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Christians as “Soft Targets”

The gun lobby and their sympathizers (and some cartoonists) have recently been bringing public attention to the fact that “gun-free” signs on the entrances of museums, schools, churches, shopping malls, etc. can be an unintended invitation to homicidal maniacs or suicidal nihilists who want to take as many possible souls with them in exiting the world.

Christianity is in a sense a “gun-free” zone. The Christian religion is so devoted to peace that it could incite similar agressive responses in malevolent persons or systems.

There are, of course, violent Christians and Christian leaders. But in all of the New Testament, there is not one sentence that could reasonably incite a Christian to violence or to forced conversions.

Quakers and other Christian pacifists are in part justified for interpreting Christianity as going even further than Buddhism in avoiding all types of violence. They focus on Jesus’ messages to “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39), “go the extra mile” (Mt. 5:41), “forgive seventy times seven times” (Mt. 18:22), “lend without expecting repayment” (Lk. 6:35), “give them your coat also” (Lk. 6:29), and “put away the sword (Mt. 26:52).” Ethicists now would call such rules “supererogatory” – going far beyond the basic requirements of duty and justice.

There is nothing in the New Testament about the basic rights of self-defense. St. Augustine and other theologians thus needed to wrestle with questions about the justification of wars. They came up with the strict criteria of “just war theory,” requiring multiple conditions for declaring wars and multiple restrictions of conduct when engaging in wars.

Just war theory is rational. The New Testament goes beyond, but does not abrogate, the natural law of self-preservation and its corollaries. An individual may go over and above duty in certain cases to “turn the other cheek,” but social and political duties of those in authority may call for use of force to preserve lives and sustenance.

gunfree

There is, however, a special problem for a “soft-target” religion: it could be a proverbial “sitting duck” – not only for unscrupulous cultures and governments, but also for a militant political religious cult. As I mentioned in a previous column, the Islam we are dealing with in the contemporary world harbors no supererogatory exhortations to non-violence. The fact that Islam is constantly referred to as a “religion of peace” is an anomaly, a species of Orwellian “new-speak” – in the same way that murdering the unborn is called a “reproductive right,” institutionalized sodomy is called “marriage,” and sex has been replaced with “gender.”

The stark difference between the concept of martyrdom in Christianity and Islam helps to bring out the dangers for “soft targets.” For Christianity, the martyr deserving of eternal bliss through the vision of God is one willing to suffer and die as a witness for his faith. For Islam, the martyr deserving of an eternal bliss of sensual pleasure is one who is killed while killing “unbelievers” (Quran 9:111) – even unknown crowds of men, women, and children – thus advancing the jihadist movement in the world.

New Testament apocalyptic passages in the Book of Revelation about final battles between the powers of good and evil are hard to interpret, but Christians may be faced with the possibility of a strange “Armageddon.” Instead of (as usually depicted) two massive armies facing each other in a final decisive battle, another scenario in which billions of sincere Christians, the greatest “soft target” ever produced in the world, are abandoned to the devices of billions of Muslims. Indeed, Muslim eschatology involves the destruction and subjugation of all “unbelievers” in a final battle in which the rather far-fetched Muslim version of Jesus (Isa, the son of Maryam, the sister of Moses’ brother, Aaron [Quran 19:27-28]) would come and break all Christian crosses, exterminate pigs as the supply of pork, and grant the laurels of victory to Islam.

But events during the last hundred years make such a lopsided Armageddon scenario less fantastic – millions of Christians massacred in Armenia, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere; a million killed in just the first thirteen years of the 21st century; more martyrdoms than in all previous centuries – not to mention the pillaging and destruction of hundreds of churches in Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria in the last few years; in formerly tolerant Indonesia, according to a report of the Gatestone Institute, more than 1,000 Christian churches have been shut down, torn down or burned down since 2006. (If you follow only the mainstream media, you may be excused for not knowing about such things.)

At present, with the “Islamic State” (ISIS), we have the advent of a new “caliph,” Caliph Ibrahim (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi). For most Muslims, the caliph, if he manages to survive threats from alternative claimants, is not just a figurehead. His existence could dramatically change the eschatological views of obedient and traditional Muslims. While “defensive” war is always permitted to Muslims, only the Caliph has the authority to order an offensive war of conquest and destruction. This is being done now, with tens of thousands of young Muslims rushing to join ISIS in Syria and other strongholds.

Catholics call themselves the “Church Militant,” but this is just a metaphor, and meant spiritually. The days when a pope could order or bless a crusade are long gone, especially in view of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which offer fulsome praises of Islam as an “Abrahamic” religion which adores the same God and submits to His hidden decrees. And it goes without saying, that no nation now would be willing to defend the Christians being murdered or exiled by Islamists, since for “enlightened” moderns this would be a “religious war,” repeating pre-Enlightenment mistakes of the past.

The combination of the surrender to modernism in the “developed world” and Christians’ helpless exposure to violence and subjugation in Muslim-dominated regions leads to a possible alternative vision of Armageddon and victory: a final martyrdom of the Church.

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz

Howard Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. His most recent publications include Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), Five Metaphysical Paradoxes (The 2006 Marquette Aquinas Lecture), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).