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Explaining the terrorist attacks

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The Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon have been given various explanations. Let’s consider some of them.

Well-known evangelical leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have stated that these attacks are God’s judgement on America because of abortion and other evils in the land. Since no one can know the mind of God in specific situations, I cannot say there is no merit in this explanation, but I have several problems with it. First, since these evils are at least as common in certain other countries, why would God punish the US instead of those lands? Second, in this age of grace, as contrasted with the time of Sodom and Gomorrah, God has rarely intervened to punish evil directly; the time of reckoning will come in due course.

A second group of Christians see Robertson and Falwell as part of the problem. They argue that if God has decided to punish the US, it is probably because of the widespread practice of “civil religion” in the US. They argue that Robertson, Falwell and many other American Christians have virtually fused the mandate of the Christian church with the actions of their country. The critics rightly insist that such an approach is profoundly displeasing to God.

Again, there may be some merit in this explanation. The criticism of civil religion is valid, but let us not go to extremes. Not all references to God should be rejected. To acknowledge a place for God in the national affairs of a country is, in my view, a good thing. God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Even the non-believing king Belshazzar was faulted for ignoring God’s standards (Daniel 5). To acknowledge that a nation functions under God is praiseworthy. What is not praiseworthy is claiming that God sees one’s country as His favourite, that one’s country has a relationship with God that no other country can have or that the cause of one’s country is also God’s cause. We always need to remember that God’s agent on earth is the church, not the state, although He does use political structures to achieve His ends.

It also seems strange, if we accept this explanation, that God would punish the US when the practice of civil religion is, unfortunately, common in other lands. The history of Russia and almost all European countries is rife with the practice of civil religion, and many of those instances were especially repugnant.

A third explanation focuses on US foreign policies. The argument is twofold. First, it holds that the US has been exploiting various Third World countries for its own economic benefit; its wealth has caused poverty for others. Second, it argues that, in its role as the dominant power, the US has propped up evil regimes and not adequately stood for justice and righteousness. Some Muslim critics would add that there has been unfair and unwarranted support of Israel. This explanation then holds that these offensive US policies have triggered the reaction from abroad.

Again, if we consider certain petroleum, tariff and trade policies, we can conjure up some substantiating evidence. But, as I see it, in this regard the US has acted like all other major powers throughout history; in fact, it has a better record than most other states. Yes, with some notable exceptions, American governments have followed the principle of self-interest, but that is how all governments operate. Governments are not altruistic or philanthropic agencies. They mainly look out for their own interests.

Another general category of explanation focuses on foreign causes. The most common one is that militant Islamic forces are trying to cripple the dominant Western power, which also happens to be the dominant country in “Christendom”, those lands where Christianity is the dominant religion. Thus, to attack the US, the “Great Satan”, is to strike a double blow-against the West and against Christianity.

This explanation, in in my view, is not the entire explanation, but it goes a long way in explaining what happened. Islamic fanatics decided to sacrifice their own lives to further a number of causes: to spread Islam; to get rid of Israel; to resist Western influences (both those representing enlightenment and those which are, in fact, evil); to avenge perceived injustices such as support for oppressive regimes (including the Shah in Iran); to punish those powers which they see as responsible for the existence of massive Palestinian refugee camps; and to become martyrs for the Islamic religion and thus earn greater eternal bliss. They attacked the key economic and military symbols in the country which they correctly perceived to be the strongest defender of Western values and even of some Christian values, such as freedom of choice. The fact that governments and masses of people in some major Islamic countries supported them provided additional motivation.

We should add one other explanation, perhaps the fundamental one. The horrendous carnage caused by the suicidal hijackers reminds us again that fallen humanity is capable of very great evil. We can point to all the assorted evils perpetrated by the US and other countries. We can identify a long list of injustices. At the end of it all, however, there was no justification for what happened on Sept. 11. It was simply evil.

The prince of this world cuts a wide and deep swath when given the opportunity. That is the ultimate explanation for the Sept. 11 attacks, as it is also for the Nazi Holocaust, the AIDS epidemic, the seeding of millions of land mines in Vietnam and elsewhere, the Rwandan genocide, Stalin’s purges, the annual slaughter of about 150,000 Christians and animists by Islamic authorities in Sudan, saturation bombing of civilian targets in World War II, and much more.

Woe to those individuals, groups, movements and governments that become agents of the forces of evil. The Sept. 11 attack is a reminder and a sombre warning to all.

—John H. Redekop is on the faculty of Trinity Western University and is a member of Bakerview MB Church in Abbotsford, B.C.

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