Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 17, 2003
RELIGION/WAR: Men of Zeal
Steven den Beste makes an interesting point about al Qaeda's strategy in the war on terror: it can't be explained in rational, secular terms because "bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel." Moreover, the absence of a rational plan is an essential element in its success:
bin Laden could not create and follow the kind of plan which we'd think was essential. If bin Laden's plan had been based entirely on temporal power and cogent strategy and real resources, and if such a plan did not rely on miracles, it would have demonstrated lack of faith. If there were no place in the plan for God, it would prove that bin Laden didn't truly believe God would help.
And it would therefore prove that bin Laden didn't deserve any help from God, because it would prove that his faith wasn't really pure. For bin Laden to create such a plan would be a heretical act. . . . [A] rationalist post-Enlightenment Christian . . . faces no crisis of faith in a similar situation. He can make rational plans which don't rely on miracles because his faith acknowledges that God doesn't usually work that way. Such a Christian doesn't pray for victory; he prays for the wisdom to create rational plans and the strength to carry them out.
But for bin Laden and other Islamic zealots bent on jihad, even that would be heresy. The only way to truly prove your faith is to rely on miracles, and that's what I think they're doing. I think that was bin Laden's strategy.
If anything, I think den Beste (who has a fairly firm grip on Christian theology for an aethiest) underestimates the gap between fundamentalist Muslim theology and contemporary Christian theology on this point. It's true that Christians regard it as an extraordinary display of faith in some situations to put your trust completely in God, but to many Christians, such an egregiously audacious venture undertaken with no earthly hope of success isn't just overreaching into a belief in more direct divine intervention than we ordinarily believe in; it also trammels awfully close to the Biblical injunction against putting the Lord your God to the test. I'm not sure exactly where that line is, but if I jump off a bridge and ask God to save me, I've almost certainly done something wrong by trying to compel the Lord to take a specific action in a specific situation.