As we have been told innumerable times since September 11, 2001, "We are at war." If you read most any newspaper most any day you will read tales of horror and carnage and see gratuitous photos of the dead and dying—mostly Iraqis. For a number of reasons, probably well thought out, we don't see many other dead. Even the images of carnage in London came, largely, without the sickening sight of death.
We do get to see the warriors. They are our own sons and daughters dressed in appropriate battledress. They take care of business as we fight the battle "over there." We support them. How could we do otherwise!
But the real face of this ongoing conflict is more consistently on view in those same newspapers. And it is the face of the mullah, the ministers of any of a number of Christian subsets, the religious zealot, the angry mob demanding their religious view be adopted. It is the headline that equates a religious/moral agenda with national security.
Of course our battle with Al Qaeda is not at all a battle between our nominally Christian society and the religion that they quote to justify their fanatical vision of the world. However religion and religious values litter the landscape of this new era of warfare. Homeland security very easily devolves into ensuring that we define ourselves and discover true patriotism by our moral values.
An article in this issue examines the use of religious language by the president of the United States—a man of clear religious commitment. It is good that a free, democratic nation allows such personal expressions of faith by its leaders. It is demonstrably positive that as a nation we be conscious of the principles laid down by the Almighty Creator God—the God most of the founders worshipped and referred to in the state documents. But we must be careful not to allow the religious pronouncements of secular leaders to proscribe religious practice.
There are many public faces to religious leadership in the United States. It is not good for me to name the various Reverends and Doctors—they speak to us on television as well as from the pulpit and their sound bites are becoming less commentary than directives. They speak in absolutes and some of them have become bold enough to demand that public policy align with their faith vision—or else. Their intentions might be honorable but their methods are becoming eerily similar to those of the clerics in several Islamic Fundamentalist states: states where there is no separation of church and state and a particular vision of faith is imposed upon the populace by civil power.
Any study of civics and political history would show the role of the U.S. Supreme Court to have been generally as the founders expected—one of the three main branches of power—and certainly not an initiator of policy.
Today the model is shifting. The values war is more and more fought in the courts and the justices are being made the new holy men (and women) of our increasingly "moral" civil society. In the rush to put "pure" people in these positions many are willing to sacrifice the concept of judicial fairness for ideology--and failing to think through the implications of empowering moral high priests in our secular order.
There is developing within the increasingly influential politically aggressive religious leadership in the United States a concept of "Dominionism." It rests on an easy conflation of the United States as the favored nation of God with the governance models of the Old Testament.
It is too easy to dismiss this as just the doctrine of Manifest Destiny for the Twenty-First Century. That would have plenty of rough edges if it were even that simple—as any native American might remind. But again the true danger of this mindset is exhibit A for us and the world in the observed excesses and compulsions of states ruled by Islamic sharia law. We were troubled enough by what we saw in Afghanistan to remove that religious regime.
The problem with both sharia regimes and Christian hopes for a Biblically modeled state lie in determining the true will of Allah or God. Absent the Presence on the mountain, or the confirmation of Urim or Thummin we are left to the pronouncements and control of men and women who try to divine the Divine for themselves. Maybe they get it right or maybe they get it wrong. Maybe we are able to deliver the state to the moral direction of the ones who get it right; or maybe we get it wrong and end up with holy men who are convinced that kite flying merits a beating or worse.
The illustration with this editorial is of the prophet Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. Abraham is a rather central religious figure, given that Jews, Christians and Moslems revere him as a central figure—each claims to be "Abraham's seed." In fact there is a sad irony to the long intolerance between these monotheistic faiths that they are in a sense "blood brothers."
But look at the scene for a moment. In Abraham's upraised hand is a sharp dagger that he intends to bring down into the heart of Isaac. If the voice of God had not interposed Abraham would surely have slain his own son.
Since 9/11 we are especially fearful of those who kill in the name of religion. I have been at pains in discussing the new religious threats to point out that we must be careful to discriminate between those who kill for their faith and those who are willing to die for their faith. It is an important distinction to make between the violence committed in the name of religion by terrorists and the selfless proclamation of many people of faith outside the mainstream. People of deeply held faith who are different or even fanatically different should not be linked automatically with the terrorists' form of religious faith.
The story of Abraham and the dagger is revealed as a test from God. He had to be willing to kill his son to show his loyalty. He was not intended to actually kill him. A nice point. As a Christian I see it perfectly and am not troubled in my overall view of a God of love and mercy. But as someone with a sense of history I know that given political power, Christians in other ages used daggers, the rack, burning at the stake and a thousand other inventions of deluded faith to compel obedience to their vision of God. Thank God that compulsion has ceased to be a vehicle of conversion in the Christian West. The change came slowly, but once that method was rejected the separation of church and state proved itself more "Christian," more tolerable to faith practice.
Holy men? My Bible is full of them. I believe their successors live among us. But I would never suggest allowing any of them the mandate to order my faith experience any more than by the faith example their lives provide. What if I chose badly and allowed myself to be ruled by a holy man who ordered us all to drink poison-laden Kool-Aid? What if we allowed our society to fall under the dictates of a Mullah who preached hate and Jihad? What if Abraham had failed to hear the voice of God the second time?
Lincoln E. Steed
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."