a sanctions regime which has helped push four million to the brink of starvation, according to the latest UN figures, while Afghan refugees fan out across the world. All this must doubtless seem remote to Americans..., as must the two million estimated to have died in Congo's wars since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Mobutu regime. 'What could some political thing have to do with blowing up office buildings during working hours?' one bewildered New Yorker asked yesterday."
No honest evaluation of Islamic terrorism can avoid the issue of the 1948 establishment-by-force of the state of Israel. Again, whether we agree or not, the state of Israel and its conquests of 1956 (Sinai Campaign) and 1967 (Six Day War) are consistently cited by Muslims as the main reason for anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment and action. We simply cannot turn a blind eye to this grievance without it coming back to haunt us. Edward Norman writes, "Instead of shuffling about and trying to interpret Islam in (politically correct) propaganda images of their own devising, Christian leaders might more fruitfully divert their attention to the grievances that fuel international terrorism. This, in the present case, means addressing the plight of the Palestinians. What better moral objective can there be for professional Christian moralists than justice and peace in the Holy Land itself?"
While no terrorist organization should ever be afforded any recognition or rewarded in any way for its countless murders of innocents, still we must face the fact that their core issue has legitimacy. When Iraq invaded tiny Kuwait, we marshaled the world against Baghdad and we have not stopped bombing that impoverished city in a decade (though now without public attention or concern). We called Iraq a bully. But when Israel nearly tripled their land by muscling into the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the entire Sinai peninsula violating their own foundational agreements we provided the guns and bombs.
As Christians, we do not canonize any nation, but must be concerned with what is right and good for the people of a region. To gain unfair favor for Israel by appealing to past antisemitism is playing the race card, pure and simple. Like the abuses of Affirmative Action show, we can err when we try to eliminate prejudice by instituting counter-prejudice. It is also a kind of "Christianized" racism that gains unfair advantage for any nation on the basis of simply being uniquely "favored by God." We want friends in that volatile area of the world, Israel included (especially!), but not at the expense of the principles of fairness and human rights.
It has been said that the state of Israel was created out of guilt in the aftermath of World War II. The Holocaust was an all-powerful reminder not only of Nazi genocide but of world-wide anti-Semitism. Both England and the U.S. rejected Hitler's boatloads of exiled Jews during the war, Jews which upon returning to Germany were exterminated. It seemed fair to give the millions of displaced Jews around the world a place of their own, but was it fair to the indigenous population of Palestine?
To millions of Muslims around the world, it was not fair. And so the relentless fighting continues to this day. Peter Ford of The Christian Science Monitor reports that "Arab TV stations broadcast countless pictures of Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian youths, Israeli tanks plowing into Palestinian homes, Israeli helicopters rocketing Palestinian streets. And they know that the U.S. sends more than $3 billion a year in military and economic aid to Israel." He quotes Palestinian cleric Sheikh Abdul Majeed Atta: "Even small children know that Israel is nothing without America, and here America means F-16, M-16, Apache helicopters, the tools Israelis use to kill us and destroy our homes." Ford explains, "From one end of the region to the other, the perception is that Israel can get away with murder - literally - and that Washington will turn a blind eye." Ford summarizes the situation: "The vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East were as shocked and horrified as any American by what they saw happening on their TV screens. And they are frightened of being lumped together in the popular American imagination with the perpetrators of the attack. But from Jakarta to Cairo, Muslims and Arabs say that on reflection, they are not surprised by it. And they do not share Mr. Bush's view that the perpetrators did what they did because 'they hate our freedoms.' ...In the United States, military planners are deciding how to exact retribution. To many people in the Middle East and beyond, where U.S. policy has bred widespread anti-Americanism, the carnage of September 11 was retribution."
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His Justice cannot sleep forever."
As Joseph Coulter puts it, "What is it going to take for America to wake up? Television replaces family devotions and instruction in the home. Prayer is taken out of schools. Moms are taken out of the home. "Free love", immorality, promiscuity and broken homes become the norm.
Discipline is regarded as child abuse, so that the first disciplinarian many young men see is a police officer. Homosexuality is regarded as an alternative lifestyle and anyone who speaks out against it is not moral, but "homophobic." We have an AIDS epidemic and we don't see it is the fruit of sin. Abortions are routinely performed. We have a disenfranchised, permanent underclass of homeless people. We have children having children. It is illegal for a teenager to get a Tylenol from a school nurse, even with parental permission, but a teacher can procure an abortion for the same child without even notifying a parent. We sponsor terrorism around the globe and prop up racist, genocidal regimes, then wonder how we could have an enemy. What happened in New York, Pennsylvania & Washington was not right, noble or just. It was horrific and once again innocents were targeted. But, as a nation, we had it and much worse coming. Read Revelation 18" (describing the sins of Babylon and its punishment).
My prayer is that this proves to be a conversion experience for our nation. Indeed, what makes us think America is exempt from Fatherly discipline? As He spoke to Israel in the days of Ezekiel, God is saying to us today, "Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against Me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live" (Ez 18:31-32).
God will replace His wrath with mercy, and change His curse to blessing, if we would turn our hearts back to Him. The prophet Zechariah made it clear: 'Thus says the Lord of hosts: Return to Me, and I will return to you' (Zec 1:3). Jeremiah's words from the Lord for Israel so long ago are equally from the Lord for us today: "Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it" (Jere 18:6-8).
In Second Chronicles 7:14, God tells us that "If My people, who are called by My Name, humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." We have much to repent for as a nation. But as holy Orthodoxy teaches us, repentance must begin with me.
So what is the Christian's personal response to all this?
There is a difference between governments and individual Christians in our response to persecution. We are not to take the law in our own hands; Governments must, for the are the law. "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord, meaning we are not to seek vengeance; The state, however, is one of God's most often used weapons of vengeance. We are to "turn the other cheek"; The state, according to the Apostle Paul, is instituted by God and bears the sword (capitol punishment) by God's authority: "Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment...
...For (governing authorities) are God's servants for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for they do not bear the sword in vain; they are the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:2-4). The United States will and perhaps must respond to terrorism, either defensively or aggressively or both. But what do you and I do? First of all, we must turn back to God. Let this turn our hearts to Him Personally, and turn our hearts away from material things and hope in anything or anyone but Him. Fr Ted Bobosh pointed out St Basil the Great's prayer in a time of national crisis, which concluded, "Before all and above all, instill in us Your fear and Your love, that Your holy Name may also be glorified in us. Upon You alone we look, on You alone we have placed our hopes." Secondly, we must repent of our own corruption, our own immorality, the countless sins we commit which contribute to and support our society's moral decline. Let this be a conversion experience for us. And lastly, we need to obey Christ's command to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. St. Nicholas of Libertyville and South Canaan prayed, while imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau,
"Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background. Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand. Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out. Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Your garment. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to You may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them."
This is the Christian response to terrorism.
+Father Mark Hodges
September 22, 2001