Einstein Would Grasp this Response to Terrorism: Why Don’t Christians? (Homily for Trinity Sunday)

 

Einstein

All of us were horrified last week by the London attacks. And before that it was Manchester. And then there were the recent bombings in Kabul and the killings in Iran. The problem of terrorism seems to worsen each week, doesn’t it?

And every time terror strikes, our leaders say the same thing. They assure us that they’ll finally solve the problem – but always in the same way: more bombings. So right now we’re dropping bombs on weddings, funerals, and civilian neighborhoods in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and who knows where else?

The problem is: the bombings seem not to be working at all. And you know what Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. It’s the very definition of insanity

But there is another way. You might call it Trinitarian.

Of course, what I’m talking about is diplomacy and dialog based on shared humanity. It involves listening to the other and making accommodations. It entails compromise, and working from the premise that there’s more that unites us with al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorists than what divides us. That’s true, because we’re all human beings.

People of faith – both Christians and Muslims – should see that. Their faith perspective even tells them that we’re all children of God.

In fact, that’s the message of today’s liturgy of the word on this Trinity Sunday with its emphasis on unity in plurality.

The Trinitarian doctrine tells us that what unifies all of reality – including God – is the divine nature we all share. It makes the many – all of reality – one. In the mystical words of today’s gospel, that shared divine nature (the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us) makes us all God’s only Son – his only daughter. That is: we though many are, in reality, one. Paul’s favorite image for that unity was the human body. It has many parts, but it’s a single entity. In a sense, there is really only one of us here.

Jesus explained what that means in practice:

  • We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (i.e. because they are us!)
  • That includes loving the least among us, because they are Jesus himself
  • For the same reason, we are to love even our enemies.

The problem is that those of us who pretend to follow Jesus confine such faith claims to the personal realm.  But that’s not what Jesus did at all. He made no distinction between the personal and political. No good Jew could!

However, you might object: how can anyone dialog with insane people like al-Qaeda and the other terrorists? (Btw: do you think the “terrorists” might be asking the same question about us?)

The answer is, of course, that Washington’s been conversing with these people for years. Remember, the U.S. created al-Qaeda in the 1980s when they were the Mujahedeen. Our leaders had no trouble talking with them then. It was at that point that Washington formed them to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.

And the United States did more than dialog with them, it actually armed and funded them. It even identified their cause with the cause of Allah. In 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, gave the Mujahedeen $3 billion. He told them “Your cause is right, and God is on your side. Your fight will prevail.” He pointed to Afghanistan, “That land over there is yours. You’ll go back to it one day.”

The point is these people can once again be dialog partners. But to do so, their identity as children of God – as our brothers and sisters – must be recognized. They share a common humanity with all of us. They have legitimate grievances – not the least of which is that U.S. aggression has killed more than a million of them over the last 16 years – in countries that never attacked the United States.

What would it mean to recognize al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS as organizations composed of human beings like us?  Each of them has ideas, hopes, and dreams. They are people like us with families like ours – with grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren. What if we saw them as such? What if we recognized them as desperate people under attack, with homes they cherish every bit as much as we cherish our own? They are patriotic and as confused and angry as we might be if we were suddenly and inexplicably attacked by inscrutable people located more than 7000 miles away.

So what if, instead of continuing with their current insane unvarying response to terrorism, our mad bombers in D.C.:

  • Reduced the U.S. military budget by 50% as a gesture of good will
  • Affirmed their intention to invest the billions now used in war to rebuild the countries that have been under attack for decades – their schools, hospitals, homes and mosques.
  • In order to remove a major cause of Mid=Eastern conflict, announced their intention to immediately prioritize conversion of our economies to 100% renewable energy sources by 2025
  • Demanded that Israel obey U.N. Resolution 242 and withdraw from the occupied territories belonging to the Palestinians – thus removing, by all accounts, a major cause of Islamic terrorism
  • Summoned an international Peace conference to resolve outstanding differences between ISIS and Western alliances
  • Were required by law to finance any future wars by a special war tax to be voted on by plebiscite?

Measures like those would not only restore a token of sanity to combatting terrorism; they’d save lives and money. And they’d restore the good will the United States once enjoyed in the world.

They are the measures would-be followers of Jesus should be advancing instead of quietly going along with business as usual. Otherwise, what good is our faith? How is it Trinitarian? How does it affirm in any meaningful way, life’s fundamental unity in the face of its apparent plurality?

