After the most recent incident by Terrorists at the Bastille Day festivities in Nice, we have to ask: What is the true nature of this War? And how is it best fought? The response of bombing the enemy can only partially be effective (though it perhaps makes us feel better about doing something against them).
If we listen to news reports or the speeches of our political leaders, one would never think that this battle is about religion. The secular media is completely tone deaf to the true nature of this violent challenge. While the concern of President Obama not to ignite a religious confrontation of the two monotheistic civilizations (Christian and Muslim) is understandable, it too contributes to the distortion of what we are talking about.
This war on terror is basically a theological war, both within Islam and in Islam’s relationship to the rest of the world. Until we see the true nature of what we are dealing with, we run the risk of completely misunderstanding what is happening and hence responding in a wrong or inefficient way to this new order of things. Let me explain.
Our ideas matter. If we think people are worthless than we will treat them in a very poor and careless way. When thinking about God (which is a good definition of theology) bad thinking about God (Heresy) can have disastrous consequences. One of the bad ideas that have afflicted the Church is that the spiritual is good and the material is bad. So the Cathars of the Middle Ages and the Manicheans of ancient times thought that the body was bad and the soul was good. This led to the idea of the soul being held captive by the body. So the Manicheans and the Cathars did not want to bring children into the world since more souls would be held captive. Many of the Cathars starved themselves to death to release their souls from the prison of the body. You can clearly see that making the material an evil has disastrous consequences. Hence, the quest for right thinking (Orthodoxy) in theology can be seen as a vital issue. It matters what our theology says since it has very practical consequences.
Getting back to the conflict within Muslim theology, we see a problem with the conception of what a political state or nation needs to me. My understanding (which may be wrong since I am not a Muslim and my knowledge of Islam’s self-understanding is limited) is that the division that Christ taught in his saying: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” does not hold in a Muslim understanding of statecraft. Everything belongs to God and nothing to Caesar. Hence the laws of a nation must reflect exactly what the will of God is and no human addition or subtraction is acceptable.
In one sense, this is the great genius and the most fundamental principle of Islamic thought: God first in everything, including the government of a nation. Hence the mullahs of Iran must monitor the laws of the nation to make sure they do not in any way contradict the revelation of the Koran. Muslims believe that the revelation of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Gospel were compromised by man’s selfish desire to be at the center of existence, the rightful place of God alone.
What ISIS has done is brought to a logical conclusion (they feel) the revelation of the Koran: all the earth must be subject to God and any interference with this will of God must be ruthlessly suppressed. Therefore, even violence against the innocent is acceptable since they, albeit without knowing it, are opposed to the will of God.
This is what our secular media does not understand at all. This ethos of the Islamic state, I believe, is a theological error or heresy that must be refuted by competent Islamic theologians; but because many in Western elite circles are completely ignorant and incompetent to deal with theological issues, we cannot attack ISIS at its most vulnerable point, that it tells a lie about God and blasphemes the name of God in attributing to God what is morally repugnant: the taking away of human freedom and making life a moral and intellectual slavery. It is an affront against both God and Man.
Fostering a theological dialogue within Islam as well as one between Islam and the other monotheistic faiths (Judaism and Christianity), and perhaps a third one between faith and secular atheism should be an endeavor of the highest national importance.
Belief, not bombs, is the answer.