Words or Will

J. Brent Walker is Executive Secretary of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty headquartered in Washington, D.C. In a recent sermon (09 July) he had this to say: I'm reminded of a Peanuts cartoon in which Sally tells Linus, "I would have made a good evangelist." "Oh, yeah? How come?" "You know that boy who sits behind me in the classroom?" Sally asked. "Yes," responded Linus. "I convinced him that my religion was better than his." "How'd you do that?" Sally answered, "I hit him over the head with my lunchbox." … We need to avoid hitting each other over the head with our cultural, political and religious lunchboxes or calling judgment down on those who are different. The recent remarks of various evangelical leaders—like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson—disparaging Islam is exactly the wrong way to go.

Apparently Walker didn’t quite get the ramifications of what he wrote. In his scenario, Sally represents Islam, with her noontime lunchbox identifying with Mohammad’s current (as well as former) sword, while Linus represents the feckless UN, and the boy targeted by Sally represents the infidel, known rather graphically today as anyone who is not a Moslem. The “cultural, political and religious lunchboxes” represent words to Walker (correctly), but he seems not to understand that words versus swords are…well, rather ineffective, but only if survival is the issue. Consequently, no words by Graham, Robertson, or anyone else are worth warm spit as a practical matter…which is all that matters. The Israelis understand this, as they have ever since their inauguration as a nation in 1948, at which time the Palestinians rejected all boundaries recognized by the United Nations, as well as any Palestinian state at all. Instead, in effect they categorized themselves as perpetual refugees and have suffered severe deprivations ever since.

Walker premised his sermon on the foundations laid for this country (freedom/protection of everything and recognition of diversity in the former colonies) by the founding fathers and took especial notice of James Madison. In other words, he used what can arguably be called a national approach and tried to make that fit the international situation of today. It won’t fit, not least because the population at that time was largely homogeneous and the reasons for demanding independence accepted by enough of a majority to carry the day, important since not everyone wanted separation from England. It didn’t hurt that the colonies were 3,000 miles removed from England at a time when transportation could be judged somewhere between inordinately slow and risky, though there was the constant presence of British troops.

As people from widely varying backgrounds flooded into the nation through the 1800s and 1900s, they were assimilated into a nation already built on an established Constitution and the laws derived therefrom. In order to survive, they had to behave in accordance with law and work for a living. While there were strains within the various groups (Irish, Italians, Chinese, East-Europeans, Germans, etc.), there was a commonality of purpose that militated against disruption. The keystone was survival, with its methodology keyed on the necessity of interdependence. Of course, there was also common ground – everyone was stuck in this specific geographical area. Perhaps most importantly, however, there was the near-universal recognition of the Judeo-Christian God, in both matters of individual worship and as the actual foundation of the nation…or the object of national worship. And, of course, there has always been the common language.

Attempting to transfer the experiences of nation-building and nation-maintaining in this country to the world scene is by any logic impossible. As a world-matter, there is no Constitution and no concerted effort to devise one, not that it would be adhered to, in any case. Whatever exists in the United Nations as some sort of instrument for international governance is not worth the paper on which it is written, not least because there exists no official entity to enforce anything. There is no international commonality of purpose, only the “me first” mentality among nations and the “dog-eat-dog” (or “friend of the biggest dog”) philosophy of survival, notwithstanding the often caterwauling speeches at the UN to the contrary. Obviously, diversity as an international matter is in no way comparable to diversity as a national matter…just plain common sense. Where it is possible for people in this country to see their differences and accommodate themselves to each other in spite of or because of them (whether through necessity or desirability), the peoples of the world don’t even know each other, don’t speak the same language, don’t have the same culture.

When the matter of religion is entered into the discussion, Walker’s emphasis on words instead of anything else as a force for accomplishing anything or warding off disasters simply fails. In some ways, this might be true except for the fact that Islam is the religion of nearly 1.3 billion of the world’s population. According to the Koran, the Moslem holy scriptures, the Moslem is to kill the infidel (anyone who is not a Moslem) at any actual opportunity, supposedly even an opportunity that is invented. By contrast, Jesus said that those who live by the sword (aggressors) will die by the sword. However, during the “Last Supper” (Luke’s gospel), Jesus also told his followers to arm themselves, even at the sacrifice of selling some of their clothing, his reason in light of his utterance just mentioned being that of self-defense.

There can be the usual theological differences that might be expected vis-ŕ-vis Walker, Graham, and Robertson, but there can be no doubt as to the practical matter of survival. Looking back to the 90s and especially to the events of 9/11, with respect to the motivation of those who carried out all the carnage perpetrated by militant Moslems not only affecting Americans but people all over the world, one is forced to conclude that the religious fanatic cannot be dealt with through diplomacy, the only alternative being the defensive sword. It’s the difference between Christ and Mohammad, between God and Allah. This is why the philosophies of the founding fathers doesn’t wash internationally. This nation, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, is built upon the principles of God. The Islamic world, by stark contrast, exists upon the principles of Allah…at the point of the sword, in other words.