Thursday, September 11, 2014

Post 9/11: War-torn and Weary, Can We Cool Down the Conflict?

Today our thoughts turn automatically toward the events on this day in 2001 when the World Trade Towers were brought down by a group of Islamic terrorists. Reams of material could be written about why we should not have launched a ground war in Iraq, and reams could be written about why we did. The tragedy is that thirteen years later, war continues to loom on the horizon while words of hate and threats of violence abound.

The Bitter Season of War

Unfortunately, a number of things came together to create war in the region that has gone on far longer that was imagined by those who beat the war drums following 9/11. There was, among other things, a wide-spread fear in our country and the desire for more oil on the part of US conglomerates. Decisions made out of fear and greed often reap unintended consequences. The best advice that went unheeded was then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s pottery barn caution, “You break it, you bought it.”

We have seen continuing struggle and armed resistance in Iraq, even as halting attempts to govern that country continue. One unforeseen consequence of our invasion of Iraq has been the ascendancy of the group known as ISIS which vows to create an Islamic state in the region amidst the chaos and uncertainty that is Iraq.

Unhealthy Religion

Last week there was some media attention given to one man’s mindset that the way to deal with ISIS terrorists in Iraq is to “convert them or kill them.” I do not want to give undue attention to the Duck Dynasty personality figure, but I also want to be fair and let him speak for himself. For anyone interested in seeing the entire interview of Phil Robertson on Fox News, go here

In the South, the Bible Belt where I hail from as does Phil Robertson, we have had a higher church attendance than other parts of the country, but we grew accustomed to a faith that was in line with the status quo and supported our lifestyle. Too often we Bible Belt Christians get upset when our ingrained presuppositions are challenged by a faith that does more than justify our own prejudices and support our limited views. If faith is authentic, it will challenge the status quo and it will question our acts of hatred and prejudice.

Moreover, I have a problem with self-proclaimed Christian spokesmen using faith to justify killing.  When we buy into that, we perpetuate hatred, whatever "side" we happen to be on. It has been pointed out that the view of “convert them or kill them” is frighteningly close to the views expressed by the Islamic terrorists groups. There are examples of healthy religion as well as unhealthy religion among practitioners of all faiths. In this case, we are seeing unhealthy religion of one faith responding to the unhealthy religion of another.

It does no one any good to see weak theology presented that justifies war. On the one hand, it may be true that the United States is considering military aggression – that is what empires do  and one can make an argument for military action from the standpoint of protecting the empire. On the other hand, to indicate that war is a Christian response is not a stand I am willing to take. When you wed God and Country, people of faith sometimes get the two confused. When we allow religious justification for killing we are doing more to ingrain violence and we are not contributing to a healthy faith system.

I am not one to favor war as a solution. For those who support further military action in Iraq and the surrounding region during this war-weary time, I only ask they take a couple of things into account:

·        Don't baptize national defense and call it Christian.
·        Don't forget that it was our military action that broke things in the region (in Colin Powell’s words, "You break it, you bought it"). There may be no good solutions, no good alternatives, but we bought what we are dealing with.

There are two dangerous things that occur during wartime: 
  1. We demonize the enemy in order to justify the killing of other human beings.  
  2. By the process of war we begin to look a lot like our own portrayal of our enemy. 
Those wartime factors are all the more reason why a religion that justifies killing and supports our own prejudices is a dangerous thing.

Healthy Religion

Healthy religion is able to separate faith from empire. It seeks to ground the individual by instilling a sense of wonder and a heart of compassion. A healthy faith seeks to build loving and ethical responses toward others. Last Sunday at my church I witnessed an example of healthy religion in the public prayers that were expressed. The public prayers called for us to pray for the leaders of the nations, that they may promote peace and reduce the anxiety levels of their people. We were also asked to pray for the media that prejudice and hatred not be reinforced. Later during the litany of prayers, we were guided in praying for those still hurting from the wounds and memories of 9/11. Peace, wisdom, comfort and justice are some of the goals that faith should promote.

In 2009, Karen Armstrong launched the Charter for Compassion in order to encourage people of all faiths to embrace their common and central value of compassion. That charter reads:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community. 

Especially during these difficult times, it is important for all people of goodwill and good faith to promote compassion over hatred, and to build peace rather than call for war. You can read more about the Charter for Compassion at


Photo: After 9/11, the American flag raised at Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Towers
Photo Credit:World Pittsburgh Files



  1. Hi Charles! Thank you for the post. It is posts like this one that make me wish people would read (the right) blogs alongside their newspapers.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jeremy. I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Charlie,
    Thank you so much for this reflection. So many good points!


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