Fundamentalist Faith and the Problem of Holy Wars

Article ID: JAF151 | By: Elliot Miller

This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the Christian Research Journal, volume29, number4 (2006). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

In the previous issue of the Journal we were pleased to feature Daniel Hoffman’s primary source research on the Crusades. My From the Editor in that issue addressed the question, “Which came first: Muslim jihad or Christian holy wars?” In this issue we also are pleased to present Charles Strohmer’s cutting-edge research on the theology and ideology of Sayyid Qutb, which provides the primary basis for the militant Islam of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. In this From the Editor I will consider the related question of whether holy wars are a necessary result of fundamentalist approaches to religion, whether Islamic, Christian, or some other.

Non-Muslim critics of “fundamentalist” religions (e.g., atheists1 and new spirituality/ interfaith advocates2) argue that holy wars and all kinds of violent aggression result when people of faith take the claims of their scriptures too seriously. James F. Mattil, the managing editor of globalfocus.org, put it this way:

Most important is the belief that the divine word of any particular religion is the one and only truth, subject to no compromise. Hence fundamentalist Jews know, without doubt, that they are God’s Chosen People. Christians know, without doubt, that when Armageddon arrives, true Christian believers will be saved and non-Christians condemned. Fundamentalist Muslims know, without doubt, that Allah will reward only their faith and not that of the infidels. The danger in each of these cases is that eternal salvation requires more than leading a good and humane life, it demands certain achievements during one’s life—conquering land, converting non-believers, or destroying infidels.3

After noting the obvious threats posed by Muslim terrorists, Mattil adds, “Christian Fundamentalists also resort to violence. Religious extremists have attacked abortion clinics, doctors and patients in acts of terrorism. In Northern Ireland, Protestant extremists continue violent attacks against Catholics on the streets and in their homes.”4

Kimberly Blaker, editor and coauthor of The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America, expands on the same theme: “The one—in some cases only—difference between Christian and Islamic theocrats is their use of the Bible, versus the Koran, to justify an oppressive ideology or holy war. With approximately 400 militia-type groups in the US, and Christian identity believers alone numbering in the range of 40,000, the implications are profound.”5

Are they? There seems to be a great rush on the part of many Western liberals to establish guilt by association between Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists. This is despite the facts that their only clear association is sharing the name “fundamentalist,” and most “born-again” Christians use the term evangelical rather than fundamentalist to identify themselves. Consider the problems with the examples of Christian terrorism that Mattil and Blaker cite:

1. Abortion clinic assailants represent an infinitesimally small lunatic fringe of the pro-life movement that is almost universally repudiated by pro-life activists and evangelicals. Making such extremists representative of evangelical Christians is no different than would be making ecoterrorists who destroy property and endanger lives representative of the environmental movement. I doubt Mattil would want to do the latter.

2. It is patently false to attribute the acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland to Christian fundamentalism, and it is hard to imagine that Mattil does not know this. The Roman Catholic and Protestant (chiefly Anglican) traditions represented in this conflict generally are not considered to be evangelical or fundamentalist; perhaps a majority of the individuals involved are only nominally or culturally Christian; and the fundamental differences that divide the two camps are not religious, but political: whether Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom or be ceded to the Republic of Ireland.

3. Militia groups in the United States cannot fairly be identified with evangelical Christianity. Militia groups represent a radical libertarian ideology that may be fairly labeled “conservative,” but it is a form of conservatism that is clearly differentiated from the social conservatism that many evangelicals embrace. There is certainly some overlap between the two camps, but probably the vast majority of militia members are not evangelical Christians (many, in fact, are white supremacists) and certainly the vast majority of evangelical Christians do not identify with militias.6

4. Blaker’s disregard for accuracy becomes even more evident when she cites Christian Identity adherents as further proof that “all fundamentalisms sport their share of militants.”7 Conservative Christians coined the term fundamentalism in the early 1900s, and by definition the term means “adherence to the fundamentals or cardinal doctrines of the faith”—some of which Identity believers adamantly deny.8 Because of this, and because of their racism and anti-Semitism, which are anathema both to Scripture and to Christian sensibilities, evangelicals consider the Identity movement’s profession of Christianity to be an inauthentic pretext for white supremacy, and there is no association between the two groups. In a free country, people can profess to be followers of whatever faith they want, but if their beliefs and practices do not fulfill the historic definition of the faith they invoke, fairness dictates that those who do fulfill that definition should not be held accountable for the false professors’ actions.

Mattil and Blaker’s examples of Christian terrorism clearly do not hold up under scrutiny. There certainly have been instances throughout church history when Christians engaged in violence and brutality, but the reason such instances are so scarce compared to the wealth of instances that can be attributed to Muslims is not due to the differences between American and Arabian culture and politics, as Mattil, Blaker, and many others suggest, but to the differences in the content of the two faiths’ authoritative revelations.