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

11 thoughts on “Einstein Would Grasp this Response to Terrorism: Why Don’t Christians? (Homily for Trinity Sunday)”

  1. Mike
    I would wish your solution would work. I don’t know if any response will work. Yes they are people and have families like us but unlike us, they hate us, democracy and our way of life.
    How do you fight an enemy that sees death as a reward? How do you negotiate with someone whose belief is that we as infidels MUST die? I surely don’t think that a majority of Muslims believe that but there are plenty of people who have perverted
    Islam and believe that killing us is essential. How do we figure out who is who?
    How do we stop the jihadist?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe, thanks for reading the blog. As for your concerns, I don’t think anyone knows how to stop the jihadist. My point, however, is that bombing is not working. There has to be another way. More importantly for people of faith, bombing is not in accord with the instructions of Jesus who taught us to love our enemies, forgive even those who murder us, to treat others as we would be treated, and to honor the least among us as if they were Jesus himself. Moreover, the belief that infidels must die is not at all foreign to Christians. Think of the conquistadors and their slaughter of “Indians” in the name of God.

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    2. And yet….cannot help but wonder if the followers of Islam, particularly the radical jihadists, are recalling their history of the Crusades and the mass slaughter they perpetrated ‘in the name of God’ (the Christian God, that is).
      Glad to see that you also included the Spanish ‘Christian’ slaughter of the Native Americans, Mexicans, Incas, et al — again, in the name of God – bringing to them the ‘good news’ of the reign of God in their midst — the Creator-God who is and can be nothing but a God of Love for His creation.
      Your points are important. Glad you brought them to the fore, Mr. Fagan.

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    3. How do we stop a Make America Great domestic terrorist? Or a Stop Abortions Now domestic terrorist? Or a The South Will Rise Again domestic terrorist? They look like us. How are we going to spot them?

      Why are we focusing on the least significant source of terror in our country, rather than the white terrorists who are the most significant (deadly) source of terror in the years following 9/11?

      Racism, to which I would add religionism, finds the threat in observable difference, a cognitive bias as old as written history. It is a deadly error, in many ways.

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  2. Excellent insights Mike as usual. I just read an article on counterpunch that made me realize how we unthinkingly alienate many liberal people from the causes we espouse by making it all sound “religious” in a sense they are bound to interpret in an archaic way that causes them to reject it. Made me think of AA. Many think AA is a religious organization. This is not so: the “higher power” concept is left up to the individual to define or relate to in their own way. Atheists and agnostics are welcomed in AA, and in no way made to feel second class.

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/09/be-a-danger-to-yourself-and-others-become-religious/

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  3. Afternoon Doctor,
    This is Thami Ntamo from South Africa one of your former students back in the mid-nineties.
    I just read your Blog on how to prevent terrorism. How refreshing!

    The content reminds me of the Berea College, RHP class discussions such as the “Kerygma of Jesus” and the “eschatological writings” we once had.

    Believe it or not, I am now a student of theology because of those classes.
    Your thoughts on terrorism are both intriguing and edifying. Thanks Doc!

    Obviously I have enrolled in your Blog and I look forward to further communication with you.

    My e-mail is in my signature below. It would be great to hear from you.

    Warm Regards

    [cid:image002.jpg@01D2E38C.B7FAF6D0]

    Thamsanqa Ntamo
    [cid:image004.png@01D2E38C.B7FAF6D0]Deputy Director: Parks, Horticulture, Urban Forestry and Swimming Pools: Region 3
    Regional Operation | Ground Floor | Old Park Ranger Office | Prince’s Park |
    C/O Eskia Mphahlele and Francis Baard Pretoria | PO Box 440 | 0001 | http://www.tshwane.gov.za

    Tel: 012 358 8701 / Mobile: 0719061420 | Email: Ntamot@tshwane.gov.za

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    1. Thanks so much for your note. What a nice surprise! I’m so glad that you’re studying theology. It’s such an important (and neglected) element in the current political context. My memories of R&HP are still vivid. I learned more from teaching that course than I did from any of my preceding studies. I’m glad you remember it fondly as well. And thank you for deciding to follow the blog. Again, it was such a wonderful surprise.

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  4. Hi Mike,

    when we learn to connect with those in our own community who come to drastically different conclusions about important life matters than we do, then we can think about increasing our “range of convenience” (a term from George Kelly) to reach out to those much different than us.

    We haven’t done the easier task yet, and in fact seem incapable as a society of doing so.

    Two conclusions (reinforced in articles I shared on FB in the last 24 hours):

    1) we have to start by talking about noticeable specifics, not concepts buttressed by proof that is not available immediately to the senses. The premodern mind can’t work from concepts (which is why insults are taken so seriously: the modern mind sees them as representative of something else, e.g., an emotional state in the speaker; the premodern mind experiences them as direct threats to one’s existence).

    2) we have to get personal, and dig until we have an understanding of the other which would leave them nodding in agreement. To which I would add, we need to experience that spark of life you describe in he cosmic-centered post. Getting to where the other person is, experientially, allows us to find that spark.

    thanks,

    Hank

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    1. Well put, Hank. And you’re right, of course. That manner of speaking that has the other nodding in agreement is so important. Personally, I find it tempting to respond-in-kind. And that never works. My wife, Peggy, keeps reminding me of that. I appreciate your reminder too.

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