With yet another terrorist attack in a western country where the perpetrators are Islamists, I’m surprised that so much of the commentary around the issue ignores the obvious question:
What is the link between Islam and terrorism?
I think that the thing which is overlooked in the debate is how world view influences actions.
Islam views all people as potentially good, and defines good as following the rules that Islam prescribes. Badness is thus a matter of ignorance about the true rules, and a consequent failure to follow those rules. Islamic terrorism is understood (by many more than those who actually practice that violence) as a response to other people not following the true rules, and holding back Muslims from following the rules.
The end result that Muslims look forward to is a world-wide caliphate – the whole world living according to the rules of Islam. This is the Islamic understanding of peace. Different Muslims will have different ideas about how that will be achieved, different visions of exactly what that will look like and how long it will take to achieve, but this is a common Muslim goal.
You could make the case that this is the same as the humanist or secularist view – that people are potentially good (or ‘good at heart’), and that education, just laws, and the fair distribution of resources will provide the conditions for peace, stability and a good society. Robespierre, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, among others, acted on this view.
Again, having this view of humanity doesn’t result in the violence and coercion that these individuals and their systems perpetrated. There are plenty of people who have this view of humanity who would never dream of forcing obedience to their ideas of justice on others. But it is a basis from which force can be justified, and has been justified.
Islamists follow this line of reasoning, reinforced by the example that Mohammed set for them of forceful conquest of those who would not submit to the rules he espoused. Not all Muslims agree that this is what they should do today, but there are quite a lot who do, and the vast majority will agree with the goals, if not the methods.
This view of the world in itself won’t produce terrorism (as is evidenced by the fact that most Muslims are not terrorists), but it does provide a framework from within which terrorism may be justified.
This is the link (or one at any rate) between Islam and terrorism. There are many other factors that feed into this, but at its heart, this is the problem: its view of humanity.
The idea that you can make people (and hence the world) fair and just and peaceful by enforcing the right rules. That its just ignorance of the rules which is the difference between good and bad.
When put in those terms, you can easily see the similarity between the violent totalitarianism of many communist regimes, and the oppression and suppression of anyone not Muslim in Islamic societies (taken to an extreme in ISIS).
The Christian view is quite the opposite.
Christians believe that humanity is not good, but that it is fundamentally flawed. People don’t have the capacity to be perfectly good and just, because people have rejected God as their creator, and have rejected the idea that God knows what is best for them.
This doesn’t mean that Christians think all people are all bad all the time, or that people can’t do anything good. It means that no matter what rules or laws you set up, people will resist them in some way – even if those rules or laws are perfectly good and just and provided by God.
So while Christians may advocate for some rules or laws to apply to society because they are good and just, or because that is the type of society they would like to live in, Christians will not believe you can make people good by the use of rules and laws. And if you can’t make people good, you can’t make society good. Not even with an ability to enforce those rules and laws.
Because ultimately Christians do not expect to make the world a perfect Christian kingdom which follows God’s set of rules. Jesus said that his Kingdom was not of this world, or his disciples would fight for it (see John 18:36).
Jesus described entry into the Kingdom of God as being through a process of spiritual birth – a new spiritual life which is an act of God (see the discussion around the need to be born again in John 3:3).
Christians do not think that we are made good, or proved good by the things we do. Christians seek to do good (as God defines good) in order to honour Jesus (Titus 2:7-10).
And Christians await the day when Jesus will return to fix all the wrongs in the world, first and foremost the rejection of God by people (Titus 2:11-14). We call people to accept the forgiveness and mercy God offers through faith in Jesus. We try to convince people that they will be better to acknowledge God as Lord and Saviour, and escape the judgement they are due through faith in Jesus. But Christians do not, and cannot, believe that they can fix the wrongs of the world. That is God’s job alone.
That doesn’t mean that Christians will never choose to serve in the military. But if they do, they don’t do it to further the Kingdom of God – they do it to serve their country and their country’s political agenda.
It also doesn’t mean that Christians won’t advocate for political and social change, or seek to challenge injustice, evil or unfairness. It doesn’t mean we won’t stand up and proclaim what God says is right and good. We will. But it means we won’t expect to win all the time, and we will only do it through Jesus’ methods of love, peace, kindness, gentleness, and in humble submission to the will of God.
Sure, some Christians haven’t done this – but they can’t act any other way and find a basis or justification for it in the Bible.
Jesus said that the fulfilment of all of God’s laws and rules can be summed up in two commands “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31).
The only thing that prevents people from following those rules is our sinful nature, and that is only something God can fix. While God makes a start on that when people put their faith in Jesus, it will only be perfectly fixed when Jesus returns. And it is this view of the world which means that Christians cannot be associated with the idea that you can fix the world through force of any kind.