Thursday, March 25, 2004


In a way, this topic is directly connected to September 11, 2001; which, in turn, is connected to the "War of Terror," American military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and American foreign policy in a number of places around the world, including Serbia and Russia -- specifically, Chechnya. Once again, this requires someone to have a memory, if they're going to correlate their own history with current events. (If you don't remember these things because you were too young at the time -- or were paying attention to other things! -- you need to be teachable...)

Once upon a time, the U.S. government was attempting to pressure Russia to change its policy towards dealing with the rebels in Chechnya. We were leaning towards supporting the Chechnians in their struggle against the remnant of the "Evil Empire" under Boris Yeltsin, and then Vladimir Putin, the current President of the Russian Federation. The explanations offered by the Russians weren't sufficient in our eyes (how arrogant we can be...) to "justify" their military action against the rebels, whose tactics included terror bombings in Russian cities, including Moscow. In many ways, the pressure situation was parallel to our pressuring Serbia to "back off" in its efforts to deal with the rebels in their province of Kosovo. Not entirely parallel, of course. Serbia didn't have missiles equipped with nuclear warheads; and so NATO got to bomb Serbia to bring about the change in policy. An unspoken connection between the Albanian rebels and the Chechnian rebels: they're (for the most part) Moslems. Then came September 11th.

    "Wars of Religion"

For most of us, this is a phrase from a world history class; which, if we took it, most likely happened in high school. With very few exceptions, this phrase refers to events that took place a long, long time ago -- say, the 16th century, following the Protestant Reformation. Oh, sure, there's a religious aspect to the situation in the Middle East, between the Arabs and the Israelis -- but that's over territory, not a war between Jews and Muslims -- right? Or in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants used to kill each other with frightening regularity. But that's over -- right? There really aren't any "wars of religion" today - right?

Let's get real, people! On one level, the "culture wars" being "fought" today here at home (same-sex marriages, anyone?) have a basis in religion. "Oh, but Fr. John, there are no bullets being fired in this 'war' -- no newsreel footage of body bags." Let me tell you, my friends: the War on Terror -- real bombs, real bullets, real bodies -- has a religious element, and we are engaging in self-delusion when we ignore it. Among other things, what fuels a great deal of the terrorists in their actions against America and her people and interests is a rejection of our culture; and to the perceived dominant religion of that culture: Christianity.

    "The War on Terror and Martyrdom"

Back to September 11th. In at least part of the Islamic world, the guys who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania died as "martyrs." They would enjoy a special place in "heaven." (We'll skip the details.) I don't think it's too much of a reach to say that the same concept of martyrdom -- to die in battle against the infidel -- empowers the suicide bombers who strap on a vest full of explosives and detonate the same on a bus, or a plaza, or a dance club. Die for Allah -- go to paradise. Martyrdom.

We Orthodox also understand martyrdom. Die for Christ - go to paradise. One slightly major distinction: Martyrs for Christ are the ones who are killed, not the ones who do the killing! There is no parallel for acts of aggression against others, even "infidels," in the scope of the Christian faith. (Anyone want to defend the Crusades? Not me.)

Sorry -- I know I'm not making myself clear. (Time pressure; we have a service tonight, and it will be time to go very soon!) I think the difference between the Christian understanding of being a martyr, and the Muslim understanding, points to a fundamentally different worldview; and, until we become cognizant of this distinction, we are going to fail to understand the forces driving the "other side" in the War on Terror. In the West, we'd like to think that we've moved "beyond" religion as a factor in politics and economics; and that we can be active on the world stage on our terms. Among other things, we think we can attempt to structure things geopolitically, and lend our support behind certain groups (the Chechnians, for example, or the Kosovar Albanians), so as to positively influence their co-religionists (such as the ones in the Middle East, with all that "black gold" in the ground our economy desires at the lowest possible price); and that the religious component should not be a factor. History, and current events, are teaching us that this is just not so.

Me? I guess I'd prefer that our State Department look around, asking, "Who thinks and believes the way we do?"; and put our support there. I also hope there's more Orthodox Christianity coming through this post than I can see right now. It is, after all, late in Great Lent -- and my focus should be on being an Orthodox Christian, more so today than yesterday...