Attack of the Theologians

    So who were these guys who blew up the World Trade Center?  The answer isn't simply a question of finding out what their names were what nation they came from or even what nation they are currently using as a hiding place, although this is what the enforcers of our nation are trying to find out -- as they should.

    Actually, I think the answer to "who are these guys?" is a theological issue, and I base this opinion on the obvious fact that these folks were willing to kill themselves in order to "make a statement" -- not to us, since they didn't leave a note, but to a deity, of which we are not considered a part, according to their beliefs.  Hence, their act should be seen as putting an enormous exclamation point on their personal prayer, and that makes this week a theological issue for the world to consider.

    So I am forming a mental picture  of the terrorists without knowing them and without ever thinking I will -- or wish to.  They are people who have the opinion that the Controlling Deity of the universe has spoken directly to them, speaking through the intermediary of another human being, long since dead.  In this case, that person is probably The Prophet Mohammed, although it could actually have been a number of people -- Jesus, Buddha, Joseph Smith, etc.  

    The point here is that they were willing to sacrifice their very lives in order to please The Unseen, whom they believe to be directly concerned with the fate of their particular group of followers.    That's what fundamentally devout people are supposed to do, and we honor many people who have sacrificed themselves.   St. Francis, my personal favorite saint, is one, but I can think of many more:   Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Brigham Young, St. Paul,, etc.  Of course, one obvious difference between the people I am mentioning and the terrorists on the airplanes is that our honored ones did not attach themselves to only one particular group of people.  They saw (or see) all people as creations of God, so they usually ( but not always ) avoided singling out another group of people to hate or fear.  Their sacrifice was not suicide.  Rather, it was willingness to sacrifice their personal happiness for the sake of the happiness of others.

    Our attackers obviously further believe their people are being greatly wronged by the totally decadent Western World.  Theirs is the complaint of everyone who finds this life less-than wonderful, but who refuses to accept that they have any control over or responsibility for their situation.   They will not consider that their own beliefs or habits are a possible obstacle to the happiness of themselves or their people, so they have to find someone to blame.  For a number of religions, this "someone" can be a figure, a "satan," a totally evil entity.  For the Nazis, it was the Jews.  For Americans during the Cold War, it was the Communists.  For a great many in the Middle East, it is The West.  If we are not careful, our "satan" may come to be "The Muslims" or "The Terrorists" or some large group of people, rather than a cluster of particular human beings with an active hatred for us.

    Since the Trade Center bombing is a question of theology, the issue of who is to blame is not distant.   It is very, very close.  The culprit to watch is not just wearing a turban or sitting in some faraway village.  He or she can be as close as the guy with the Confederate flag license plate, the student at a terribly self-righteous religious college or a televangelist with need of an important issue for this week's program.   Usually, there will not be a problem with such people.  They will be quietly annoying in a mostly solitary fashion.  However, if such people get together in a group, which is apparently what happened in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union, all sorts of strange, cultic behavior can happen.   

    So who were the guys in the airplanes?  Yes, they were probably Muslims, but they could have been members of any faith.  Theirs is a problem of degree of belief, an inability to question authority, a desire to blame others in response to the spiritual pains they feel within themselves.  

    Are they worthy of our compassion?  Yes, I believe so.  To followers of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all people are worthy of our compassion.   But some are also worthy of a very close watch.