The Qur’an recognizes no separation between religion and state and prescribes that the state be governed by its strict sharia, or “code of law” (e.g., suras 2:221; 5:38; 24:2). It further calls on Muslims to propagate Islam throughout the world not only by word but also by sword (e.g., suras 4:74–77; 9:29; 22:25). These mere facts are sufficient to account for the existence of Muslim terrorism, even if it could be argued that the terrorists do not always properly follow the total body of Qur’anic teaching.

The New Testament, by contrast, makes a clear distinction between church and state. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and neither He nor His apostles ever advised that Christians seek to establish it though political action or insurrection. Jesus taught nonviolence generally (e.g., Matt. 5:38–48) and He never instructed that His gospel be spread coercively; rather, He told His disciples that if they were not willingly received in a city they should shake the dust off their feet and go to the next city (Mark 6:11). The New Testament further instructs Christians to be law-abiding, exemplary citizens of the state in which they reside (Rom. 13:1–8; 1 Pet. 2:13–30), while remembering that their ultimate citizenship is in heaven, from which they await the return of Christ (Phil. 3:20), who alone can—and will—establish the awaited theocracy on His return (Rev. 11:15–18). If Christians are wrong about Christ’s return, then non-Christians have nothing to fear about a Christian theocracy; if Christians are right, then non-Christians have plenty to fear, but the object of their fear should be Christ, not His followers.

It is true that there are some Christians, especially in the United States, who would like to see a Christian theocracy established, but because they are unable to base their theology on clear New Testament teaching, they are unable to gain much traction with the larger Christian community. Muslim theocrats, however, do not have that problem with their scriptures.

What, then, of the danger Mattil sees in believing that “the divine word of any particular religion is the one and only truth, subject to no compromise”? First, there is a potential for aggression in holding to any worldview, whether revelation-based theism, atheism, Neo-Paganism, or what have you. We could point to all the horrific evils done by Marxism in the past 89 years and argue that, since Marxism is a product of atheism, so are its evils; therefore, atheism itself is too dangerous in today’s world. We could point to the horrific evils perpetrated by the Third Reich and maintain that, since the Third Reich was an outgrowth of a Neo-Pagan movement that flourished in Germany 100 years ago,9 so are its evils; therefore, Neo-Paganism itself is too dangerous for today’s world. Just because a worldview can be applied in destructive ways does not of itself prove that it is inherently destructive or that it cannot rather be applied in constructive ways. Theism, especially Judeo-Christian theism, has already passed that historical test much more so than either atheism or Neo-Paganism.

Second, would the world fare better if no one held any strong and fixed beliefs about truth and morality? In a world cluttered with would-be successors to Hitler, Stalin, Milosevic, and Hussein, would we really be better served if all of us had such fuzzy concepts of right and wrong, and such inconclusive ideas about truth, that we could neither stand up and call evil evil nor approve of those who do?

— Elliot Miller

NOTES

1. See, e.g., “Further Pearls of History and Wisdom from Barbara Walker’s ‘Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,’” HASD Newsletter, September–October 2000, Humanist Association of San Diego, http://www.godless.org/hasd/hnl000910.html; N. B. F., “The Atheist Manifesto,” totse.com (Temple of the Screaming Electron), http://www.totse.com/en/religion/other_western_religions/167071.html.

2. See especially Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 2000); Andy James, Ageless Wisdom Spirituality: Investing in Human Evolution (Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2004), 49–53.

3. James F. Mattil, “What in the Name of God? Religious Fundamentalism, Fear and Terrorism,” Flashpoints: Guide to World Conflicts, http://www.flashpoints.info/ issue_briefings/Analysis & Commentary/Analysis-Religion_main.htm.

4. Ibid.

5. Kimberly Blaker, “God’s Warrior Twins: Christian and Islamic Fundamentalism Have a Lot in Common,” Third World Traveler, Fall 2003, http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/New_World_Order/Gods_Warrior_Twins.html.

6. See, e.g., Heather Hendershot, Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Publications, 2000), chap. 14; and Chip Berlet, “No Right Answers,” From the Left (The newsletter of the Marxist Section of the American Sociological Association), Spring–Summer 2002, http://www.colorado.edu/ Sociology/gimenez/section/SpringSummer2002.pdf.

7. Blaker.

8. See Viola Larson, “Identity: A ‘Christian’ Religion for White Racists,” Christian Research Journal 15, 2 (1992): 20 (http://www.equip.org/free/DI100.htm).

See, e.g., Richard Noll, The Jung Cult (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

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